A study of Mao’s impact on China: Wild Swans
“It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this book”. So says Mary Wesley on the cover of Wild Swans written by Jung Chang. I am always wary of bold statements of this kind which feature prominently on the cover of a book. Quotes and sound-bites from respected reviewers do much to boost the sales of a new book, so much so that we become inured to the plethora of superlatives used by such reviewers.
However, by the time I had finished reading this long narrative about three generations of women in Mao’s China, I found myself nodding my head in silent agreement. Jung Chang describes the life of her grandmother, a warlord’s concubine; her mother’s struggles as a young idealistic Communist; and her parents’ experience as members of the Communist elite and their ordeal during the Cultural Revolution. Chang herself had been a Red Guard at the age of fourteen, then worked as a peasant out in the countryside, as a ‘medic’, a steelworker, and electrician. As the narrative of each generation is revealed, Chang takes us on a journey through the Cultural Revolution that is gripping and moving, and the description of the violence visited upon her family, as well as on millions of others, is truly shocking.
We are led to wonder where the ‘Great Leap Forward’ actually took China. Was it forward, or into oblivion? The book left me pondering the true nature of despotism, where the despot changes the rules of engagement to keep the revolution in progress and to annihilate his enemies. Chang’s parents frequently suffered because of their loyalty to the declared principles of communism, but these principles had a habit of changing. Their loyalty became their downfall when the principles were arbitrarily changed to strengthen the authority of the leadership.
A very worthwhile read. I would heartily recommend it.