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‘Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China’ explores the history of three generations of Chinese females from the pre-communist era through communism until after the death of the communist leader, Mao Tse-tang. The main theme in Jung Chang’s book is Cultural Revolution in China.
Accordingly, this summary describes how the oppression leveled against women in the pre-communist era occasioned the Cultural Revolution and the role of Mao Tse-tung and his Communist Party in the revolution. Additionally, the paper explores the successes and failures of Mao before looking at the weaknesses of Chang’s work.
Oppression against women in the pre-communist era is captured in different aspects in Chang’s book. The first aspect of oppression as highlighted by the author is foot-binding in that at the beginning of the story we meet Chang’s grandmother (Yu-fang) who hand bound feet.
Here, it is imperative to note that foot binding was a custom that was introduced in China in the 11th Century whereby by age three, a girl would have all her toes except one tucked under her sole. Subsequently, the bending of the big toe together with the heel caused the rotting of flesh, breaking of bones, and toes breaking off. The ultimate goal of this custom was to ensure that the length of women’s feet was 3 inches for one to be eligible for marriage (Chang 24).
Another important aspect of women oppression is captured in the kind of relationships that women shared with men in the pre-communist China. In the Chinese society, the only possible roles of women included being wives, concubines, or prostitutes. Furthermore, wives did not have authority over their lives because their husbands’ decisions were ultimate
. And as Chang (70) notes, the cultural stipulations dictated that the role of a wife entailed: “looking after a household, cooking and sewing, flower arrangement, embroidery, and to obey without questions”. On the other hand, concubines satisfied the sexual pleasures of men besides having their children given away to barren wives.
Prostitution was also another role of women out of one’s own decision, the family’s decision, or through force. Chang (97) notes that during the economic depression of the 1940s, women and young girls served as commodities in the flourishing trade in human trafficking and barter trade (“Daughter for sale for 10 kilos of rice”).
However, with the rise of communism, the status of women in the Chinese society improved significantly. Despites, the flaws and weaknesses of the communist regime, there is evidence to suggest that Mao achieved to ensure that women’s quest for equality was captured in his idea of liberating the oppressed people of China.
Among other things, women found some roles in the military and education, arranged and child marriages declined, women were allowed to divorce freely, wife beaters were scolded, and the role of prostitutes was elevated.
According to Chang (121), her father and other communist members stormed and took over a town and in the process they oversaw, “the release of all prisoners, the closure of all pawnshops…brothels were to be closed and prostitutes given six months living allowance by their owners.”
Furthermore, Mao’s rule saw the use of concubines and prostitutes being outlawed, and the Women’s Federation helped in terms of freeing prostitutes and concubines. Moreover, besides women taking part in the actions geared towards their betterment, they were also allowed to review the relationships they shared among themselves either as co-wives/in-laws, or mothers/daughters (Chang 129).
Despite the successes outlined in the foregoing discussions, it is apparent that Chang’s work suffers from one major weakness in that besides the author indicating that Mao was successful in changing the laws in China, the hearts of the Chinese people did not change after communism.
For instance, with the advent of the free market economy in China, the rising standards of living has driven women into a new set of challenges in the male-dominated Chinese society.
Here, it is apparent that women are still suffering from sexist oppression as captured in the present day advertisements which use young scantily dressed women to capture the attention of men, pornography, prostitution, and economic discrimination.
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Moreover, women are nowadays viewed as marketable commodities with the rise of female infanticide (the killing of female babies). However, Chang’s work achieves to shed some light on the Cultural Revolution that has occurred in China over the years.
Most importantly, despite the numerous challenges that women faced or continue to face through the Cultural Revolution, it is notable from the story of the three women that love is never lost, and as Chang’s grandmother notes, “If you have love, even plain water is sweet” (Chang 55).
Chang, Jung. Wild swans: Three Daughters of China. New York: Bantam Doubleday, 1991. Print.