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Wild Swans Study Guide

Wild Swans By Jung Chang

Yu-fang is the grandmother of Chang (the book's central character). Yu-fang's father schemed to have Yu-fang taken as a concubine to a high-ranking warlord General in order to gain status and thus a higher quality of life. After a wedding ceremony to the General and joining the ranks of his concubines, Yu-fang was dropped off in a luxurious house surrounded by servants. She did not see her husband again for six years. Despite the surroundings, she was tense as the believed that the General's wife or servants would spread false rumors about her.

After the six years, in a single conjugal visit with Yu-fang, Bao Qin -- Chang's mother -- was born. In Bao Qin's infancy, Yu-fang put off all of the General's requests to have her moved into his main household. She learned that he was very ill, and while she was there, he died. Realizing that the General's wife was about to gain complete control of her life and her baby's, Yu-fang ran away, sending word that the child had died. She eventually remarried and settled in Jinzhou, Manchuria.

Skip ahead a generation.

At the age of fifteen, Bao Qin started working for the Communist Party, and helped with the Revolution. She met Chang's father-to-be, Wang Yu - a high-ranking officer. They were married, but didn't see much of each other until they were transferred to Yibin - a distant city to which she was forced to travel on foot and pregnant. Once there, her husband bade her enter military training, the strain of which forced a miscarriage.

Skip another generation forward.

Chang was a teenager when the Cultural Revolution started. She joined the Red Guards, but as the cult of Chairman Mao grew, things got harder. Her parents were persecuted; she underwent 'thought reform'. As the Revolution ended, she went home and went to the University. Just as she succeeded at getting enrolled, Mao died. As the people cried, Chang noted " People had been acting for so long they confused it with their true feelings. I wondered how many of the tears were genuine."

Chang studied English at the University, won a scholarship to study in England, and never returned.

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