I’ve just read 520 pages of a 544 page paperback on the flight back from China. If you are interested in sampling the seismic political and cultural shifts in China over the last century, I can’t think of a better book I have read.
It is titled Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by former Red Guard member and then victim Jung Chang.
The book recounts the many miseries and occasional moments of happiness in the lives of three generations of women — starting with Jung Chang’s grandmother who was concubine to an early 20th century warlord. Her somewhat pampered daughter then watches the injustices of pre-Communist China get temporarily righted when the Kuomintang are squeezed out of the country. Rising to become a prominent member of the Communist Party — along with her husband who is a provincial governor — Chang’s mother (and the entire Chang family) observe the injustices and excesses of Mao’s China generate hardship, intense hate, social convulsion, and millions of deaths.
I have a couple dozen pages to go but I want to finish the book fully mentally alert — which is tough to do after traveling for 20 hours.
But this book is a remarkable historical treatment that reads like a novel and that I wholeheartedly recommend. I was pleased to see my friends Gavan McCormack and Herbert Bix — themselves both brilliant writers and chroniclers of political history — thanked in the acknowledgments.
For those who want more on China’s post-Mao history which Wild Swans doesn’t get to, I think that UCLA Professor Richard Baum’s Burying Mao: Chinese Politics in the Age of Deng Xiaoping is the perfect ‘who’s who?’ and ‘who did what to whom?’ follow on to Jung Chang’s masterpiece.
— Steve Clemons