Archive for March 2006
This is a story of China over the last 100 years, providing both a political and personal history. It is a chronology of Japanese occupation and civil war which took Mao to power with a cultural revolution in which teachers, writers and artists are all vilified by Mao and the Red Guards. For me, the interesting points of the book included the sheer courage of the women. The whole customary ‘foot-binding’ to be more attractive to men illustrated violence and endurance of that violence. Also, women’s roles and the differences attributed to wives and concubines. Striking was the notion of a wife ruling the concubine after the death of the husband, for example. This illustrated much control and power of women while simultaneously showing power and control over them. Among the characters, it was evident that the men suffered too. For example, the narrator’s father suffered more under Communism even though he was more of a Communist than the wife. His loyalty was first to the party, and then to his family, though this did not count for much with his 6 year prison sentence for supposed-political crimes against the party. The three ‘wild swans’ themselves each showed courage in different yet equal ways, from facing firing squads to risking their lives for freedom. Was one more courageous than the other? I could not decide. It was not an easy read, with the dreary political baggage and philosophies of ‘suffering will make you a better communist’. The notion of self-criticism was somewhat new to me, and strengthened my views on how people can be controlled through manipulation and intense power. Familial love was scrutinised and controlled by the governement despite the historical importance of the family in Chinese tradition. The Communist regime metted out harsh penalties for putting your family first. The story illustrated the plight of three women caught between concern for loved ones and social and political demands put upon them. I was left with the question, how did they juggle these? There was much violence and some shocking scenes, particularly the beating of the philosophy teacher by the students-it sent cold shudders down my spine, perhaps it felt a little too real for me, as a teacher myself. It reminded me how very fortunate we are to have our liberties and to be able to share our views with others, without fear for our lives, or the lives of our loved ones (incidently, this book is still banned in china). This is a challenging book. Three generations of memoirs and also a history of China in one. It made me question whether or not individual sacrifice is justified for the good of the people. A lengthy, somewhat difficult read, but insightful nonetheless.