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Book Report on Wild Swans by Jung Chang

If the Chinese culture and religion are strongly rooted in the Confucian and Taoism models, how would one expect better treatment for women? Well, Chinese women have had more than they would possibly take but did they complain? How could one complain about the very way of life and culture that is older than their great grandparents and which they have practically lived within their entire lives? The Confucian doctrine, representative of both the Chinese culture and religion, did not and has never presented women with same status as that of men simply because women were regarded as not only inferior to men but also incapable of education.

The Chinese culture, in sync with Confucian doctrines, divided people in terms of sex or gender and decided that male was superior to female. They appreciated the subservience nature of women not only as natural but also proper. In history it has been injustice against women in the name of culture in the entire Chinese culture and this has prompted a number of authors to write in a bid to portray the reflection of women in the Chinese culture to the rest of the world. Yet the Chinese civilization has been favorably ranked in the world.

It has been remarked that a civil society is reflected by the ranks held by women in that society and if we go by this stance, then Chinese culture will never ever get its position close to the top. Among the works of literature that address the plight of women in the Chinese culture is the Wild Swans by Jung Chang. The book addresses potent issues about the position of a woman in the Chinese culture and this paper simply is a book report to highlight these potent issues about the woman’s position in Chinese culture and history especially in the 20th century.

Book’s Description The book is an autobiography of the writer’s family going back to the third generation i. e. her grandmother, her mother and herself as the writer. The book was published in 1991 and became a bestseller, selling right more than two million copies, and has since won two wards i. e. NCR Book Award and the British Book of the Year in 1992 and 1994 respectively.

Through the use of a story of a three generations of women, Grandmother, mother and daughter, the writer manages to narrate the turbulent history of China’s catastrophic 20th century right from the swordy warlords to the Chairman Mao Zedong and right from the Manchu empire to the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The book has such an impact on the readers with changing effects; at times it sounds petrifying and at other times, amazing. Indeed, the book is never bereft of the passion and opulence distinct of a good non-fiction novel.

The book is simply a family memoir which qualifies to encompass the entire breadth of the tumultuous 20th century Chinese Social history. Synopsis: Jung Chang’s Grandmother’s Story The book starts off by narrating the writer’s grandmother’s story. The writer’s grandmother came from a very poor family and her father sold her off as a concubine to one of the wealthy and high ranking men in the society by then; a General, who was already married and had one wife. A wedding ceremony ensued and she did not see her newly wedded husband, the general, again until after six years.

Although she was now living in a very wealthy household, left alone with servants and not seeing her husband for a massive lonely six years, life was tense and she feared a lot that maybe the servants could report rumors about her to her husband. After six years had elapsed, the General paid her a conjugal visit and it was during this time that the writer’s mother was conceived. Upon birth of the girl, and the general’s wife having learnt about it, she ordered that the young baby be taken away from her mother to live with her.

So, the writer’s grandmother had no choice but to relinquish her child to the General’s wife as if she was a surrogate mother to the child. During one of her visit to her husband’s house maybe to suckle the baby, the general died and this struck her mainly because her child would be taken from her forever. Consequently, she took the baby secretly and sneaked back to her parent’s home. The general’s family wanting to have knowledge about the wellbeing of the child, the writer’s mother, was greeted with a lie from the writer’s grandmother that the child had died.

As years progressed, the writer’s grandmother remarried to a doctor who was much older than her and the writer’s grandmother, her daughter and her doctor husband lived as a complete family settling in Manchuria. Jung Chang’s Mother’s Story The focus of the book now shifts from Junng’s grandmother to Jung’s mother. At the tender age of fifteen, Jung’s mother started to work not only for Mao Zedong’s Red Army but also for the Communist Party of China. As the years went on and the revolution progressed, she still continued to work for the party and rose through the ranks appreciably.

This is where she met her husband, Jung’s father, who by then was a high ranking officer in the Party. The party regulations could not allow them to have much time together and finally, the two were transferred, as a couple, to Yibin (Jung’s father’s original place of birth). Based on her rank, she had to trek to Yibin as her husband rode on a jeep. The long trek and the military training which was absolutely grueling, she lost her pregnancy in a miscarriage. The pregnancy was unknown to her husband and the miscarriage did not only surprise him but also made him swear never to be insensitive to his wife’s needs.

As they continued with life, Jung’s mother gave birth to Jung and four other children. At this point in time, the book again shifts focus to Jung’s autobiography. Jung Chang’s Story The start of the Chinese Cultural Revolution coincided with Jung’s teen age and just like her mother, who had joined the Red army at the age of fifteen, she also willingly joined the Red Army at her teen age but she didn’t admire nor did she participate in the army’s brutality against humanity. The Revolution went on and life became more dangerous.

It happened that Jung’s parents were subjects of public torture, being labeled as Capitalist roaders. The public vocal torture made Jung’s father die as a result of physical and mental deterioration caused by the torture. Her father’s death devastated her and managed to bring forth a feeling of immense doubt about Maoism. She, just like all other youths, was sent to the countryside to be taught reform by the peasants. This was the idea of the Cultural reform; having the reform start with the youths of the day and then proceed through the generations.

However, when she came back from the countryside, she worked hard to get her position at the university. After her success, it never took long before Mao died. The entire Chinese nation and people were soaked in grief but Jung felt otherwise. In fact, she was exhilarated by the death as seen from one statement she makes n the book; she says in the book “People had been acting for so long they confused it with their true feelings. I wondered how many of the tears were genuine”.

She proceeded with her English studies at the university and after her graduation she worked as an assistant lecturer before she was awarded a scholarship to study in England. She did study in England but never went back to China. Conclusion In the book, Jung simply recounts the reminiscent, upsetting, and relentlessly fascinating story of how the entire three female generations in her family managed to fare on especially during the 20th century Chinese political maelstrom.

In comparison among the three female generations in Jung’s family, it is evident in terms of marriage love or romance, the grandmother’s generation knew nothing of this sort. Women during this time were taken as commodities as seen from the act of the grandmother being sold by the father to be a concubine to a wealthy man without love and the marriage was consummated after six long lonely life alone. Marriages were not about love. This is evident because a man was allowed to have as many concubines as he was able to afford maintaining them.

Things though changed for mother and daughter because they have to choose who marries them probably out of love but the treatment of woman in marriage for the mother is a bit insensitive. In terms of the social and political standing of women, in the grandmother’s generation’s women were not allowed to assume any leadership positions. Their work was limited to the kitchen and bearing. The grandmother had to wait for six years to bear without doing anything. The man had to make all the major decisions in the family as the woman sat and waited to be ordered what to do.

For the mothers and daughter’s generations, things had changed and these women faired well in the highly tumultuous political maelstrom of the 20th century China as far as social and political leadership is concerned. Women would assume leadership positions, but only junior ones as the senior positions were reserved for the men. This is evident from the mother’s generation. Finally, the changing political situation in china meant totally different childhood experiences for these women generation. The grandmother had a life without education and lacked solid loving relationship with parents.

Is a parent who sells a daughter because of poverty a loving parent? For the mother’s generation, there was love and attention from the parents even though school was not still possible for women during the mother’s generation. For the daughter, we see love and high responsibility of parent’s toward the children. Daughter’s father is mad on learning that the wife had a miscarriage and swears never to be insensitive and inattentive to her needs. The child is showered with love and afforded education References Jung Chang, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, London: Simon and Schuster Publishers, 1991

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