Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China - Jung Chang Several years ago, I was at a Buddhist grotto in an isolated hillside in rural China. As I walked past the small caverns filled with statues, I noticed that most of the statuettes were headless. The Chinese math teacher at the middle school I had been working at was serving as my guide. “What happened to the Buddhas?” I asked, though I knew the answer. The math teacher looked at me stoically for several seconds, then gave a closed-lip smile and said “Erosion.”

The Cultural Revolution was one of the 20th centuries most horrific historical genocides. And even having lived in China for two years, I never ran across anyone who did not speak of it without using some level of code. A code I never fully deciphered and a topic that I never pressed.

Wild Swans is the biography of three generations of women in China from the late 19th century to the early 80’s. It’s a fascinating account not because they are extraordinary individuals, but because it’s one of the few candid and critical views of China written by a Chinese writer that I have come across. Though Chang is an exceptional individual (she was apparently the first Chinese national to get a Ph.D from a British university), the story is compelling because it details the lives of regular people swept up in China’s political upheavals.

Chang unflinchingly describes her own submission to the cult of Mao Zedong and the slow, painful process of disillusionment. Chang has now been in the West for over 20 years. Her English is far superior to most other English books written by Chinese authors though her writing style has a tendency to use well worn clichés and choppy sentences (which may be an attempt to counteract the florid Chinese prose writing that translates poorly into English). Regardless, Wild Swans provides a people’s history of modern China you are unlikely find elsewhere.