Anyone living in this part of the world has heard of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. Jung Chang’s bestseller follows three generation of Chinese women, featuring different periods in History: the Manchus, the Communist Party’s ascension, the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards and the post-Mao experience. It’s History told in the first person.
It was first published in 1991 and it follows three generation of women: the grandmother, the mother and Jung Chang herself. It sold over 10 million copies worldwide, turning rapidly into a bestseller, appealing to the most popular readers, as well as the more intellectual ones, including many literary heavyweights.
The book starts with Chang’s grandmother’s story — her bounded feet, her path as a concubine to a high-ranking warlord, the birth of a daughter and the fact that the daughter was the only heir to a wealthy man already married to another woman.
Chang mother’s story is different, as she began working at an early age for the Communist Party of China and the Red Army, rising through the ranks, until she had Jung. Jung was a teenager, when the Cultural Revolution started and she grew up suffering all the known events which happened during that period of time, watching her parent’s denunciation along the way.
Some might argue that Wild Swans has the drama, horror and tragedy soap operas are made of, and that it really isn’t a literary achievement. I would say that it is a bit over to the melodramatic side, but it does tell a story worthy of being told.
The prose is easy to read, transparent and quite fluid, making it a page-turner. It is a good introduction to modern China — because one needs to know the History to understand the present. All in all, it’s worth the read.