• Birth—March 25, 1952
• Where—Yibin, Sichuan Province, China
• Education—Ph.D., York University (UK)
• Currently—lives in London
Jung Chang is a Chinese-born British writer now living in London, best known for her family autobiography Wild Swans, selling over 10 million copies worldwide but banned in mainland China.
Her 832-page biography of Mao Zedong, Mao: The Unknown Story, written with her husband, the British historian Jon Halliday, was published in June 2005 and is a highly critical description of Mao Zedong's life and work.
Chang was born March 25, 1952 in Yibin, Sichuan Province, China. Her parents were both Communist Party of China officials, and her father was greatly interested in literature. She quickly developed a love of reading and writing, composing poetry as a child.
As Party cadres, life was relatively good for her family at first; her parents worked hard, and her father became successful as a propagandist at a regional level. His formal ranking was as a "level 10 official", meaning that he was one of 20,000 or so most important cadres, or ganbu, in the country. The Communist Party provided her family with a dwelling in a guarded, walled compound, a maid and chauffeur, as well as a wet-nurse and nanny for the children. This level of privilege in China's relatively impoverished 1950s was extraordinary.
Her given name, Er-hong ("Second Swan"), sounded like the Chinese word for "faded red". As communists were "deep red", the young Er-hong, at the age of 12, asked her father to give her a new name. She wanted a name with "a military ring to it." He suggested "Jung", which means "martial affairs."
Like many of her peers, Chang chose to become a Red Guard at the age of 14, during the early years of the Cultural Revolution. In Wild Swans she said she was "keen to do so", "thrilled by my red armband". In her memoirs, Chang states that she refused to participate in the attacks on her teachers and other Chinese, and she left after a short period as she found the Red Guards too violent.
The Cultural Revolution
The failures of the Great Leap Forward had led her parents to oppose Mao Zedong's policies, though not him by name. They were targeted during the Cultural Revolution, as most high-ranking officials were. When Chang's father criticized Mao by name, Chang writes in Wild Swans that this exposed them to retaliation from Mao Zedong's supporters. Her parents were publicly humiliated — ink was poured over their heads, they were forced to wear placards denouncing them around their necks, kneel in gravel and to stand outside in the rain — followed by imprisonment, her father's treatment leading to lasting physical and mental illness. Their careers were destroyed, and her family was forced to leave their home.
Before her parents' denunciation and imprisonment, Chang had unquestioningly supported Mao and criticized herself for any momentary doubts.But by the time of his death, her respect for Mao, she writes, had been destroyed. She wrote that when she heard he had died, she had to bury her head in the shoulder of another student to pretend she was grieving.
The Chinese seemed to be mourning Mao in a heartfelt fashion. But I wondered how many of their tears were genuine. People had practiced acting to such a degree that they confused it with their true feelings. Weeping for Mao was perhaps just another programmed act in their programmed lives.
Jung Chang's depiction of the Chinese people as having been "programmed" by Maoism would ring forth in her subsequent writings.
The disruption of the university system by the Red Guards led Chang, like most of her generation, away from the political maelstroms of the academy. Instead, she spent several years as a peasant, a barefoot doctor (a part-time peasant doctor), a steelworker and an electrician, though she received no formal training because of Mao's policy, which did not require formal instruction as a prerequisite for such work
The universities were eventually re-opened and she gained a place at Sichuan University to study English, later becoming an assistant lecturer there. After Mao's death, she passed an exam which allowed her to study in the West, and her application to leave China was approved once her father was politically rehabilitated.
Chang left China in 1978 to study in Britain on a government scholarship, staying first in Soho, London. She later moved to Yorkshire, studying linguistics at the University of York with a scholarship from the university itself, living in Derwent College. She received her Ph.D. in linguistics from York in 1982, becoming the first person from the People's Republic of China to be awarded a Ph.D. from a British university.
She has also been awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Buckingham, the University of York, the University of Warwick, and the Open University. She lectured for some time at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, before retiring in the 1990s to concentrate on her writing.
In 2003, Jung Chang wrote a new foreword to Wild Swans, describing her early life in Britain and explaining why she wrote the book. Having lived in China during the 1960s and 1970s, she found Britain exciting. After the initial culture-shock, she soon grew to love the country, especially its diverse range of culture, literature and arts. She found even colourful window-boxes worth writing home about — Hyde Park and the Kew Gardens were inspiring. She took every opportunity to watch Shakespeare's plays in both London and York. However she still has a special place for China in her heart, saying in an interview with HarperCollins, "I feel perhaps my heart is still in China."
Chang lives in West London with her husband, the British historian Jon Halliday, who specializes in Soviet history. She regularly visits mainland China to see her family and friends there, with permission from the Chinese authorities, despite carrying out research on her biography of Mao there.
The publication of Jung Chang's first book Wild Swans made her a celebrity. Chang's unique style, using a personal description of the life of three generations of Chinese women to highlight the many changes that the country went through, proved to be highly successful. Large numbers of sales were generated, and the book's popularity led to it being sold around the world and translated into several languages.
Chang became a popular figure for talks about Communist China, and she has travelled across Britain, Europe, America, as well as the rest of the world. She returned to the University of York on June 14, 2005 to address the university's debating union and spoke to an audience of over 300, most of whom were students. The BBC invited her onto the panel of Question Time for a first-ever broadcast from Shanghai on 10 March 2005, but she was unable to attend when she broke her leg a few days beforehand. (Author bio from Wikipedia.)
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