Published 09 Jun 2017
The social and political environment, in which a person leads his /her life, controls the course of his/her life. Human beings are compelled to lead their lives in accordance to the circumstances prevailing in their nation. China is one such nation that has undergone numerous social and political changes. The social and political conditions, in which the previous generations lived in China, differ vastly from the present day situation in the country. The novel Wild Swans by Jung Chang depicts these differences in the lives of Chinese people brought about by the changing scenario of their nation. The author presents an autobiographical account of her own life and the lives of her grandmother and mother. The lives of these three women, point towards the changing position of women in the Chinese society. In this paper, we will focus on the lives of the three generations of Chinese women grandmother Yu-Fang, mother Bao Qin, and daughter Jung Chang, and bring forth the differences in their lives by comparing their childhood, love life, social and political roles.
The book Wild Swans opens with the account of the childhood of the grandmother, Yu-Fang. Yu-Fang had a painful childhood compared to the childhood of other two women. When Yu-Fang was two years old, her feet were bound together, causing her immense pain. “For years my grandmother lived in relentless, excruciating pain.” (Chang 12). Later she was sold off as a concubine to a wealthy warlord at the age of fifteen by her father. This act of her father proves that he was insensitive to the feelings and suffering of his daughter. The childhood of Bao Qin and Jung Fung differed from the childhood of Yu-Fang in various aspects. Bao Qin had considerate parents who cared for her wishes and allowed her to take her own decisions. She also had access to education until the age of fifteen and was free to choose her vocation. Her parents supported her when she decided to work for the Communist Party of China. Even in the matter of marriage, Qing was never forced by her parents. She led a secure childhood under the care of her loving parents. Jung Chang’s childhood was also free from the social pressures, faced by Yu-Fang. She received proper education and was provided with a comfortable life by her parents.
Chang’s parents provided her with the freedom to decide about her marriage and career. Among the three women, Yu-Fang is the only person who had to go through lots of suffering during her childhood. She was born in a period when the society treated women as commodities. “Objectification of women is illustrated in Wild Swans, whereby men “grab concubines” to serve their pleasure, and further amplified through “daughter for sale for ten kilos of rice”, highlighting that women are commodities, discarded at will.” (Lin). The other two women, Qin and Chang grew under the care of loving parents and had the freedom to take their own decisions.
Yu-Fang lived in a time when marriages were arranged by the families. Yu-Fang’s father consented to send her as a concubine with General Xue, without asking Yu-Fang. Yu-Fang’s life with the General was devoid of love, for she lived alone in a big house with just the servants to give her company. “The house was luxurious by local standards-and far superior to her parents’ home-but my grandmother was lonely and miserable” (Chang 33). She lived a life, without the love of the person with whom she was send away from her parents’ house. The General came to visit her after six years, and at that time also his visit was for conjugal purpose only. Fang was left in a vulnerable position after the death of the General. Out of the fear that her child would be taken away from her, she runs to a place of safety. It is during this time that she meets Dr .Xia, a wealthy doctor, who accepts Fang as his wife. Being a concubine, Fang was lucky to find herself a good husband. Fang found her love, for which she had yearned for many years, when Dr. Xia entered her life and took her as his wife. Qin led a life where she was free to choose her own husband. Although there were numerous men wishing to marry her, Qing never responded to their feelings of love, for she was more interested in studies and party work. But when she met Wang, a high ranking officer, she fell in love and got married to him. Qin was happy to be married to Wang but owing to the orders of the Communist party, they were unable to be spend more time in each other’s company. The married life of
Chang is not described in detail by the author. The book mentions only that Chang was married to a British historian, so we were unaware about the love in Chang’s life. Qin and Fang married the person they loved but Fang was forced into a relation by her father. Fang lived in a period when women were treated unfairly by the men. The social conditions in which Qin lived, gave her the freedom to choose her husband but the political conditions prevented her from spending too much time with her husband.
Political and Social Roles
Although all the three women had their own opinions and thoughts about the social and political conditions in their nation, Yu-Fang never got a chance to get involved in the social and political affairs of her nation. She lived in a period when women were prohibited from entering the political field. But the situation was different for Bao Qin, as she had joined the Communist Party of China. Being a member of the Communist Party, aided Qin in playing an active role in the political field. During that time China was being ruled by Kuomintang and Qin was against their rule, owing to the appalling manner in which they ruled China. When the Communist Party was opposing the rule of Kuomintang, Qin played a significant role in spreading the message of communism among the people, by smuggling and distributing communist writings. Later, when she married Wang, a high ranking officer in the Communist Party, her participation in the party work and political affairs of the nation increased. Chang was also inclined towards politics but later she stayed away from playing an active role in the politics of her nation. She had joined the Red Guards but at times she abhorred their cruel ways. It was at this time that the rising power of Mao was bring numerous changes in the nation.
Chang was against the Cultural Revolution but still she was compelled to go to the countryside, owing to the political conditions brought about by Mao. After witnessing the suffering of her parents during the reign of Mao, her thoughts about Mao began to alter. She felt that the situation in her nation would improve, if Mao was not the person ruling the country. Her aversion for Mao’s regime is reflected in her thoughts when she writes about people’s reaction to Mao’s death. “People had been acting for so long they confused it with their true feelings. I wondered how many of the tears were genuine”. (Chang 496). The political and social roles played by these women, depended on the period in which they lived. Fang lived in a period, where she had no chance to play a role in the politics of the nation whereas Qin actively participated in the political affairs of her country. Chang stayed away from the politics after a brief period of participation.
The lives of Bao Qin and Jung Chang differed from the life of Yu-Fang in numerous aspects. And these changes represent the improving position of women in China. The social conditions, in which Qin and Chang lead their lives, provided them with more freedom as compared to the life of Yu-Fang. Qing and Chang played an active role in the field of politics. The differences in the position of woman during the period of Yu-Fang and Chang, bring forth the improved social conditions, in which the women of China are leading their lives since the late nineteenth century.
- Chang, Jung. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. Anchor. 1992.
- Lin, J. Wild Swans: Details China’s Political Reforms and the Cultural Revolution. Associated Content. 6 June 2006. 4 March 2009.