Reading Group Guide
1. All three of the women at the center of Wild Swans
display great courage, often to a stunning extent -- speaking out
in times of enforced unanimity, facing firing squads, risking their
lives for the sake of others. Compare the kinds of bravery they
exemplified. Does one stand out as particularly courageous?
2. The 20th century could rightly be called an era of violence
in China, and the lives of these three women were indeed remarkably
touched by brutality. Although none was violent by nature, all
three were witnesses to -- and sometimes victims of -- naked
savagery, to the extent that it may have begun to seem almost
mundane. How did it affect their lives, and specifically their
3. The women of Wild Swans lived through an era of such
upheaval that they were constantly being called upon to pledge
allegiance to a new regime or a new leading figure, each one
distant from their day-to-day lives, and each usually claiming to
be more "revolutionary" or diehard than the one before. What was
the effect of this disorientation? Did the women ever show a sense
of political or spiritual homelessness?
4. For each of the principal figures in this book, romantic love
was strictly controlled and radically circumscribed -- and yet such
feelings played a powerful role. How did the politicization of the
deeply personal affect the lives recounted in Wild Swans?
At what cost did these men and women pursue love?
5. Familial love was also the object of close government
scrutiny and control in the last century, despite the historical
importance of the clan in Chinese tradition. Particularly watchful
was the Communist regime, which stipulated heavy penalties for
"putting family first." The key players in Wild Swans
often found themselves caught in the middle between concern for
their loved ones and the social and political demands placed on
them. Discuss the range of ways in which they reacted to this
6. Ceremony, pageantry and ritual have been important elements
of Chinese culture for millennia. As the author notes, it was not
uncommon even in the 20th century for a family to bankrupt
themselves to put on an impressive wedding or funeral. Did
prevailing attitudes about ceremony seem to change over the course
of the narrative in Wild Swans? What attitudes did the
individual women appear hold on the subject?
7. After the decidedly mixed Kuomintang era (not to mention the
brief occupations in the North by the Soviets and Japanese), the
advent of Communism was embraced by the author''s parents. Soon
Jung Chang herself, born during the early years of the CCP, was
swept up in the widespread fervor. But seeds of doubt slowly begin
to appear in the book. What do you think were the key moments in
Jung Chang''s and her parents'' changes of heart? Why?
8. For obvious reasons, Jung Chang''s tale bears the most
details, reported feelings and other personal touches. Describe her
psychological growth or transformation during the course of her
young life. Did you feel she reported her thoughts honestly? Did
you ever applaud her choices? Did you ever disapprove?
9. Wild Swans is a work of biography and autobiography
with many novelistic elements. It is also, however, a valuable work
of 20th-century Chinese history. What did you learn about the
country from reading it? If you knew the basic outline of the
history, did anything strike you freshly because of the personal