25 March 2005

Wild Swans

I just finished Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. It is an excellent book. Not perfect, but very good. The author tells about her life growing up in China, along with her mother and grandmother.

It begins with the birth of her grandmother in 1909 to a warlord and a concubine and follows the family down to 1978 when the author leaves to study in the West. The most valuable part of the book is the authors point of view as part of a family of Communist Party members. Other books I have read on China (Life and Death in Shanghai especially comes to mind) have either been by people who were always opposed to Communism, or by someone who is more neutral. It was very interesting to read about the lives and actions of high-level Party members.

It was literally painful to read about the early years of her parents' marriage, and to witness the terrible family life they were forced to live. She mentions later in the book that many families were torn apart because of Party regulations, and I wondered what her family had done to avoid that- they were generally quite close. I also wish I could have known more about her father. She focused more on her mother and grandmother, but I would have liked to have known what her father was thinking. He died many years ago, so there is no way to know. I also would have liked to have heard more about her grandmother's thoughts and feelings in the 60s and 70s.

I did get bogged down in the autobiographical parts, especially during the Cultural Revolution. I also would have preferred that she refer to her parents and grandmother by their names instead of "my mother," my father," and my grandfather. I felt like I couldn't quite get to know them beyond their relation to the author, even when she was talking about the childhood of her grandmother.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. It is fairly long, and a bit slow in places, but worth reading. I believe it is vital for people who have always lived in free and open societies to see what happens when those freedoms are lost.


  1. This is a favorite of mine. Have you read Life and Death in Shanghai? It makes a good companion volume to this one.

  2. I very much liked Life and Death in Shanghai, but I think I might like this one better, since it gives a broader view of life in China.