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Lions Roar : November 2009
59 SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2009 telling me, for the first time in her life, her stories and those of my grandmother. I had sixty hours of tape recordings when she left London, and when I was listening to her I kept thinking to myself, I must write this down. That is how I wrote Wild Swans. Did you start with the idea that the story was some- thing you wanted to publish? Yes. When I was listening to my mother, I realized I wanted to be a writer and that I’d always wanted to be. When I was a child, I was always staring at the clouds and making up stories about what was going on behind them. But when I was a teenager, it became impossible to even want to be a writer because the vast majority of writers were persecuted, and some executed. Even writing for myself was dangerous. I remember when I wrote my first poem, on my six- teenth birthday. I was lying in bed polishing it when I heard banging at the door. My father’s persecutors had come to raid the flat and I had to rush to the toi- let to tear up my poem and flush it. I knew that any poem would bring trouble, and in my case it would bring disaster to my parents. So I couldn’t put pen to paper. But when my mother was talking to me about her life, I suddenly felt the urge to write. Was your mother happy about the publication of Wild Swans? Before it was published, my mother told me the book might not do well, but I wasn’t to worry because writ- ing it had brought us closer together. She said I had made her a happy woman. It wasn’t really that she didn’t care how the book did; she was just anticipat- ing that the book might not get any attention and I might be disappointed. It was typical of my mother to try to protect her children, and I was touched. I felt I’d achieved a new degree of understanding and love for her. It was a wonderful feeling. What was your maternal grandmother like? When she was two years old, my grandmother had her feet crushed and bound to conform to the per- verted sense of beauty of that time. Then when she was fifteen, she was given by her father to a warlord general to be his concubine. She had a very unhappy life because the general had many concubines dot- ted around China and he only visited them when he was in town. My grandmother was married to him for six days and then he left for six years—coming After All Her Sacrifices In 1955, Jung Chang’s mother, a loyal Communist, was accused of being a counterrevolutionary. BEIng undEr InvESTIgaTIon did not in itself carry the stigma of guilt. It just meant there were things in one’s background which had to be cleared up. Still, she was grieved to be subjected to such a humiliating experience after all her sacrifices and her manifest loyalty to the Communist cause. But part of her was full of opti- mism that the dark cloud of suspicion which had been hanging over her for almost seven years would finally be swept away forever. She had nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide. She was a devoted Communist and she felt sure the Party would recognize this... She was kept in detention for six months. during this period she had to attend several mass rallies at which “enemy agents” were pa- raded, denounced, sentenced, handcuffed, and led away to prison— amidst thunderous shouting of slogans and raising of fists by tens of thousands of people. There were also “counterrevolutionaries” who had “confessed” and therefore been given “lenient punishment”— which meant not being sent to prison. among these was a friend of my mother’s. after the rally she committed suicide because, under interrogation, in despair, she had made a false confession. Seven years later the Party acknowledged that she had been innocent all along. My mother was taken to these rallies “to receive a lesson.” But, be- ing a strong character, she was not crushed by fear, like so many, or confused by the deceptive logic and coaxing of the interrogations. She kept a clear head and wrote the story of her life truthfully. From Wild Swans: Three daughters of China, by Jung Chang (Simon & Schuster, 1991). Jung Chang’s parents in their Red Army uniforms, September 1949.