Friday, October 29, 2010

Wild Swans by Jung Chang

Chang's memoir which chronicles the lives of three generations (grandmother, mother and herself) serves to be more than just a recount of past experiences and a retracing of one's roots. It also serves to be a detailed testament to the living conditions of China under Mao from the inside and a hard look at the facets of millions that are living in fear, death, hate and destruction.

The appeal of the book lies in the fact that it never pretends to be a critical work of analysis and commentary about the Maoist regime. Rather, it is a portrayal of what life is like through the anecdotes of author. Having said that, I applaud Chang for her lucid expressions as she weaves a sense of poetry and prose into a tapestry that inspires, shocks, saddens and enrage the reader. Never once did she let her personal emotions mar her writing for she never succumbed to exaggeration or off-the-cuff kind of ranting about the misery of the time. Instead, she lets the events speak for itself and speak for itself it did.

These qualities make this book an important document for it helps to clarify what the various revolutions that brutalise the country was really like. It stretches far beyond ridding China of capitalist elements as it also sheds light on how the revolutions are a tool for Mao to galvanise power as well. It is certainly a far cry from the commonly perceived notion that the Maoist experiment consists a crazed man bungling through and brutalising the country in the hopes gaining power. An unsettling piece which shows how Communism started out as a hope for the future and ends up as an unspeakable display of horror. This certainly compels one to contemplate the nature of governance and the distribution of political power.

On a personal front, Chang's work presents the polemics of human behaviour. It is moving to see how one can be selfless, resolved to protect the ones we love and an unyielding faith in a good cause while, on the other extreme, the paranoid witch hunts that becomes a game of revenge, the rape and the perverse tussle for power certainly makes a sick in the stomach. Yet, it is a sobering reminder of the potential as well as the vulnerability and perversion of the human condition.

However, I do harbour some doubts as to the ability of Chang to research and relate the events to such a minute detail. For there is quite a lapse of time between what happened and the start of this endeavour. Furthermore, the details of the lives of her grandmother and mother is even farther back in the pages of history and the only few sources Chang has would be her elderly mother and perhaps a few other elderly friends who have known the family.

While such lingering doubts are important in the consideration of this work, it does not mar the excellence and the strength of the story-telling to any degree. A must-read!

As such, I will now set out to buy a copy of the biography of Mao by this fantastic author.

For a detailed summary and review of this book please visit:

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