Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang is a family memoir that gives a powerful insight into 20th-century Chinese history. In the book, the author, Jung Chang, guides readers through the extraordinary lives of three generations of Chinese women. The memoir starts with Jung Chang’s grandmother, who lived in the late imperial or pre-Communist China. Given to a warlord General as a concubine at an early age, Jung Chang’s grandmother fled with her baby in her arms when the General was dying. Her daughter, Jung Chang’s mother, grew up in the troubled, revolutionary China, actively participating in the Communist movement, fighting against the Chinese Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang. After the triumph of communism on the mainland, Jung Chang’s mother and father became senior members of the Communist Party of China, or in other words, the elite of the ‘new’ China. The reminiscence then continues with the story of Jung Chang herself growing up in Communist China. Although raised by a committed Communist family and deeply embedded in the Party elite, Jung Chang grew to challenge both the regime’s ideology and Mao himself.
Combining the experiences of these three generations, the author provides a deep insight into 20th-century Chinese history, vividly explaining how communism was consolidated in China and what events and ideologies laid its foundations. However, the book is more than just an account of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and of the Great Leap Forward. It is also an engaging and emotional story of people—how they lived, loved, and suffered through the darkest days of history, and had no choice but to hold on to each other. The book is a testimony of personal intellectual development, and it challenges the surrounding orthodoxy, even if it comes at the cost of the torment of loved ones. It speaks of the courage and dedication it takes to hold on to one’s beliefs despite the ‘thought reforms’ imposed by the regime. The book’s depiction of heroism and commitment to truth appears to be the only viable antidote to the authoritarianism that continues to keep a firm grip on China.
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China is a crucial read today, not only because the atrocities of communist regimes are being forgotten, but also because China’s authoritarianism is on the rise today. As the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues its ‘zero COVID’ policy and Xi Jinping seeks an unprecedented third term as the Party’s General Secretary, repression of ordinary men and persecution of Uyghur Muslims and Christians intensify. Using Jung Chang’s compelling writing to understand who Mao Zedong was and the nature of the regime he led, we can gain key insight into what Xi Jinping wants to become in the coming days with the 20th National Congress scheduled to take place on 16 October 2022.
The international success of the book shows how engaging, true and powerful Jung Chang’s memoir is. Since its first publication in 1991, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China has sold over 15 million copies in 40 different languages. While secretly read as a paperback in China, the book is officially banned on the mainland. In Hungary, the book was first published in the 1990s, and has been republished several times since then, as it is still very popular with the Hungarian public.