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Book Review


Lord, Bette Bao. Spring Moon (New York: Harper and Row, 1981, soft cover edition, 2004). 480 pp, $13.95.

Chang, Jung. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991, soft cover edition, 2003). 544 pp, $15.00.

     Both Spring Moon and Wild Swans tell compelling personal stories reflecting changing times in 20th century China. While the 450 to 500 pages of each reflect the tumultuous, and many times painful, shift from traditional to modern China, the major difference is that Wild Swans is a non-fiction memoir spanning three generations of the author's family, while Spring Moon is a fictional account of a wealthy clan living in luxury while the country experiences political and social upheaval outside the secluded compound. 1
     Both Lord and Chang are well equipped to write these wonderful stories. Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans, grew up in China with parents who were active leaders in the Communist party, eventually falling victim to Mao's Cultural Revolution. Chang was one of a lucky few given permission to study in Britain, receiving a doctorate in linguistics from a British University. Although Wild Swans is her first book, it does justice to the detailed story of three women's lives, inspired by stories told to Chang by her mother. Chang includes her own experiences as a Red Guard, peasant, "barefoot doctor," and steelworker for the Party. 2
     Bette Bao Lord, also born in China, moved from Shanghai to Brooklyn as a child. An internationally best selling author, she graduated from Tufts University and studied at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. 3
     Both Spring Moon and Wild Swans are world history studies in the sense that they deal with the political history of a country trying to establish itself as a power in the world, drawing ancient traditions into the modern while building a unique national identity separate from the West. Moreover, they are a glimpse into China itself and the people who daily endured upheaval, hardship, and suffering on a personal level as the country transformed itself. Both offer compelling reading, while exquisite detail and personal stories leave the reader with a vivid picture of the struggle for survival in the midst of political turmoil in China over the last 100-plus years. Although Wild Swans is banned in China, both books have become national and international best sellers. 4
     A real life saga of three generations of women, Wild Swans begins when foot-binding and concubinage could still define women's realities, and ends in contemporary times when women gained leadership roles in the communist party. The reader sees, through the author's eyes, Chinese citizens living through Japanese occupation, struggles with the Kuomintang, the "Cult of Mao," and the rise of the Communist Party. Especially interesting was the intellectual evolution of the family's women as they moved from devoted communists to disillusioned independent thinkers who recognized the dangers inherent in blind loyalty to Mao. 5
      Spring Moon, unlike Wild Swans, focuses on a pampered daughter (named Spring Moon) who lived a secluded life of luxury and privilege in the fictitious powerful house of Chang. Over the course of the book, readers watch Spring Moon grow from a teenager into an old woman facing a country torn by revolution. Her bound feet and life of familial piety eventually stand in stark contrast to her own daughter's "floppy" unbound feet and firm commitment to revolutionary change. Moreover, the complicated love that develops between Spring Moon and her uncle, despite marriages and children, provides an intriguing reflection of the larger threat of change to her whole country and traditional way of life. 6
     Teachers will benefit from reading both books for historical background, and will be able to utilize excerpts to reinforce the study of China from 1900 to the present. Useful also as summer reading assignments, both books demonstrate change and continuity over time and call heavily on the themes of traditional interactions, demography, social and gender structure. While Wild Swans at times becomes heavy with political detail, both teachers and students at the high school level and above will be inspired by the story. In addition, the collection of family photographs included in the book puts faces with names, making the story come alive. Spring Moon, while much easier reading, is no less engrossing although somewhat less politically detailed, involving the reader more deeply in the personal turmoil of the fictional characters. They are, in fact, a great compliment to each other. 7
Nancy Bader
Stillwater Area High School

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