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107 of 109 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning autobiography
I was reluctant to finish this book, because it was so absorbing that I felt my days would be sadly lacking without more pages to turn and devour. I will undoubtedly re-read it before long, as did the person who lent me the book.
This is a sensitive yet in places deeply shocking exploration of the lives of three generations of women in one Chinese family, beginning...
Published on 19 July 2005 by Ally

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Daughters of China
Bit of a marathon, I found it a rather confusing but interesting charting the recent history of China. Could have been condensed down quite a bit as it is rather repetitive. Glad I read it but needed to make a few notes and put it down for a break quite often.
Published 12 months ago by Jean Bench-Johnson


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107 of 109 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning autobiography, 19 July 2005
I was reluctant to finish this book, because it was so absorbing that I felt my days would be sadly lacking without more pages to turn and devour. I will undoubtedly re-read it before long, as did the person who lent me the book.
This is a sensitive yet in places deeply shocking exploration of the lives of three generations of women in one Chinese family, beginning in 1909 and ending (in print at least) in 1991. The stories are of a grandmother who was concubine to a warlord, a mother torn between her duties towards her family and to the Party, and the author Jung Chang (or Er-hong, one of the 'wild swans' of the title), who charts her mental battle against (or submission to) the relentless indoctrination of the Mao regime, and depicts her family's hardships under Communism and beforehand.
The intelligent account begins in a China where the people distance themselves from politics and are crippled by their own senseless restrictions and rigid traditions, and describes the transformation to a China equally constrained but much changed. While life at first improves as a result of the rise of Communism, the irrational taboos and regulations soon return, but now in a political and violently enforced form. This is the atmosphere in which the protagonist grows up. It is still a China of persecution, vendettas and hardship, and now ruled by Mao, who wants control of every aspect of his people's lives, and he achieves his control by setting groups and individuals against each other and maintaining a climate of fear and mindless adulation.
Descriptions of China's romantic beauty and subtle culture sit side-by-side with tales of horrifying cruelty and absurdity, leading the reader on an unpredictable and tumultuous journey, which evoked in me unfailing empathy and admiration for Jung Chang. It is often hard to imagine a life so astonishingly different from one's own, but the author makes it easy by imparting little details, making me feel like I was there. She succeeds in this even spanning many years and generations when she was not there herself. The epilogue explains how her mother visits her long after Mao's death, telling Jung the various anecdotes and details of the story preceding her birth.
This was a beautifully moving book, gripping from start to finish and with a sweet air of honesty and forgiveness permeating throughout, in spite of the horrendous ordeals undergone. The first part of the book will shock and enrage with its frank accounts of the appalling attitudes prevalent towards women, but in the latter part this is eclipsed by the atrocities committed against any 'class enemy', male or female. And yet I never felt I was losing hope, as the voice of the author never seems to herself, making the story warm despite its potential bleakness.
This memorable book was a fascinating and intense eye-opener for me, teaching me as much about the history, culture and politics of 20th century China as a mountain of textbooks, without ever losing its interest or appeal. But then, 'The more books you read, the more stupid you become' as Mao said in 1965, so it's probably just as well I could learn it through a single book. There's more to learn, but it's a fantastic start.
As it focuses primarily on the stories of women, this book may have more appeal to female readers, although if so it is a shame, as it deserves to be read by absolutely everyone. It is a must-have and I would recommend it to anyone without a moment's hesitation, and have been doing for the last few days. A poignant, thoughtful and engrossing story, brilliantly written with astuteness and a lack of emotional overkill which belies what must sometimes be painful recollections for the author. It is impossible for me to do this book justice here, and all I can do is urge you to read it for yourself.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This has to be read to be believed, 7 Dec 1999
By A Customer
Wild Swans is a magnificent book, telling the story of a family over three generations from the Boxer Rebellion, to the Peoples Revolution and the Cultural Revolutions. It can be said that China has a most colourful history, but this story is very very black in parts. Wild Swans will bring you on a journey of love and hope, and it will also throw you into a pit of dispare. Jung Changs experiences through her own eyes and that of her family are brought to life in this book. The imagery is vivid and the emmotions will grab you and tie you down. Whilst reading Wild Swans I felt anger and hatred at Mao and his minions.I found the events of the cultural revolution insane, Why? I must have asked this a hundred times. Yet Changs explains Mao's magnetism, his ability to manipulate the masses, and the fear he drove deep into the peoples hearts. With one hand he would offer hope and with the other he would bring suffering. Wild Swans is a prime example of the fight of the human spirit. It is within us all and Changs has brought her familys spirit to life in this book. If you are considering going to China read this book. It gives a great insight into the minds of the Chinese people. All though times have changed, they are still a tough, hardworker and honest people who simply hope for a good life.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and heart-wrenching, 26 Jun 2006
By 
David Snowdon (London, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Jung Chang is supposedly one of the most successful Chinese authors; yet her work is banned in her native country and she now lives in London, England. I first heard about "Wild Swans" several years ago but never got around until reading it until now. Now I've read it I'm sorry that I waited so long.

A quote on the cover says "It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this book." - I thought to myself that this must be exaggeration. I expected the book to be interesting; I wanted to find out more about China's recent history and I was sure it would be interesting to read what it was like to live through the cultural revolution, but I didn't think its importance would be more than a bit of human interest. I was wrong: the quote is right on the money. This book is important especially if you're like me and thought that you understood enough about China. I thought that I knew what the cultural revolution was about. I thought it was just some craziness in which doctors, administrators and other professionals were sent to work in the fields. What I had no idea about was what it was really like for the people involved. I had also thought that the Chinese government was uniformly bad, responsible as it has been for the invasion of Tibet and gross human rights violations. While that is true, it seems that, like many things, the truth is more complex than it first appears. But this book is more than just dry historical fact - it packs an emotional punch that is hard to overstate. Not only is great suffering described but also great courage and bravery. I often found myself wondering how I would have acted if I found myself in similar situations to the author's parents and whether I would have the courage to act as they did.

In summary, this book is very much worth reading because, in spite of the horror and cruelty described, the courage and resilience shown by the author's family - in particular Yu-fang, her grandmother, Shou-yu, her father and De-hong, her mother - is uplifting and inspiring. Another important reason for reading this book is it serves as object lesson of what can happen when a totalitarian government gains power and should make us ever more careful of who we allow to govern us and especially wary of political and religious extremists of any kind.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, terrible, beautiful story, 29 May 2004
By A Customer
I've been glued to this book for the past fortnight - it is so vivid that it feels like you're actually there, in China. Calm gardens, with streams, peach blossoms and flowers form the back drop to many of the scenes, and this beautiful natural landscape contrasts with the mindless violence and disorder of the human world.
Jung Chang's writing is deceptively simple and you truly relate and identify both with the narrator and her family. This means that it's like a gripping novel, as well as biography.
Plus, this book gives you an insider view of the irrationality of Chinese Communism and shows George Orwell's nightmare vision of '1984' to be more accurate than ever. Yet, the book never lapses into tedious explanations or arguments, teaching us history without any effort.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Story of Courage and Tyranny, 17 Jun 2008
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Wild Swans is a candid and harrowing account of three remarkable Chinese women -grandmother, mother and daughter- but also gives us a very good picture of what China was like from the turn of the Century to the 1980's
We learn about the ancient culture of the Chinese which included much that was beautiful and some that seems cruel. We learn of the hope of so many Chinese that the overthrow of the Kuomintang would lead to a' just social order' but how it soon became clear that the worst excesses of the Kuomintang and those of Imperial China before that paled into insignificance compared to the hell on earth created by Mao's Chinese Communist Party
One is left aghast that a system can destroy even the most basic human instincts of decency and compassion while turning people into inhumane monsters totally possessed -as if by a demon - by a cruel and totally destructive system
It sends shivers down one's spine to realise that 'The Great Helmsman' Mao Ze Dong -who ranks with Hitler and Stalin as among the most evil men of the 20th century-had his image worn on T-shirts by 'progressive' students and youth in the west and these same young 'champions of equality' hung large pictures of Mao in their dormitory rooms .This at the same time as millions of Chinese were being slaughtered and physically and psychologically maimed on the orders of Mao and his Chinese Communist Party -as described in this book.
Today many in the West laud the economic 'reforms' towards a type of totalitarian 'capitalist' system but fail to remember that human rights have not improved at all and China is still a hideous and inhuman hell for hundreds of millions of its inhabitants. And the world turns a blind eye and wards Beijing the 2008 Olympic While we a re left asking how much longer the people of China will remain enslaved by their inhumane Communist masters. How Long?
But the book is also about the strength of the human spirit , about wonderful people-especially the three remarkable women who are the central characters of this book- as well as the cruel ones
It is a story of love and hate, strength and weakness , the beautiful and the ugly
But more than anything it is about how the human spirit can never in the end be crushed by cruelty, evil and tyranny
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Power is an end, not a means, 26 Oct 2005
By 
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Jung Chang's unforgettable masterpiece says more about modern China than all ideological or political disputations together. It is history with a moving human touch, a gripping physical tale.
As an example, her analysis of the Cultural Revolution is outstanding: A bunch of arrogant children of high CP officials creates a pro-Mao movement. The master manipulator Mao uses them for the creation of a youth army and for the smashing of his political opponents. Millions of innocent Chinese are slaughtered, crippled or humiliated in an eight year wave of senseless (not for Mao) turmoil and social upheaval ( no doctors, no teachers, no scientists, no musicians...).
The CR shows that for Mao individual lives (except his own) were totally unimportant. Paramount was that he retained his power.
Jung Chang's book is a history of old and new feudalism. In the old one, there were warlords (and before, an emperor), in the new one, a party leader.
In both feudalisms, power was a synonym for survival in the struggle for life. It meant food, shelter, women, an army, loyal followers, perfect bureaucrats. The most 'cunning' survived in the brutal power struggles.
The author's portrait of Mao's character is profoundly characteristic: 'He was a restless fight promoter. He understood ugly human instincts such as envy and resentment and knew how to mobilize them for his ends. He ruled by getting people to hate each other. Mao had managed to turn people into the ultimate weapon of dictatorship.'
The missionaries of the communist gospel, like her father, a loyal and honest party bureaucrat, were killed (literally or psychologically) by the opportunists, careerists and cynics, who instinctively understood that power is an end, not a means, for instance, to better the living standard of the population.
During Mao's reign the overall atmosphere in China was FEAR ('people did not dare even to think'). In Mao'a paradise (not that of his subjects) disinformation and total censorship were the law in order to keep the Chinese population under his yoke.
The similarities with Stalin's Soviet Union are all too evident.
Jung Chang's mighty portrait of three generations of female victims of dictatorship (today still the most common form of government in the world) is an indirect cry for democracy.
This book is a must read.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very insightful, 22 July 2006
I must admit i struggled at first to get into this book but persevered and it was well worth it in the end. Jung Chang writes in a way that maintains both an informative and a personal air , many incidents described in the book are quite emotional and it is fascinating to see the effect of the governing Chinese powers on day to day life. It has given me a taste to learn more about Chinese culture and history and that alone means i think it was well worth the read.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wild Swans : Three Daughters of China, 8 May 2005
This book really brings home to the reader the human cost of the communist regime in China. The book is beautifully written in the way it deals with the hardships faced by the author's family. All there is left to say is a must read for everyone whatever their political sympathies.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding, 25 Jan 2014
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I put off reading this book for years due to its length, despite being told by many I was missing a good thing. So glad I've made the effort now! A personal history of China through the 1900s, Chang balances history and her family story with an ability to take a step back and explain a certain political policy or the Chinese populations psyche with clarity. It is these insight you'll miss out on reading a general "about recent Chinese history" book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest books I have ever read., 20 Jan 2014
One weekend, two sleepless nights and one book that had profound effect on me. It will stay with me forever. I read it two years ago but I still think of it now. It has so much to teach us - about what humans capable of; both real beauty and ultimate evil. Prepare yourself - this book is going to take you on a journey…
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