Wild Swans - Jung Chang

China is a huge market to sell products to. Over 1.4bn potential customers with increasing wealth. Statements such as “China First” are common.

To understand the country better why not dive a bit into modern chinese history? A quick search turned up the book Wild Swans - Jung Chang.

Wild Swans recounts the lives of three female generations in China. The grandmother of the author, a concubine with bound feet. The mother of the author, who at age fiften began working for the communist party and rose through the ranks and finally the author herself and her life through the Cultural Revolution.

It describes the horrors, trials, tribulations, destruction of society and the economy during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution under Mao. Starvation, torture, nepotism and outright insanity. In that case it’s similar to soviel rule as described by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago.

In the book Changs parents, starting out fighting for communism, soon discover that Mao’s China is not the one they were fighting for and find themselves as victims of the system.

During that time the author describes China, which compared to capitalist countries was supposed to be paradise, with “If this is paradise, what then is hell?”

A few quotes:

It was a time when telling fantasies to oneself as well as others, and believing them, was practised to an incredible degree. Peasants moved crops from several plots of land to one plot to show Party officials that they had produced a miracle harvest. Similar ‘Potemkin fields’ were shown off to gullible—or self-blinded—agricultural scientists, reporters, visitors from other regions, and foreigners.

How to create starvation

It was officially estimated that nearly 100 million peasants were pulled out of agricultural work and into steel production. They had been the labour force producing much of the country’s food.

Whether the following is funny or sad is up to you

Mao […] took a dislike to sparrows - they devour grain. So every household was mobilized. We sat outside ferociously beating any metal object, from cymbals to saucepans, to scare the sparrows off the trees so they would eventually drop dead from exhaustion.

One day, we read in the People’s Daily that an old peasant had stuck thirty-two portraits of Mao on his bedroom walls, ‘so that he can see Chairman Mao’s face as soon as he opens his eyes, whatever direction he looks in’. So we covered the walls of our classroom with pictures of Mao’s face beaming his most benign smile. But we soon had to take them down, and quickly, too. Word circulated that the peasant had really used the pictures as wallpaper, because Mao’s portraits were printed on the best-quality paper and were free.

As for human development and the ranking of Changs mother as an official.

In nearly four decades, my mother was upgraded only twice, in 1962 and 1982; each time she moved up only one grade, and by 1990 she was still Grade 15. With this ranking, in the 1980s, she was not entitled to buy a plane ticket or a ‘soft seat’ on a train: these can be bought only by officials of Grade 14 and above. So, thanks to my father’s actions in 1953, almost forty years later she was one rung too low on the ladder to travel in comfort in her own country.

The summary is provided by the author around the end of the book

[…] Wild Swans shows Mao to have criminally misruled the Chinese people, rather than being basically a good and great leader, as Peking decrees. Today, Mao’s portrait still hangs on Tiananmen Square in the heart of the capital, and across the vast cement expanse lies his corpse as an object of worship. The current leadership still upholds the myth of Mao—because it projects itself as his heir, and claims legitimacy from him. This is why publication of Wild Swans is banned in China. So is any mention of the book or of me in the media.

Even today in 2019, 43 years after Mao’s death, 28 years after the Wild Swans has been published, Mao’s picture is displayed on Tianamen Square.