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Wild Swans (intro and Outline)

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Wild Swans (intro and Outline)

Stephen Semple

Modern China

The Chinese people have experienced rapid change, in government and culture in the 20th century. Although the common people seemed to have risen up against oppression from the ruling class, liberty and equality often remains out of their grasp. For centuries the dynastic cycle has dominated the culture and collective consciousness of the Chinese people. This process is characterized by unification, followed by prosperity and success, followed by corruption and instability, and finally rebellion and overthrow. This gives way to a new dynasty that was said to have received the mandate of heaven. This cycle, in some ways, ended with the fall of the Qing dynasty. This marked the end of over 2000 years of imperial China. The influence of the west was about to take over Chinese government and many people hoped that the ideals of the western communist philosophy would end oppression that was deeply planted in Chinese political tradition. Unfortunately, for the people who fought for these ideals, the oppression and corruption that their ancestors experienced had not disappeared with the death of the imperial government. The book, Wild Swans, by Jung Chang is an account of three generations of Chinese women who live through and experience the development that lead to the communist revolution, and leadership under Moa Tse Dung. While the Communist party strives to destroy the cycle of oppression that warlords and emperors have inflicted on the people, the party simply puts put oppression in a new dress and makes it’s victims out to look like enemies to the revolution and to the nation.

The story of this family begins with demonstration of the atrocities committed against the author’s grandmother, Yu-fang. She was born to parents whose marriage had been arranged, they were probably never in love, neither before, nor after the wedding. Yu-fang’s mother was not even given a name, and her husband was 6 years younger than her and only a boy of fourteen at the time of their marriage. She was expected to help raise her husband which was expected of a Chinese bride. Yu-fang’s feet were bound when she was the age of two. This was done by her own mother, and was an extremely painful process. Jung Chang said, “My Grandmother screamed in agony and begged her to stop. Her mother had to stick a cloth into her mouth to gag her. My grandmother passed out repeatedly from the pain.” (24) This painful tradition is one of the worst examples mistreatment of women that was considered a necessity.

Yu- fang was born in 1909. This was near the end of the Manchu Empire, which had been ruling the nation for over 260 years. This was also a time when threat of Japanese invasion was a constant reality in the region of Manchuria, which is where Yixian, the family’s hometown, was located. Yu-fang became a concubine to an official to the Metropolitan Police of the Warlord government of Peking. Her father arranged for Yu-fang and General Xue to meet (making it seem accidental to preserve his family honor) and received a considerable dowry which enabled him to buy concubines for himself. Being a concubine to a warlord general proved to be a terrible life; she was constantly in fear of the Generals wife and servant who may at anytime falsely accuse her of whatever they pleased which could result in beating for General Xue. He warned her once not to have an affair by vividly describing how he slowly and painfully killed a concubine along with her lover. General Xue needed to get this point across since he would leave her alone in the house for months at a time (she was not permitted to leave.)

Yu-fang became pregnant with the author’s mother, which initially gave the concubine a deep sense of purpose, but this was accompanied by a deep sense of fear. “My grandmother was terrified. As a concubine, her whole future and that of her daughter were in jeopardy, possibly even in mortal peril. She had no rights. If the general died, she would be at the mercy of the wife, who had the power of life and death over her. She could do anything she wanted-sell her to a rich man, or even into a brothel, which was quite common. Then my grandmother would never see her daughter again.” (39)

This anxiety forced the grandmother to plot an escape with her daughter. This was a risky thing to do for any concubine, and it was especially risky with a daughter. It was very disgraceful for a member of the Xue bloodline to be remove for the Xue household. She had some help from a fellow concubine and escaped upon a train headed to Changli. Grandmother Yu-fang send a letter to the Xue household saying that the child had died during the journey in hopes that they were not pursue them. This proved successful and they were not contacted by the Xue household until the received summons

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