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Publisher's Summary

Few books have had such an impact as Wild Swans: a popular best seller and a critically acclaimed history of China that opened up the country to the world.

Through the story of three generations of women in her own family - the grandmother given to the warlord as a concubine, the Communist mother, and the daughter herself - Jung Chang reveals the epic history of China's twentieth century.

Breathtaking in its scope, unforgettable in its descriptions, this is a masterpiece that is extraordinary in every way.

©1991 Copyright © Globalflair Ltd 1991, 2003 (P)2015 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd

Critic Reviews

"Immensely moving and unsettling; an unforgettable portrait of the brain-death of a nation." ( The Sunday Times)
" Wild Swans made me feel like a five-year-old. This is a family memoir that has the breadth of the most enduring social history." ( The Independent on Sunday)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Mind-boggling account of Chinese upheaval

Would you consider the audio edition of Wild Swans to be better than the print version?

Not necessarily. I have the print version and consider both valuable.

What did you like best about this story?

Although I was familiar with the outlines of this period in China, I found the personal story of the family that goes through the experiences of drastic changes riveting.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Maybe something like "adapt or die" or "what seems to be true isn't" or "you can't always get what you want and sometimes you can't even get what you need"

Any additional comments?

Amazing story, well told.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Exceptional Story!

Enthralling story. Well written, beautifully read. Truly an anazing story told across generations intertwined with a balance of history and information.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A must read to truly understand modern China

As an expat living in Hong Kong, I often wondered how there could be such a drastic change in people by just crossing the border into Shenzhen or a quick flight to Xi’an. Wild Swans provided a vivid history through an amazing story or hardship and perseverance.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A powerful personal history of China

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

For an understanding of the last century of Chinese history, I believe this book is a must read.

What did you like best about this story?

It is difficult to imagine the society described in this book. Orwell's fictional 1984 pales in comparison to this personal and family history of life under communism and its predecessors. This story depicts unbelievable suffering and oppression. Man's inhumanity to man is laid out plainly in event after event.

What about Pik-sen Lim’s performance did you like?

Very well read, but felt a bit slow. However, it's a weighty story and the pace allowed me to keep up.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No. It's too long, and the story is too oppressive to listen in one sitting for me. I listened in 4-5 hour chunks and that was sometimes hard to handle.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Amazing resilience.

Would you consider the audio edition of Wild Swans to be better than the print version?

I always like the audio versions better than print because if the narrator is good it transports you into the story.

What did you like best about this story?

The part of the story I liked best is the insight into a culture and country that I have not visited. Each generation was different in what they had to endure but it was horrifying at times.

What does Pik-sen Lim bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Her voice brings the story to life in a way that reading can't come close to.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

There is a real anguish when reading of what people endured and how different their lives are from generation to generation. It is better but not acceptable yet. Another nauseating example of mans inhumanity to man. I am amazed at how they came through such difficult circumstances but these truths are necessary to learn about. Appreciation for life comes from knowing these histories versus ignoring them.

Any additional comments?

Great story and plenty of historical facts. An eye opener and a definite read for those interested in other cultures.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Fantastic read. Reads like fiction but is not.

Provides so real insight into modern China. An excellent reader. Three generations and so much change.

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Great book

Good insight into real Chinese history. Raw and beautifully written. Stop reading the reviews, read the book ;)

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Way too long

I liked that after 27 hours it ended positively! Very sad story of an amazingly brilliant family and young woman finally finding freedom!

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Pain, so much gratuitos pain.

A timely reminder of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. Mrs Jung is tiresome sometimes in her perfection and one would like to hear more about her mother or grandmother, but the story is so painful one must overlook her self pity.

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A BOOK FOR THE AGES

A touching personal story/national history; reads like a novel; universal significance. I cried, too, Jung.

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  • Busy of Devon
  • 04-29-16

Mesmerising and haunting at the same time

One of the most astonishing books you'll ever hear. Astonishing in its detail, recall and portrayal of life in 20th century China. From its origins in the Empirical style late 19th Century, to rule under the feared Kuomintang, the rise of the Communist Party and the emergence of Mao and his reign of terror, on finishing I want to start all over again, so much will I miss Jung Chang's captivating story and stories, told in extraordinary detail. This epic tale captures the mind's eye on first listen and holds it there throughout. At times it was deeply harrowing, shocking and moved me to tears. The narration is superb - fitting and easy to listen to. I have wanted to read Wild Swans for 20 years and it surpassed all expectations. Listen to this great book - you will not be disappointed.

15 of 15 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Nick
  • 05-08-16

History

I have never read anything about China, I am so happy I have read this. It has explained so much that I had no knowledge about. I am looking forward to learning more especially if it means that Jung Chang has written it. Thank you for sharing your family's amazing story .

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Sue
  • 08-12-15

Gets under your skin

This brave book allows us an insight into the China that we were never meant to see. Compelling and very very sad.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Barbara
  • 04-15-16

Heart rendering but beautiful.

I listened to this on audible because although I had got the book in the year 2000 I needed to have it read each day. There is so much to take in, reading a page before putting the light out doesn't do it justice.
As an English woman who had lived abroad as a child I found much of the book hard. The unjustness, cruelty, and hate that the human can sink to is scary. It is not just the Chinese but the human race as a whole. Only the very strong can stand against it.
Many times my emotions were rocked from sinking thought of the person being spoken about not being able to get out of their situation to blessed relief at their survival. Then on to anger at the treatment of someone else.
This book is an emotional roller coaster but well worth the listen. There are lessons to be learned.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Teresa Cooper
  • 04-10-16

The story of three women.

I enjoyed the book very much as it showed how much China has changed in the time of pre Mao up to more recent times. The three Wild Swans are the author, her mother ( who) was a strong supporter of Mao, and her grandmother. All of whom were women of their times and culture. I have already recommended Wild Swans to several of my friends.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • M. Hewitt
  • 06-25-16

Beyond brilliant!

Fantastic. A heart wrenching take of survival against inhumanity on a continental scale. It chronicles three generations of women from the same family. One a warlords concubine, another a rebel and the author. All set against the back drop off a turbulent China struggling against imperialism, extreme socialism and Japanese invasion. Mao should rank along side Hitler for crimes against humanity . This is a future classic and should be, I believe, on the national curriculum. It certainly puts life in the West in perspective and highlights why it's such an appealing destination for asylum and immigration...

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Clare
  • 10-05-16

Second time around ...

I'm far from an avid reader but Wild Swans is one of the very few books I have read (over 15 years ago), a fascinating history, a real insight to Chinese life, shocking most of the time. But so good it deserved another 'read' this time audio and again really enjoyed the journey and a good reminder of how lucky we are.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Mrs
  • 06-05-16

The best book I have ever listened to

A truly wonderful account of life in China through 3 generations of women, beautifully written.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Kirstine
  • 01-07-16

Memorable, moving and saddening

This is one of the most memorable books I’ve listened to or read. The 20th history of China is told through the personal experiences of three generations of women, including the author, who writing in the first person, brings the suffering and enormous social upheavals painfully to life. Lives made so grim by the injustices heaped on the women and their families that I felt fury on their behalf. I was engrossed throughout by the bravery and tenacity of victims of the different regimes the worst of which by far was that of Mao. I knew that he’d ruined the country by his extreme version of communism but hadn’t realised quite how vicious he and his henchmen were during the cultural revolution. Hitler and Stalin are rightly vilified, but, I think Mao outdid them in his megalomania. It’s sad how the early optimism that Mao’s take-over of the country would create a more equal society degenerated into a highly hierarchical regime of fear and cruelty, a ruined economy, mass starvation and millions of deaths. A period of madness that also obliterated much of China’s proud cultural heritage and scarred the lives of a generation.

I unreservedly recommend this superb and well narrated book.

28 of 33 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Robert
  • 10-16-16

Wow

A truly beautiful story well written with a sensitive touch, while not ignoring the brutality of China's past.
Excellently narrated and truly authentic

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Melinda - YarnderWoman
  • 07-25-15

Fascinating

This book is very long but flows well as you listen to it. The history described is fascinating and a very interesting, personal insight into the situation over this near 100 year period.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Tracy
  • 05-30-18

A favourite novel, brought to life!

One of my favourite books brought to life! Such a wealth of information as well as an amazing story. Very enjoyable.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-26-18

Sorry I Waited so long to read Wild Swans

An amazing and shocking story about the true histor of China in the second half of the 20th century. Praise to the author and her family for allowing me to know Thier story.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Laura
  • 11-28-17

Great story, average narrating.

As a Chinese speaker some of the incorrect pronunciation was hard to listen to.
Otherwise it was a great story.

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  • Pinella
  • 10-06-17

Even better the second time around

I read this book when it first came out and like many other people, it disturbed me for months afterwards. Whilst it's depressing, heartbreaking, almost unbelievable to the westerner; it's also a triumph of spirit and strength of character for Jung Chang and her family to not only survive but to ultimately thrive post-Maoist China. Beautifully performed by Pik-sen Lim. Thoroughly recommended.

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  • Vivien
  • 08-08-17

A brilliant book!

I read Wild Swans many years ago but listening to this audio has been absolutely marvellous. I now know a great deal more about China than when I first read the book and I have also listened to Jung Chang's book about Mao. I found every paragraph fascinating in both books and I am so grateful that Jung Chang has made it her mission to share these tales of such sorrow but also of such courage. Wild Swans is a book I wish everyone would listen to. It is such an important story that reveals so much depth about Mao's fantastically unjust regime. To understand the way the Communist dictatorship managed to take over so comprehensively it is important to understand more of the way China was in the days of the dynasties and in the years before the Communists took power. Through the story of Jung Chang's grandmother it is clear that the Chinese population had few personal choices and there is an underlying struggle of hardship and will power constantly revealed in efforts to overcome one difficulty after another. This tale is told with such dignity and empathy and the characters become so three dimensional. It is hard to imagine living through such hardship. Jung Chang and her family are such heroes!!

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Elizabeth smith
  • 06-14-17

What an amazing book.

How these people endured I will never know. Thanks Jung for you wonderful yet heartbreaking family story.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Grace
  • 11-14-16

Very informative

Brilliant book, amazing author. Hard to get into at spots as an overload of political information. However! Do not be put off! This is an incredible real story of 3 undoubtedly amazing women, you will be happy you finished it

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  • Dr
  • 04-01-18

Not for history buffs

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

N/A

Any additional comments?

I had just finished reading the historian Frank Dikötter's ‘Mao's Great Famine'. An outstanding diligently produced work, scientifically researched and humanely written.
I was looking for corroborating 'grass-roots' accounts and came across this book and was initially excited at the idea of such an auspicious cross-generational account.
This book is filed in the Amazon store as [#4 in Books > History > Asia > China], [ #5 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > History > Asia > China] and [ #15 in Books > History > World > Women in History].

In reality, to me this is a 'movie script' with the usual cliché proviso, 'based on real events'.
After enthusiastically launching myself into the book, by the end of the first third I had had enough. This humourless, tedious book obviously bypassing any editorial competency had by then established itself to me as an utterly self-serving contrived account targeted towards a perceived market niche. I forced myself to throw in good-time-after-bad to finish it in the vain hope it would turn eventually get better. It didn't.

The preposterous level of detail of second and third party accounts, not just in actions but in 'what they were thinking and feeling' smacks of a level of embellishment that probably works well in the English Chardonnay-drinking post-modernist scene where anecdotes are inseparable from factual history.

You would probably enjoy this book enormously if you knew nothing about China, its history, people, their past-and-present education systems, their culture or language and always had that fascination with red flags, bicycles and fanatical pictures of Mao (and a penchant for women's magazine articles).

If on the other hand, you were middle-aged, lived and worked and taught there, married into the culture, had a good grasp of the language, had an extended family of in-laws many of whom had lived through this period who were now in their 80's, had spent numerous hours interviewing them, you might be a bit more circumspect in separating detail from spin.

The underlying unlikely self-importance of the writer's family and herself written in a neo-Charles-Dickensian tone, the constant equating of her Chinese life to English cultural and literary clichés is laughable. It almost makes me doubt the authorship. While being careful to portray and translate her and her family's 'model Chinese values' within the context of the madness of the time, the noble monocular interpretation of her accounts (such as that of her father's fanatical stupidity) is a frustrating read, despite understanding her cultural need for filial piety.

The notion of the author, a teenage culturally enlightened red guard 'Scout Finch' ignorant of and isolated from the monstrosity and brutality around her while secretly occupying herself in 'Chekov' and writing poetry (none of which seems to have survived) may go a long way to (shall we say) 'abstract' her from those and the events that happened around her.

As an aside, a Chinese teenager brought up in the fanatical environment of xenophobic Chinese countryside of Sichuan during the 70's passionately reading Chekov is somewhat akin to a 70's teenager from say, the mountains of 'Arkansas' claiming to understand the collected works of 'Li Bai' and then putting that on their CV. Actually, banning Li Bai in advance would be necessary to make it closer to the book.

The problem books such as this that mix embellished anecdotes with known factual general knowledge is that they dilute, cast doubt and get a 'free ride' over the hard-won historical accounts. The painstaking researched accounts and records that belong to humanity and deserve preservation and should instruct and warn humanity never to make the same mistakes. in China's current climate, the re-emergence of isolationism, xenophobia and communist conservatism coupled with tendencies towards nationalist policies, deification of 'Xi think' and massive use of technology for control should indicate that China has 'peaked-out' in its own version of post-Deng 'perestroika' (if there ever was one).

One area avoided at the end of the book which had my curiosity aroused more by its omission than by any expectation of a meaningful account was why and how she 'jumped ship' to stay in the west. Perhaps it might have been hard to fit that into the train of 'idealised events'.

If this book wasn't put forward as so-called history, I wouldn't be as indignant in my review. If a similar book emerged from some turnip-boy escaping a communist backwater of post-war Europe, it would hardly have been held in such high historical regard. But because it’s China, we want to believe almost anything because ‘they are so different’.

If you're only looking for a story, or a 'ripping yarn' I guess this book would be fun. Sort of like 'Memories of a Geisha' or Tony Blair's biography which I once saw a shopper mercifully drag over from the 'biography' section and put on the 'fiction' shelf at an airport bookstore. If on the other hand you're looking for objective accurate researched history and lasting meaningfulness to society, read something by Frank Dikötter instead.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful