Quantcast
Latest Stories

‘Wild Swans’ author Jung Chang speaks of China dream—interview



HONG KONG—It may be unclear what exactly Beijing means by its aspirational “China Dream” slogan, but for banned “Wild Swans” author Jung Chang it’s a positive step. “It’s good to have a dream,” she says. “My dream is to have my books published in China.”

The Sichuan-born writer now lives in London and is best known for her family autobiography “Wild Swans”, which has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.

But none of those sales were in China. “Wild Swans” is banned there along with Chang’s explosive 2005 biography of Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China who instigated the Cultural Revolution in 1966 and whose rule is estimated to have caused tens of millions of deaths through starvation, forced labour and executions.

Chang, 61, spoke to AFP on the sidelines of the annual Hong Kong Book Fair, which closes on Tuesday, where she took part in a seminar on writing.

The event draws thousands each year including mainland Chinese visitors, who take the opportunity to travel just a few miles south of the border where they can buy books banned at home.

“Books were burned across China,” said Chang during the forum, recalling the chaotic ten-year Cultural Revolution that saw citizens turn on their neighbours. It is thought to have caused half a million deaths in 1967 alone, according to US-based British historian Roderick MacFarquhar.

“When I wrote my first poem in 1968 on my sixteenth birthday I was lying in bed and heard the door banging. Some Red Guards had come to raid our flat and I had to quickly run to the bathroom, tear up my poem and flush it down the toilet.”

The odds were heavily stacked against Chang realising her dream of becoming a writer.

“Growing up in China in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, it was impossible… Nearly all writers were persecuted—driven to suicide, sent to the gulag, some were executed.”

She spent several years as a peasant, a “barefoot doctor”—treating those in rural areas despite only basic medical training—and later in a factory as a steel worker and electrician.

“I was always thinking about writing,” she said. “My mind was always writing with an invisible pen. But I couldn’t put that pen on paper.”

Her 2005 biography “Mao: The Unknown Story”, which she co-authored with her husband Jon Halliday, was the fruit of 12 years trawling through archives and interviews.

It sought to lift the lid on the man behind the Cultural Revolution, a period that the ruling Communist Party keeps out of mainstream Chinese media over concerns that open debate could be used to justify unrest.

Mao Zedong set the period of lawlessness in motion to bolster his authority, previously undermined by the disastrous effort to modernise China known as the “Great Leap Forward,” which led to a famine that historian Frank Dikotter estimates killed 45 million in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Chang’s book won both praise for challenging perceptions of Mao as well as criticism that it lacked balance. Chang, who lost her father and grandfather to the Cultural Revolution, does not hide her feelings.

“He is right there with Hitler and Stalin,” she said of Mao.

Chang says she is dismayed that elements of China’s political establishment, including President Xi Jinping, frequently cite Mao.

“I feel extremely sad about it. Perhaps somebody is trying to claim legitimacy for the rule of the communist party from Mao. I think that’s a very bad idea because that legitimacy would be based on ignorance,” she said.

“The majority of people in China know that Mao was a tyrant, his rule was a tyranny and to cite Mao is not going to appeal to the majority of Chinese people. I think whoever gives the leaders this idea is making a huge mistake.”

The rise of Bo Xilai, former party boss of the southwestern megacity of Chongqing, and his revival of “Red culture”, with Maoist quotes sent to citizens’ mobile phones and massive “Red song” concerts, also highlighted the appeal the former leader retains in some quarters.

Bo’s spectacular downfall last year—he is set to face trial for corruption and other crimes and his wife has been convicted of murdering a British businessman-led Chang to hope initially it might have been a backlash within the party against Maoist revivalism.

“At the time of Bo’s fall I thought there might be somebody in the party who thought he was going too far in promoting Mao,” said Chang.

“I think now that that’s not the case. He fell simply because his number two fled to the American embassy and spilled the beans.”

Life changed for Chang after Mao’s death in 1976. Winning a scholarship, she became the first person from mainland China to get a doctorate from a British University in 1982, coming away from York with a Ph.D. in linguistics.

But she says her dream of becoming a writer was made possible by a visit from her mother in 1988.

“For the first time she told me the stories of her life, of my grandmother and my father.

“She came to stay with me for six months and she talked every day,” said Chang.

“She left me 60 hours of tape recordings. With that I wrote “Wild Swans”. And that’s how I became a writer.

“My mother knew that I had this unspoken dream, and she was making it possible for me to fulfil my dream.”


Follow Us


Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: "Mao: The Unknown Story" , Arts & Books , Beijing , Jung Chang , Language , Literature , Mao Zedong , “China Dream” , “Wild Swans”

  • pfckulapu_parin

    Bawal magsamba kay kristo. Pero si Mao lang daw ang dapat sambahin. Mga tangang komunista..



Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
  1. How to enjoy Buntod
  2. World bids Gabriel Garcia Marquez ‘Adios’
  3. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  4. ‘Wild West’ Masbate’s pristine marine gems
  5. Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  6. How Margie Moran-Floirendo keeps her dancer’s body
  7. Life lessons I want to teach my son
  8. Garcia Marquez left unpublished manuscript
  9. Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  10. Wanted: Beauty queen with a heart that beats for the environment
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week break?
  3. Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  4. ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  5. Miss America: Don’t suspend teen over prom invite
  6. How Margie Moran-Floirendo keeps her dancer’s body
  7. This is not just a farm
  8. President Quezon was born here–and so was Philippine surfing
  9. Levine designs womenswear with help from fiancee
  10. Clams and garlic, softshell crab risotto–not your usual seafood fare for Holy Week
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Mary Jean Lastimosa is new Miss Universe Philippines
  3. Did Angara ruin Pia Wurtzbach’s chances at Bb. Pilipinas?
  4. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  5. Vinegar test helpful vs cervical cancer
  6. From Jeannie to mom of suicide victim
  7. San Vicente beaches hidden but not for long
  8. Borgy and Georgina are back; others are off–again
  9. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  10. Sen. Angara: I thought Pia Wurtzbach gave a good answer

News

  • Caramoan declared mining-free zone
  • Slain mayor uneasy with public display of firearms
  • Mt. Banahaw visitors down to only 3,000—DENR
  • Bicol tour offer: Almasor or Triple C
  • Bomb found in Cagayan de Oro-bound bus
  • Sports

  • ’Bye Ginebra: No heavy heart this time
  • UAAP board tackles new rules
  • Baguio climb to decide Le Tour de Filipinas
  • Pacquiao-Mayweather still a pipe dream
  • Caguioa goes on Twitter rant
  • Lifestyle

  • Entering the monkhood a rite of passage
  • Haneda International Airport: A destination on its own
  • Wanted: Beauty queen with a heart that beats for the environment
  • Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  • Life lessons I want to teach my son
  • Entertainment

  • HEARD: Very villainy
  • HEARD: Serious job
  • Story time on the road
  • Let a hundred creative flowers bloom
  • Agents of Ambush, April 24, 2014
  • Business

  • PH banks not ready for Asean integration
  • Stocks down on profit-taking
  • Banks allowed to use ‘cloud’
  • SMIC to issue P15-B bonds
  • Honda upgrades PH plant
  • Technology

  • ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe
  • Viber releases new design for iPhone, comes to Blackberry 10 for the first time
  • Engineers create a world of difference
  • Bam Aquino becomes Master Splinter’s son after Wiki hack
  • Mark Caguioa lambasts Ginebra teammates on Twitter
  • Opinion

  • Respite
  • Bucket list
  • JPII in 1981: walking a tightrope
  • It’s up to us
  • Repetition
  • Global Nation

  • 19 Ukrainians, Russians, Filipinas rescued in bar raid
  • Filipinos coming home from Mideast must obtain MERS clearance – DOH
  • US Secret Service in Manila ahead of Obama visit
  • Palace thanks Estrada for successful HK mission
  • Hong Kong accepts PH apology; sanctions also lifted
    Marketplace