As you travel on the backroads in the eastern parts of Europe you will often see a small chapel right in the middle of the field. The chapels are made of stone and brick maybe 4 feet by 4 feet by 7 feet high, usually in the form of a grotto. Many of them are missing the statues that were once placed within the arch of the grotto, but many are still kept in good condition by the owner of the field.
After seeing several of these, I asked a friend why they are in the middle of the field. He explained that many years ago those chapels where built along the side of the road so that travelers could stop to worship. Through the years, the road has moved but they never moved the chapels. Wild Swans is a story from the far east, it is a story of those historical markers, not along the physical roads but along the pathways of the life of Jung Chang as she looks back on her life, the life of her mother and her grandmother.
Born in 1909 Jung Chang’s grandmother was born into a feudal society, where feet binding was practiced and the women were the property of the male and his family, to be used as currency to gain status. The status was important for life but it was a world of power and layers of status. When the general—to whom her family gave her as a concubine and with whom she had a child—was dying, the grandmother found herself in a situation where the general’s wife would gain power over her and all of the other concubines. Jung states that from the time her grandmother moved into the generals home “she lived in constant fear.”  At the new of the dying general her grandmother fled with her daughter to her family home. To protect her family and her child, she falsely claimed that her baby daughter had died. When the general decreed that she was free, she married and became the wife of a doctor.
Jung’s mother lived in the age of the Communist Revolution in China. She married a high ranking officer in the Moa’s Red Army. Though she found herself rising politically in the Party she was still treated less than human. Jung remembers: “Between 1983 and 1989, I went back to visit my mother every year, and each time I was overwhelmed by the dramatic diminution of the one thing that has most characterized life under Mao: fear.”  On the journey to the town of their transfer, because of her standing, Chang’s mother had to walk, while her father road in a jeep. She suffered a miscarriage during that trip. She eventually gave birth to other children one of which was Jung.
Jung was a child of the Cultural Revolution in China. As Moa’s popularity grew Jung and her family became disillusioned by the way in which the Chinese people were being mistreated during the revolution. He father intimated that he did not agree with Moa and was ridiculed and even tortured. The family was deemed “capitalist roaders.”  With that Jung was sent for re-education and thought reform. She eventually found a way into the university to study English and then to England as a lecture and eventually a professor.
Of course, this is a very brief overview of the story. The book itself is 542 pages long. However, the legacy of the story of three generations of strong and determined women, who lead under the most difficult of circumstances, has impacted the whole world. By looking back at Jung’s life one can see that the road markers were her grandmother and her mother. Jung has now placed her own marker along the side of the road. In the process, she has honored many brave women around the world who under the worst of circumstances find themselves rising to the occasion and leading.
- Jung Chan, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, New York: Touchstone, 2003, 15.
- Ibid., 530.
- Ibid., 283.