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Review: Wild Swans, Jung Chang

Jung Chang’s grandmother, Yu-fang, was a member of the last generation of Chinese women to have her feet bound.  Her feet were bound so late, in fact, that her younger sister didn’t have to endure the painful process at all.  Moreover, she was beautiful, and her father decided that for her to be a concubine to a rich man was better than for her to be a wife to a poor man, and as a result she hardly knew her first “husband” even though she gave him a daughter.  That daughter, born Bao Qin but later named De-hong by Yu-fang’s second husband Dr. Xia, was Jung’s mother, and one of the first to become a communist.  Jung herself lived through both the idealization of Chairman Mao and was intelligent enough to eventually realize that Communist China was not the paradise that she had been promised her entire life, and used her study of English to finally leave the country.

This book was absolutely fascinating.  I was completely spellbound by it.  Chinese society changed so much over this period of years.  Just considering the difference between the early life of Jung’s grandmother and her own youth was immeasurably vast.  I had never learned about any of this before, and I found the history fascinating.  I really want to learn more now and I am definitely planning on seeking out some history on 20th century China.

This is a memoir, though, and it was the story of these women that really cemented my love for the entire book.  I was incredibly impressed by how intelligent and strong they all were.  From Yu-fang’s ingenuity in kidnapping her daughter away from her first husband’s vindictive wife to Jung’s mother’s struggles with a husband that put communism before his family, these women took the abuse and rolled with it, keeping their integrity and honor and love for one another intact through almost insurmountable hardships.  Moreover, Jung’s parents must have been complicit in some of the horrid things that the communist regime supported – we know her father executed people, she says so – yet they too realize what they’ve done is wrong.  The second half of the book is mainly Jung’s own memoir, and I found it fascinating that despite all the hardships communism had dealt her family that she still was completely in the thrall of Chairman Mao.  She didn’t know about them, of course, but it seems inconceivable to me that anyone could believe his lies.  It’s hard to realize that these were the only words she ever heard, and thus she had no choice.  It’s amazing that she eventually realized that she wanted to get out of China, let alone that she accomplished it.

This book is long, but I found the entire thing completely enthralling.  The writing is plain and there is a lot of history info-dumping, but it’s such a compelling story  that I managed to read half of it (350 pages) in a single day.  I can’t recommend Wild Swans enough.  I highly recommend this, and it would be a great choice for the Women Unbound challenge, which is what I read it for.  I also have to thank Eva, because without her recommendation I might never have discovered it!

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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