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Literature / Wild Swans

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Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China is a family history which recounts the experiences of three generations of author Jung Chang's family through the turbulent events of 20th-century China - from the grandmother given as a concubine to a warlord, to the mother growing up under Japanese occupation and joining the Communists, to finally the author herself, Er-hong ("Jung"), who in the wake of the ordeals brought on by the Cultural Revolution eventually turns against the cult of Mao Zedong and finds a new life in Britain.

The book became an international bestseller when it was originally published in 1991, and has been translated into 37 languages, but is still Banned in China.

This work contains examples of:

  • All Issues Are Political Issues: During the Cultural Revolution, even traffic signs become politicized.
    Traffic was in confusion for several days. For red to mean "stop" was considered impossibly counter revolutionary. It should of course mean "go." And traffic should not keep to the right, as was the practice, it should be on the left.
  • Body Horror: Jung describes how her grandmother still underwent foot binding before this was banned. As she came home after hours of walking in agony and pain she would sit down and start taking care of her wounds.
  • Book Burning: Oh so very much during the Cultural Revolution. Jung's father is forced to burn some of his beloved books personally. That's the first time she sees him cry.
  • Child Soldiers: De-hong becomes a courier for the Communists during the civil war, despite still being a schoolgirl. Her assignments range from hiding banned literature to delivering explosive charges.
  • Family Theme Naming: The character pronounced "hong" (meaning "wild swan") is used in the names of several female members of Chang's family, starting with her mother.
  • Fashion Hurts: Jung's grandmother still lived through the centuries old practice of female foot binding, but her daughter was lucky that the practice was banned from 1912 on.
  • Insane Troll Logic: The various logical contortions of the communists used to denounce anyone who falls from favour - at one point, a person reading the works of Karl Marx is accused of "bourgeois intellectualism".
  • Married to the Job: In the early years of the Communist regime, it was explicitly required for Party officers (like Jung's father) to put their jobs before their families.
  • May–December Romance: Yang Yu-fang and Dr Xia marry despite a forty year age gap and the protests of the latter's family.
  • Meaningful Rename: Jung Chang's name was originally Er-hong (meaning "Second Swan"), but when she realized that it sounds like "faded red", she asked her father to give her a new name that has "a military ring to it". He suggested "Jung", which is an ancient word for "martial affairs".
  • Mind Rape: The prison authorities use Chang Shou-yu's schizophrenia to their advantage by exacerbating the delusions he suffers from as a form of torture (e.g. convincing him his wife is in the next room, denouncing him). When he is eventually released, he alternates between an Angst Coma and fits of rage.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: A favorite tactic of the Red Guards, many brigades of whom are indistinguishable from street gangs, during the Cultural Revolution.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: During the famine caused by the Great Leap Forward, there are cases of children kidnapped, murdered and eaten.
  • Numerical Theme Naming: Jung's great-grandmother had the name "Second Daughter".
  • Sadist Teacher: Some of the Japanese teachers during the occupation qualify, but the trope is averted by kindhearted Ms. Tanaka.
  • Shed the Family Name: Many relatives of denounced persons disown them publicly by changing their family names.
  • Small, Secluded World: Jung remembers how people told her lies that people in the capitalist countries were living in far worse ways than them. She was frightened of foreigners and her image as a child was that all of the men were men with "red, unkempt hair, strange-colored eyes, a very very long nose, stumbling around drunk, pouring Coca-Cola into his mouth from a bottle, with his legs splayed out in a most inelegant position". She was also intrigued by the word "hello", which foreigners always said, with an odd intonation, yet didn't know what it meant. Back then she assumed it was a swear word.