Wild Swans

Wild Swans

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Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China is a family history that spans a century, recounting the lives of three female generations in China, by Chinese
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 writer Jung Chang
Jung Chang
Jung Chang is a Chinese-born British writer now living in London, best known for her family autobiography Wild Swans, selling over 10 million copies worldwide but banned in the People's Republic of China....

. First published in 1991, Wild Swans contains the biographies of her grandmother and her mother, then finally her own autobiography
Autobiography
An autobiography is a book about the life of a person, written by that person.-Origin of the term:...

. The book won two awards: the 1992 NCR Book Award
NCR Book Award
The NCR Book Award, established in 1987 and sponsored by NCR, was the UK's major award to non-fiction It ended in 1998 and has been replaced by the Samuel Johnson Prize.-Winners:* 1988 David Thomson, Nairn in Darkness and Light...

 and the 1993 British Book of the Year. The book has been translated into 30 languages and sold over 10 million copies.

Chang's Grandmother's story


The book starts by relating the biography of Chang's grandmother (Yu-fang). From the age of two, she had bound feet. As the family was relatively poor, her father schemed to have her taken as a concubine to a high-ranking warlord
Warlord
A warlord is a person with power who has both military and civil control over a subnational area due to armed forces loyal to the warlord and not to a central authority. The term can also mean one who espouses the ideal that war is necessary, and has the means and authority to engage in war...

 General
General
A general officer is an officer of high military rank, usually in the army, and in some nations, the air force. The term is widely used by many nations of the world, and when a country uses a different term, there is an equivalent title given....

, in order to gain status, which was hugely important in terms of quality of life. After a wedding ceremony to the General, who already had a wife and many concubines, the young girl was left alone in a wealthy household with servants, and did not see her "husband
Husband
A husband is a male participant in a marriage. The rights and obligations of the husband regarding his spouse and others, and his status in the community and in law, vary between cultures and has varied over time...

" again for six years. Despite her luxurious surroundings, life was tense as she feared the servants and the wife of the General would report rumors or outright lies to him.

After his six year absence, the General made a brief conjugal visit to his concubine, during which a daughter, Chang's mother, was conceived. During the child's infancy, Chang's grandmother put off persistent requests for her to be brought to the General's main household, until he became very ill and it was no longer a request. Chang's grandmother had no choice but to comply. During her visit to the household, the General was dying. The general had no male heir, and Chang's mother was very important to the family. Realizing that the General's wife would have complete control over her life and her child's, when he would die, Chang's grandmother fled with her baby to her parents' home, sending false word to her husband's family that the child had died. With his last words, the General unexpectedly proclaimed her free at age twenty-four. Eventually she married a much older doctor (Dr. Xia) with whom she and her daughter, Chang's mother, made a home in Jinzhou, Manchuria
Manchuria
Manchuria is a historical name given to a large geographic region in northeast Asia. Depending on the definition of its extent, Manchuria usually falls entirely within the People's Republic of China, or is sometimes divided between China and Russia. The region is commonly referred to as Northeast...

.

Chang's Mother's story


The book now moves to the story of Chang's mother (Bao Qin/De-hong), who at the age of fifteen, began working for the Communist Party of China
Communist Party of China
The Communist Party of China , also known as the Chinese Communist Party , is the founding and ruling political party of the People's Republic of China...

 and Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

's Red Army. As the Revolution progressed, her work for the party helped her rise through the ranks. She met the man who would become Chang's father (Wang Yu/Shou-yu), a high-ranking officer. The couple were soon married but Communist Party dictates meant they were not allowed to spend much time together. Eventually, the couple were transferred to Yibin
Yibin
-Administrative divisions:-Economy:The city's industry focuses on electronics, food products, and power generation. It also produces paper, silk, and leather products...

, Chang's father's hometown. It was a long and arduous trek. Chang's mother traveled on foot because of her rank, while her father rode in a Jeep. He was not aware that Chang's mother was pregnant. After arrival at Nanjing, Chang's mother undertook gruelling military training. After the strain of the training coupled with the journey, she suffered a miscarriage
Miscarriage
Miscarriage or spontaneous abortion is the spontaneous end of a pregnancy at a stage where the embryo or fetus is incapable of surviving independently, generally defined in humans at prior to 20 weeks of gestation...

. Chang's father swore to never again be inattentive to his wife's needs.

In the following years Chang's mother gave birth to Jung and four other children. The focus of the book now shifts again to cover Jung's own autobiography.

Chang's story


The Cultural Revolution
Cultural Revolution
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, commonly known as the Cultural Revolution , was a socio-political movement that took place in the People's Republic of China from 1966 through 1976...

 started when Chang was a teenager. Chang willingly joined the Red Guards
Red Guards (China)
Red Guards were a mass movement of civilians, mostly students and other young people in the People's Republic of China , who were mobilized by Mao Zedong in 1966 and 1967, during the Cultural Revolution.-Origins:...

 though she recoiled from some of their brutal actions. As Mao's personality cult grew, life became more difficult and dangerous. Chang's parents were labeled as capitalist roader
Capitalist roader
In Maoist thought, a capitalist roader or is a person or group who demonstrates a marked tendency to bow to pressure from Bourgeois forces and subsequently attempts to pull the Revolution in a capitalist direction....

s and made subjects of public struggle meetings and torture
Torture
Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...

. Chang recalls that her father deteriorated physically and mentally, until his eventual death. Her father's treatment prompted Chang's previous doubts about Mao to come to the fore. Like thousands of other young people, Chang was sent down to the countryside for education and thought reform by the peasant
Peasant
A peasant is an agricultural worker who generally tend to be poor and homeless-Etymology:The word is derived from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.- Position in society :Peasants typically...

s, a difficult, harsh and pointless experience. At the end of the Cultural Revolution Chang returned home and worked hard to gain a place at university. Not long after she succeeded, Mao died. The whole nation was shocked in mourning, though Chang writes that: "People had been acting for so long they confused it with their true feelings. I wondered how many of the tears were genuine". Chang said that she felt exhilarated by Mao's death.

At university Chang studied English. After her graduation and a stint as an assistant lecturer, she won a scholarship
Scholarship
A scholarship is an award of financial aid for a student to further education. Scholarships are awarded on various criteria usually reflecting the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award.-Types:...

 to study in England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and left for her new home. She still lives in England today and visits mainland China on occasion to see her family and friends there, with permission from Chinese authorities.

Reception


Wild Swans was translated into 30 languages and sold 10 million copies, receiving praise from authors such as J. G. Ballard
J. G. Ballard
James Graham Ballard was an English novelist, short story writer, and prominent member of the New Wave movement in science fiction...

. In contrast, Kaz Ross of the University of Tasmania
University of Tasmania
The University of Tasmania is a medium-sized public Australian university based in Tasmania, Australia. Officially founded on 1 January 1890, it was the fourth university to be established in nineteenth-century Australia...

 deemed Wild Swans to have been a forerunner of a new genre that she called "'faction' – history told by fictional narrative means."

Wild Swans is banned in mainland China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, though two pirated
Piracy
Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence at sea. The term can include acts committed on land, in the air, or in other major bodies of water or on a shore. It does not normally include crimes committed against persons traveling on the same vessel as the perpetrator...

 versions are available, as are translations in Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

 and Taiwan
Taiwan
Taiwan , also known, especially in the past, as Formosa , is the largest island of the same-named island group of East Asia in the western Pacific Ocean and located off the southeastern coast of mainland China. The island forms over 99% of the current territory of the Republic of China following...

. In the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, the traditional Chinese version is available online.

Potential film


On November 26, 2006, Variety announced that Portobello Pictures had purchased the film rights to the book. Portobello Pictures' Eric Abraham acquired the rights with Christopher Hampton
Christopher Hampton
Christopher James Hampton CBE, FRSL is a British playwright, screen writer and film director. He is best known for his play based on the novel Les Liaisons dangereuses and the film version Dangerous Liaisons and also more recently for writing the nominated screenplay for the film adaptation of...

 on board to write the screenplay.

External links

  • Jung Chang discusses Wild Swans on the BBC World Book Club
    World Book Club
    World Book Club is a radio programme on the BBC World Service. Each edition of the programme, which is broadcast on the first Saturday of the month with repeats into the following Monday, features a famous author discussing one of his or her books, often the most well-known one, with the public...


English language publication

  • Jung Chang, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. Simon and Schuster, (London, 1991); Anchor paperback, (London, 1992), ISBN 0-385-42547-3; Harper Perennial, (London, 2004) ISBN 0-00-717615-5