Friday, April 21, 2006

Wild Swans:Three Daughters of China

by Jung Chang. (read Mar 2006)
This book was recommended to me by Cardine's mother. It's a biography about the author, her mother and her grandmother. If this had been fiction it would have been too horrific to be believable. I chose Wild Swans because I'd read two other books dealing with Mao's Cultural Revolution that I liked real well. The first was a novel about two young men sent from the city into a remote Chinese village for 're-education'. Balzac and the Little Chines Seamstress by Kai Sijie has a more narrow scope that Swans, only lasting a year or two. It was enough to spur further interest, so I followed it with Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji-li Jiang. This book is a young adult autobiography about a young girl who was a good student. She wanted to belong to the Red Guard, but was denied because her grandfather was a landlord. Her family suffered great indignities because of this. Ji-li is forced to choose between her family and the Communist Party.

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 was a Red Guard briefly at the age of fourteen, then worked as a peasant, a "barefoot doctor," a steelworker, and an electrician. As the story of each generation unfolds, Chang captures in gripping, moving — and ultimately uplifting — detail the cycles of violent drama visited on her own family and millions of others caught in the whirlwind of history.

After reading this book Mao Zedung has moved to the #1 spot on my list of bad guys, followed by Hitler. Hitler's cruelty was focused on a single group, whileMao wrecked havoc with the lives of every citizen of his own country. Mao's reign of horror lasted much longer and affected more people than did Hitler's. Everyone in China lived with fear, many filled with hate. Reason was exchanged for blind devotion. People were forced at the hand of their friends and neighbors to undergo gruelling punishments. Death and suicides were a common occurence and the torture was unbelievable.

Chang is approximately the same age as I am. I often compared my life, where I was and what I was doing to her life. I don't think I could have survived her life and I'm surprised anyone did. I feel blessed that she had the courage to revisit her life and to share it with the world.

I think this is an important book for anyone interested in history to read. It's not exactly one to settle comfortably into like a mystery, but definitely worth the effort.