Three women, three generations and one epic journey through time.
A grandmother, sold by her father to become a concubine to a warlord general.
A mother, who gave everything she had to fight for a better China with the Communist Party.
And a daughter, disillusioned by politics and desperate to break out into the world.
Over 80 years of Chinese history beautifully packaged and masterfully retold.
Wild Swans is an international best-seller written by Chinese-born British writer Jung Chang.
The biography, recounting the lives of three generations of her family, was Chang’s first solo publication – originally released in 1991.
Over the years it has undergone a number of reprints including 21st (pictured above) and 25th anniversary editions.
Chang has since also released Mao: The Unknown Story (2005) in collaboration with her husband, Jon Halliday and Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China (2013).
Whilst the book has sold over 13 million copies in 37 languages, it is still banned in mainland China.
Chang provides the narrative voice throughout the biography, which begins with her grandmother’s birth in 1909 – during a time of great political upheaval in the wake of the Boxer Rebellion.
From there Chang seamlessly recreates 80 years of Chinese history – through Japanese occupation, two world wars and a civil war culminating in the rise of the Communist Party of China.
She also painstakingly details the rise of Chairman Mao and his subsequent reforms and infamous cultural revolution.
Whilst the book may appear a colossal undertaking, with over 600 pages, it is surprisingly fast-paced and easy to read.
The author’s personal connection to the story in particular grounds and personalises each of the events and yields decidedly gripping results.
I am very serious when I state that I couldn’t put the thing down! It was just so engaging, with countless twists and cliffhangers, and I had to know what happened next.
Going into this book, I had very limited knowledge of modern Chinese history and was worried that might limit my reading experience.
However, Chang provides exceptional background detail that is easy to follow without cluttering or distracting from the main story.
Later editions of the text also include an additional afterword written by Chang in 2003 and an assortment of maps, family trees, timelines and photographs to add context to the narrative.
Overall I believe this is a must read for anyone with even the slightest interest in modern history, philosophy or public affairs.
Brilliantly entwining politics, humanity and hope, it provides exquisite detail into a fascinating and previously little recorded segment of history.
The most recent paperback edition of Wilds Swans was published by William Collins, in the UK, in July 2016 and retails for £9.99
Published in the US most recently in 2003 by Touchstone, the paperback edition retails at $18.00.