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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (1991) by Jung Chang

Book Review
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (1991)
 by Jung Chang

   The absence of titles from China on the first edition of the 1001 Books list is one of its greatest flaws.  Up to this point (the 1990's) the most memorable China-set novel on the 1001 Books list is Empire of the Sun, by J.G. Ballard, an Englishman.  At least Wild Swans is written by an author FROM China, even it was written in English, in England, after Jung Chang got out and never went back.  Although Wild Swans covers three generations, from the earliest part of the 20th century through the cultural revolution, the main attraction is Chang's description of the cultural revolution, details of which continue to be shrouded in mystery.

    Summarizing the cultural revolution isn't that difficult, basically, it was the largest country in the world turning into a Chinese version of Lord of the Flies.  Mao, worried about his power base, used children and teenagers to persecute his own officials, or "capitalist roaders" as they were called.  The victims of the cultural revolution were Mao's own loyal officials, the people in charge of implementing his revolution.  This came on top of his eradication of the capitalist/land owning class which preceded the cultural revolution.  Chang was the daughter of two upper level Chinese officials- both Mother and Father.

    She and her family aren't the most sympathetic types- but the chaos of early 20th century China makes the decision to enlist with the Communists seem like an easy choice to make.  After that- they were trapped.  Chang makes it clear how little even educated Chinese knew about the West in the 1960's and 1970's.  It is one hell of a wild ride.

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