Jung Chang’s 1991 novel, ‘Wild Swans’ gives the reader a significant insight into a period of uncertainty and insecurity in Chinese history. From the novel the viewer is able to identify universal issues which are still prevalent today. Feminism recurs throughout the text as the women fight for respect as their society faces turmoil, using the communist rein of Mao as their opportunity for equality. Wang Yu represents the public as his own values clash with that of the communists. Due to his unswerving loyalty to the party he dismisses his own morals for that of a higher power.
Grandfather Wu ‘Er-ya-tous’ attitude is echoed throughout the text as he believed that a women should suppress their emotions and to have no opinion. This is demonstrated as each women of each generation struggles against this outlook and either succumbs or fights against it. Foot binding represents submission to traditional values and conventions, a metaphor for women’s lack of rights. Women constantly modified their bodies to conform to society’s expectations, indicating their lack of dependency and individuality.
Power and status is based on a man’s property such as concubines being collected. “it was good for a man in his position to have as many concubines as possible – they showed a man’s status”. This exhibits this period of Chinese history as emotional attachment is removed and women are treated as a possession which bettered her husband’s prestige. “swallowed opium to accompany him into death”. This establishes that there was no escape from the obedience which is forced upon the women by society.
Women’s lives were dedicated to serving their men as they followed them into death. “seen as a means of keeping people like her contented” society wanted people such as concubines to be in a constant haze where there was no chance of critical thinking or rebellion. “The first my grandmother knew.. ” this demonstrates the grandmothers lack of participation in her own affairs. Jung Chang’s emotive writing style aims for sympathy from the reader as she is factual and brunt, hoping for the reader to connect to the situation as they apply their own emotions.
The changing roles of women are significant as it demonstrates a time of change in Chinese history. As equality in wealth is fought for under Mao’s rein the women have also fought for equality in genders. The traditional saying, “Women have long hair and short intelligence” is distinguished as the women are displayed as strong and independent in the generation of De-Hong. These individuals are a contrast to their previous generation who were submissive and obedient.
As three generations of women are represented in the novel the audience has a rich understanding of the lives of women in a shifting period of history. Wang Yu (Jung Chang’s father) can be considered a representation of the people of China as he gives his unswerving loyalty to communism. Although his personal values and the values of communism clash he continues to stand for communism and bring justice to for the cause. “Dr Xia could tell that my father was not fully convinced himself, but felt he had to defend the party”.
This demonstrates Wang Yu’s uncertainty about the morals of the communism yet indicates his need for equality of the people. This could be due to his youth being surrounded by poverty while many flaunted their wealth around him. Objective language is used throughout the novel in order to shock the audience as they describe brutal events in a factual manner. The reader is able to understand the fear of the public as an example of children being forced to watch the torture of rebels is executed in order to prevent an uprising.
This indicates that the people were forced into loyalty by fear. By the voice having such an unsympathetic recount of the story she has actually manipulated the audience as they feel protective over the children. This universal theme of loyalty to your country’s values is exposed in an undesirable manner in the text as many primary characters are negatively affected. De-Hong (Jung Chang’s mother) becomes embittered by her husband as he displays allegiance to the revolution before her. “One night she could not stand it anymore, and burst into tears for the first time”.
This demonstrates Wang Yu’s complete dedication to communism as his strict rules come before his wife. Jung Chang criticises her father’s strict and unswerving loyalty to communism as the hardship he had enforced onto his family can be compared to the suffering caused by the corruption within the party. “Dong’s conscience was troubled, and that whenever he was due to garrotte someone, he had to get himself drunk beforehand”. The executioner displays his lack of belief in the cause as he has to be intoxicated before killing a person.
This expresses to the audience that he understands that the beliefs of Mao are wrong but due to fear he is forced to continue. Jung Chang has provided the audience of ‘Wild Swans’ a clear insight into Chinese history as major changes developed throughout three significant generations of women. Universal issues are displayed as women begin their fight for equality and the reasons for loyalty are questioned in an uncertain environment. The reader gains comprehension of these matters through Jung Chang’s representation of the events.
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