Book Review – Wild Swans, Three Daughters of China

I didn’t know that the CPC, Chinese Communist Party was celebrating its 100th year in 2021 ! By sheer coincidence I bought this book titled Wild Swans, Three Daughters of China. I started reading this along with another book “Sanghi Who never went to a Shaka” by Rahul Roushan, but once I reached 20% of this book, I couldn’t put it down !

This book offers a never before peek into China’s metamorphosis from a struggling, over populated, under educated, civil war torn large country to becoming an economic giant and a political “bully”. The CPC can be solely credited for the transformation of China into a bully and the hard working Chinese people should be credited for the country becoming an economic giant.

The author Jung Chang and her family suffered through the cultural revolution. I plan on buying her book on Mao because its important to understand why China’s political leadership is so different from the Chinese public.

Some excerpts to understand the culture in China at the turn of the century (1900’s) –

“… Only a son could perpetuate the family name – without him, the family line would stop, which, to the Chinese amounted to the greatest possible betrayal of one’s ancestors.” (Jung Chang’s great-grandfather is being referred here).

“… My grandmother bent her head and wept. She hated the idea of being a concubine, but her father had already made the decision, and it was unthinkable to oppose one’s parents.”

“… In fact, a good woman was not supposed to have a point of view at all, and if she did, she certainly should not be so brazen as to talk about it. He would quote the Chinese saying, ‘If you are married to a chicken, obey the chicken; if you are married to a dog, obey the dog.’..”

Well, clearly women seem to be of no consequence in most cultures around the world !!

The book traces the life of Jung Chang’s grandmother, mother and herself. Her grandmother becomes a concubine of a warlord because that’s what her father wanted. The warlord dies and at the age of 26, she marries a Doctor, who accepts her daughter (author’s mother) as his own.

The book speaks of Japanese occupation of Manchuria. An excerpt about that period – “…Much of what was produced locally was forcibly exported to Japan, and the large Japanese army in Manchuria took most of the remaining rice and wheat for itself.” The Japanese were in China from 1938-1945.

As expected Russia and America played their opposing games on China as well. As Japan surrendered in WWII, civil war broke out amidst the communists and the Kuomintang. An excerpt that shows the situation at that time – “.. Manchuria was the crucial battleground because of its economic assets. Because they were nearby, the communists had got their forces into Manchuria first, with virtually no resistance from the Russians. But the Americans were helping Chiang Kai-shek establish himself in the area by ferrying tens of thousands of Kuomintang troops to North China. “

Communism taking root in China

This is at the end of 1947 when the communist “People’s Liberation Army” was able to drive back the Kuomintang forces. An excerpt – “..Another thing that captured the goodwill of the locals was the discipline of the Communist soldiers. Not only was there no looting or rape, but many went out of their way to demonstrate exemplary behaviour. This was in sharp contrast with the Kuomintang troops.”

The author’s parents started out as committed communists who felt the revolution and Chairman Mao were the best things to have happened to China. Women had equal rights for the first time and could study anything they wished to. (initially, before the dreaded cultural revolution). The following excerpts show how communism eroded the family structure …

“… The Party told my father that he had permission to ‘talk about love’ with my mother.”

“.. My father had to make a verbal self-criticism, and my mother a written one. She was said to have ‘put love first’, when revolution should have had priority. She felt very wronged.”

“.. The need to obtain authorization for an unspecified ‘anything’ was to become a fundamental element in Chinese Communist rule. It also meant that people learned not to take any action of their own initiative.”

Mao’s crazy experiment as part of the “Great Leap Forward” of producing steel where everyone was producing steel so that China could become the world’s leading steel producer ! Mao is neatly summed up in this statement – “Megalomania and voluntarism meshed easily in Mao’s mind”. “..In 1958 the regime effectively banned eating at home. Every peasant had to eat in the commune canteen.”

The “Great Leap Forward” ended up in a great famine across China in the sixties … but still Chairman Mao enjoyed his God like status because he had ended the civil war. The indoctrination starts young and continues in every stage. Another excerpt which shows how the state interferes with people’s culture – “In 1965, my New Year resolution was ‘I will obey my grandmother’ – a traditional Chinese way of promising to behave well. My father shook his head: ‘You should not say that. You should only say ‘I obey Chairman Mao.'”

The book traces the highs of communism, the author’s parents dedication to the party and the revolution and the lows of the Cultural revolution where Jung Chang’s parents are treated as enemies and made to do hard labour. Her father becomes mentally ill at one time and passes away at the young age of 54 totally disillusioned with communism.

This book allows us to travel with three generations of Chinese women including the author. It helps us see the changes that Communism brings to China and the disastrous reign of Chairman Mao. The fact that this book is banned in China, means that it does contain the truth.

I would highly recommend reading this book if you haven’t already. It was first published in 1991. The author lives in London and is safe. This book is probably the easiest way to understand the Chinese communist culture and mindset.

Wild Swans - three daughters of China

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