Ed's Reviews > Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

Wild Swans by Jung Chang
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May 16, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: history, memoir, reviewed, non-fiction
Recommended to Ed by: Sharon Cutcliffe
Recommended for: Anyone interested in recent Chinese history.
Read in June, 2010

What an incredible memoir, covering three generations: the Grandmother, mother and the author herself. Beginning in 1924 and continuing to 1978, it included the Japanese invasion, the Communist victory in 1949 and the Cultural Revolution and its immediate aftermath.

It is almost impossible to comprehend what these people went through and still managed to survive. What is even more astounding is that in many ways they were better off than their compatriots. In U.S. terms they were almost upper middle-class with professionals and Communist Party Officials in the family.

I have lived in Hong Kong the last 18 years and traveled to Asia for 12 years prior to relocating out here. In the process I have spent a great deal of time in China and had the enviable task of interviewing a number of survivors of the Cultural Revolution. I also have read extensively about modern China (post the 1911 revolution) and this book is perhaps better than any in allowing the reader to experience second-hand what living in China was like during the tumultuous times the story spans.

I think the author does an excellent job of allowing the reader to get a glimpse of the big picture while never losing her personal perspective on events.

While I have never been an admirer of Mao Tse Tung, I always made allowances in my mind for some of his excesses. After reading this book, I am convinced that in many ways he was perhaps the worst dictator in Modern History including Hitler and Stalin.

One of Jung's insights which sort of blew my mind was her comment that China did not need a secret police apparatus because many, if not most, of the people provided all the control that a deified Mao needed. If anyone stepped out of line, they were immediately denounced, punished and often killed either quickly or slowly through starvation and disease.

Not that the Kuomintang of Chiang Kai Shek was any better, just less efficient and more corrupt. The Japanese occupation of Manchuria is also described so that the reader can appreciate the horror of Japanese domination.

This is not an easy book to work your way through. At times it is unremittingly depressing but it also contains tales of generosity and goodness illustrating that even under the most trying circumstances people can behave in wonderful ways.

The book certainly helped put the good fortune I've enjoyed in my life in perspective. I will find it harder to complain about the petty annoyances I endure after reading what these people went through.

If you have any curiosity about Modern China, reading this book would be an excellent place to start.
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message 3: by Hayes (new)

Hayes I read this many years ago, but remember being fascinated by these three great ladies. An amazing story. Great review.


message 2: by Ed (last edited Jun 04, 2010 01:58AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ed Hayes wrote: "I read this many years ago, but remember being fascinated by these three great ladies. An amazing story. Great review."

Thanks., Hayes,

I've had the book for years but just now got around to reading it.


Cecily I found it a surprisingly gripping and straightforward read. The fact that you, with your deep knowledge and experience of China, value the content as well, is reassuring.


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