China Mao And The Cultural Revolution Essay

Length: 7 pages Sources: 1+ Subject: Literature Type: Essay Paper: #70635806
Excerpt from Essay :

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

Wild Swans is the story of three generations of women in China in the 20th century. The author is Jung Chang: her autobiography comprises the last third section of the book; the first two sections are devoted to telling the story of her grandmother Yu-Fang and her mother Bao Qin. Instead of writing a straight autobiography, Chang chose to begin her story two generations back—the purpose being to provide not only personal historical context but also a sense of the cultural historical context in which her family came into being. By beginning the book with the statement that her grandmother “became the concubine of a warlord general” at the age of fifteen, Chang immediately gives her story a sweeping, grand epic backdrop: she is no mere commoner of humble origins but rather a figure whose family was right in the heart or thick of the swirling chaos that was China in early half of the 20th century. By situating her book in the past, Chang allows her story to breathe, to come to life, to focus on the real, true life events that represented three distinct periods in China’s history—the pre-Mao period, the Mao period, and the post-Mao period. Mao Zedong had such an enormous impact on China, its culture and its people that the beauty of Chang’s book is that it provides the reader with a long look into the China that immediately preceded Mao’s rise, the China that was ruled by Mao, and the China that was to emerge following Mao’s death. Though the story eventually leads the reader to the West—to England to be exact—where Chang received a scholarship to study, the book represents well three very distinct visions of a China undergoing a considerable change, and the women of Chang’s story—Yu-Fang, Bao Qin and Chang herself—represent well those changes in their very persons and in their experiences.

Including the mother and the grandmother also changes the nature of the book. What might have otherwise been a straight autobiography of Chang’s life is made more compelling by the inclusion of her mother and grandmother’s stories. It gives one a sense of place and of history that would not otherwise have been possible and it also gives the book a very majestic style. Chang shows that the story is not just hers but rather a story of womanhood, a story of China, and also an intimate story of her family. Including the mother and the grandmother in the story also allows the book to focus on the revolutions that really represented the spirit of the times in China in the 20th century, each woman experiencing the revolutions in a unique way that tells a side of the much larger story happening in the East.

The revolutions were made in the family in a number of ways. For Yu-Fang, the revolution occurred all around her as a young girl. Her family was from Manchuria and her father, Chang’s great-grandfather had been a police official. But with the old institutions collapsing, as Chang describes, there was an intense vacuum that was filled by the warlords of the regions. They represented power—a power that the hastily established republican government had attempted and failed to evince on its own. With the overthrow of the child emperor in 1911, the land was ripe for picking, and the warlords picked it for themselves. As a police official, Chang’s great-grandfather had limited influence in


Thus, Yu-Fang was made by the early stages of revolution. Her daughter would be made by the middle stages. As worker for the Communist Party of China and for Mao’s Red Army, Bao Qin was immersed in the world of the Revolution. She rose up through the ranks and met Wang Yu, Chang’s father. After suffering a miscarriage from the grueling manner in which she had to move to her husband’s town after a transfer, Wang Yu became more considerate of his wife even as the Revolution pressed on with its often inhumane approach to creating a new China—particularly through the Cultural Revolution, which Chang herself experienced as a teenager. She was thus made by the Revolution as it fomented a disturbing spirit of cruelty. She had joined the Red Guards but was shocked by the brutality of her peers. Her own father was critical of Mao and suffered persecution as a result. In this manner, Chang saw the full effects of the Revolution come full circle as it began to eat itself and turn into a caricature of a real society, with everyone acting a part—acting their love for Mao and thinking their tears for him upon his death as real.

While Chang willing joined the Red Guards, I don’t believe that I could have—but it is difficult to put myself in that situation. I am looking back on it after all this time and knowing about what it was like. Had I been Chang’s age and unaware of the shocking brutality of the Guards, I myself probably would have willingly joined to show my devotion to the Revolution. When you are young and in that world, it is one thing; when you are removed from it by decades, by time and space, you look at it with different eyes and think to yourself that you could never join such a thing. Yet, at the time, as a young teenager, who can really know? I may very well have joined willingly—but, hopefully, like Chang, I would have seen the tragedy of it all.

Coping with tragedy and trauma is not easy. Trauma does definitely influence a person: you carry it around with you, and you can even develop disorders—like post-traumatic stress disorder. It does not really matter who you are because it can impact everyone differently. Gender, age, status may all be variables that help or allow a person to cope with trauma, but there are many other variables that are also factors, like whether or not a person has a support system in place that can help the individual to process the trauma and deal with it.

For Chang, dealing with the trauma of being part of the violent Red Guards and experiencing a gradual disillusionment as her father was persecuted for his beliefs and his opinion of the barbaric way that Mao was going about ruling the country allowed her to process more deeply the sweeping changes that were happening to her country and that, in a micro way, were happening inside her. Mao wanted to recreate life in China in his own Romantic-Revolutionary image; he had little regard for life as it actually or naturally is. Chang began to see this difference, this contrast, and it awakened her to the reality of the terrible experiment…

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