Wild Swans by Jung Chang

Wild Swans by Jung Chang (1991).  This book is like a detailed photograph of the recent history of China, and by reading it I gained some new insights and understanding of  the Chinese people.

The core of this book starts early in WW2  when a good part of China was still under the control of the Japanese empire and one wonders how was even possible that a huge place like China was controlled by the Japanese. The answer is complex:  China was  the battlefield of a large number of different civil wars and the Kuomintang was fighting  two fronts —the Chinese communist red army and the Japanese. The Kuomintang had better army, best trained troops, better weapons, support from the US and yet they lost the war. A rampant corruption and nepotism built in in the system was quite powerful and that was one of the reasons of why the communists won the civil war.

The communists were a necessary solution to a deep economic problem in the aftermath of WW2 as China was in a almost medieval feudal state. The communists redistributed the land but then Mao went nuts trying  to do the great leap forward. Mao had ordered all farmers and peasants to stop whatever  they were doing to work exclusively on the steel production and the result was over 35 million people dying from starvation. And this was only in 1959-1960.  The worst was yet to come. 

The horror of the poverty and hunger that this book conveys is disturbing, and again one wonders how was even possible that a single man caused so much pain and suffering to an entire nation. And again the answer is complex: on one hand he was an extraordinarily powerful man and the second answer is that it was the entire system with full control of the institutions that was responsible for the crimes. People all over China were asking why they did not have any food. The party told them it was because of  “bad weather” conditions.  People were so desperate that even babies were disappearing from households: they were selling their dead bodies as rabbit meat.

This book is not written by a native english speaker and desperately needs good proofreading, but nonetheless I highly recommend reading it.

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