Bursting with drama, heartbreak and horror, this extraordinary family portrait mirrors China's century of turbulence. Chang's grandmother, Yu-fang, had her feet bound at age two and in 1924 was sold as a concubine to Beijing's police chief. Yu-fang escaped slavery in a brothel by fleeing her "husband'' with her infant daughter, Bao Qin, Chang's mother-to-be. Growing up during Japan's brutal occupation, free-spirited Bao Qin chose the man she would marry, a Communist Party official slavishly devoted to the revolution. In 1949, while he drove 1000 miles in a jeep to the southwestern province where they would do Mao's spadework, Bao Qin walked alongside the vehicle, sick and pregnant (she lost the child). Chang, born in 1952, saw her mother put into a detention camp in the Cultural Revolution and later "rehabilitated." Her father was denounced and publicly humiliated; his mind snapped, and he died a broken man in 1975. Working as a "barefoot doctor" with no training, Chang saw the oppressive, inhuman side of communism. She left China in 1978 and is now director of Chinese studies at London University. Her meticulous, transparent prose radiates an inner strength.
(Audio version.) Wild Swans is a memoir of three generations of women growing up in 20th-century China. Chang, the author, is the final link in this chain. The story reads like the sweeping family sagas of genre fiction but rises far above the norm. The characters are well drawn, the events are riveting, and the story teaches lessons of history as well as lessons of the heart. It also allows listeners to visit a world unfamiliar to most Westerners. The author brings memories of a foreign life and illuminates them with graceful prose. The narration by Anna Massey is excellent, as are the production values. This is a good choice for public libraries as well as academic libraries with a popular listening component. Multicultural collections will also benefit from this recording. —Jacqueline Smith, Philadelphia Coll. of Pharmacy & Science Lib.
An exceptional tribute to three generations of courageous and articulate Chinese women: the grandmother, born in 1909 into a still feudal society; the mother, a Communist official and then "enemy of the people''; and the daughter, the author, raised during the reactionary Cultural Revolution, then sent abroad in 1978, when the story ends, to study in England, where she now, at age 39, serves as Director of Chinese Studies for External Services, Univ. of London. In recounting her grandmother's early life—the binding of her feet, her time as the concubine of a warlord, her escape with her infant daughter after his death, and her marriage to a respectable middle-class doctor—Chang provides a vivid picture of traditional China and the place of women before the Communist Revolution. After the Revolution, the position of women rose: Chang's mother, who grew up during the Japanese occupation and married a Maoist guerrilla soldier, bore five children while enduring the discipline and hardship of those early revolutionary years, and later, as a civil servant and wife of an official, acquired in the new government status and advantages, especially education for her children. Raised in this "Privileged Cocoon" between 1958-65, Chang was protected from the injustices that led to the Cultural Revolution—the purges, repression, public denunciations and humiliations, the confusing and arbitrary shifts in ideology that led ultimately to the conviction of her parents, idealistic but old-time Communists, as "enemies of the people." As part of her "re-education," Chang was sent to the countryside to live as a peasant, serving without any training as a doctor and then as an electrician before being sent abroad. A valuable historical perspective on the impact of Mao on traditional Chinese culture and character—as well as an unusual window on the female experience in the modern world. Mostly, however, Chang offers an inspiring story of courage, sensitivity, intelligence, loyalty, and love, told objectively, without guilt or recrimination, in an unassuming and credible documentary style.
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