Book Review: Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

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¶ … Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. Specifically it will contain a book review of the book. This book tells the story of three remarkable women from an equally remarkable family that lived through several generations of change in China. The book is a history text and an autobiography rolled into one, and reading it gives a sense of the Mao years in China, and how far the country has come from its earliest days.

Chang wrote this book because her mother inspired her. In the Introduction to the 2003 Edition she writes, "It was my mother who finally inspired me to write Wild Swans."

However, she wrote the book because she had an amazing story to tell, too. The book spans three generations throughout the 20th century in China, and it shows how far China has come in respect to women, culture, and Communism. Chang is the first person to gain a masters degree outside China, and one of the first to attend college outside China since the Cultural Revolution took place in 1949. Her book shows the China of today blended with the China of yesterday, and she wrote it to illustrate the change taking place in the country, along with what the Chinese had to live through during Mao's reign.

She wanted to show how repressive Mao's reign was, and what it did to the Chinese people. She compares Mao's regime with that of today, saying the Chinese have much more freedom now, but that they are still at the "mercy of a handful of secretly selected men."

She wants people to know that China has become a better place to live, but that it still has a long way to go, and that the leaders are still repressive and even paranoid. They have banned her book in the country because they fear it and it tells the truth about the Mao years, and the only way a person can read the book is to get an underground copy.

While the book is essentially a story of Chang's female relatives, it is also an important history of China. Her grandmother was born in 1909, and was witness to the China that predated the 1949 Cultural Revolution and rise of Mao Zedong to power. This was a period of turmoil and manipulation in the government and leadership of China, which ultimately led to the Cultural Revolution. The government was corrupt and manipulative, and women had little place in society. In effect, the China pre-1949 was what would be considered today a third world, undeveloped country that was filled with peasants and a population that had no power in the government. An idea of how women fared in this society is clear from this old Chinese saying, "If you are married to a chicken, obey the chicken, if you are married to a dog, obey the dog."

The wealthy men commonly kept concubines (Chang's grandmother was a concubine at age 15 to a powerful general), and the government kept collapsing.

A cohesive force during this time was Chiang Kai-shek, who led a group of Nationalists that were attempting to bring the country back to normalcy. However, during this time, Japan also invaded Manchuria and claimed it as their own, including the hometown where Chang's grandmother lived. Thus, the pre-1949 China was a tumultuous one, undergoing many different corrupt regimes, Japanese invasion, and surviving Japanese occupation during World War II. While the Japanese occupied Manchuria, the Chinese were treated as second-class citizens. They had little to eat, they lived in horrible circumstances, and they suffered considerably, they were even tortured and murdered for the slightest infraction. For example, the Japanese kill a young girl after she mistakenly stumbles into a cave holding munitions, and they do it in front of her teacher and her entire class. After the war, the Russians occupied the area, and they were almost as bad as the Japanese were, they raped, tore down factories and took good to sell, then the Communists took over, and finally the Kuomintang. Each of these groups subjugated the Chinese and treated them as slaves. It is easy to see how these developments would lead the Chinese to desire change in their leadership and their circumstances. Mao Zedong represented this change, and his regime took China by storm, leading to his taking power and the creating the Cultural Revolution.

The year 1949 marked a great change in the history of China. Even before Mao's success, Communists were popping up throughout China. The Nationalists fought them, but they were so prevalent that even Chang's mother became a Communist when she was a girl. The Communists eventually take over her mother's city, and they treat the residents kindly and with respect, winning them over to their cause. The Revolution was picking up speed all over China, and it swept the people along with it. Chang notes, "In a revolution you had to fight for your side even if it was not perfect - as long as you believed it was better than the other side. United was the categorical imperative."

The country did become united under Communism because it represented peace and order, something that had been lacking in Chinese history for decades. It also represented control, and in a country that had been out of control for a half century or more, that seemed to be a liberation for the people.

The country was in civil war leading up to the Revolution, so at first, things seemed to settle down and return to "normal" as the Revolution took place. This period of history in China was chaotic at best, and the people simply wanted something better and secure. The Communists seemed to promise that, but it soon became clear that once they gained power, China was going to change. They wanted to monitor everything, from how married couples lived together, to how many children they could have, what they could study, and how they lived. They even monitored how much hot water households used, and how many people could live in a household. In short, China was in for a change under the Revolution.

Chang has some serious assessments of Mao and the Cultural Revolution, and that is one reason her book has been banned in China. The Communist government still dotes on Mao and sees him as a hero. Chang does not. She writes, "He was as evil as a Hitler or a Stalin, and did as much damage to mankind as they did."

Both of her parents were members of the Party, and the Party dominated their lives, and hers. She continues, "My parents dominated my life and my conscious thoughts. Any indulgence in my own affairs was immediately suppressed as being disloyal. The Cultural Revolution had deprived me of, or spared me, a normal girlhood with tantrums, bickering and boyfriends."

She also indicates how repressive and controlling the government was, and how it watched over every tiny aspect of life. She writes, "Mao had said that 'education must be thoroughly revolutionized.' This meant, among other things, that university students were to be assigned to courses with no consideration for what they were interested in -- that would be individualism, a capitalist vice."

The regime was extremely repressive and controlling (something that is still in place in China today, although not quite as heavy handed as under Mao's rule), and Chang's mother became disillusioned with the Revolution and the Communist Party and some of its practices, but she and her husband continued to work in their Party and rise through the ranks. As they age, they become more accepting, and Chang herself is raised as a loyal Communist. However, as the regime becomes even more controlling and powerful, the family begins to speak out against it, and they are punished for their outspokenness. The come to realize Mao is power-crazed and manipulative, and it seems that the Chinese people have really not made a step forward, but have taken a step backward by installing his regime.

This work offers reliable, significant, and useful perspectives on modern China because it is critical of the government, it shows how people live in the country, and it indicates how repressive and controlling the government still is, even though conditions are much better than they were under Mao's rule. For example, in the Introduction, Chang says she always wanted to write, but she was not allowed to write in China. In fact, she once had to flush a poem she had written down the toilet to avoid it being found by the Red Guard. China is controlling because they fear retaliation and revolution by the people. They repress them to control them while enhancing their own power and that is what is scariest about the government. Modern China is growing, however, and it is becoming an increasingly industrialized, powerful nation that controls the finances of other countries, such as the United States. While the country is continuing to modernize,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/wild-swans-three-daughters-china/508116.