Jung Chang, Author of Wild Swans
Interviewed by Mia Funk & Anastasia Yang
Jung Chang is the author of the best-selling books Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (1991), which the Asian Wall Street Journal called the most read book about China; Mao: The Unknown Story (2005, with Jon Halliday), which was described by Time magazine as “an atom bomb of a book”; and Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China (2013), a New York Times “notable book”. Her latest book, Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China (2019), is regarded as “another triumph” (Evening Standard London).
Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages and sold more than 15 million copies worldwide. She has won many awards, including The NCR Book Award (UK, 1992, the forerunner of the Samuel Johnson Prize), UK Writers’ Guild Best Non-Fiction (1992), Fawcett Society Book Award (UK, 1992), Book of the Year (UK, 1993).
She has received a number of honorary doctorates from universities in the UK and USA (Buckingham, York, Warwick, Dundee, the Open University, and Bowdoin College, USA). She is an Honorary Fellow of SOAS University of London.
Jung Chang was born in Sichuan Province, China, in 1952. During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) she worked as a peasant, a “barefoot” doctor, a steelworker, and an electrician before becoming an English-language student at Sichuan University. She left China for Britain in 1978 and obtained a PhD in Linguistics in 1982 at the University of York — the first person from Communist China to receive a doctorate from a British university.
Writing Wild Swans was the thing that resolved the trauma for me. When I first came to Britain in 1978, I was one of the first people to leave China and come to the West. I wrote about the experience in Wild Swans. And for many years I had nightmares of the horrible things I saw and experienced. Writing Wild Swans made all these nightmares disappear. It was a wonderful process. The writing process turned trauma in memory. I am now able to talk to you about my book, my life, to read it without too much pain. I think this is a luxury people in China still don’t have.
This interview was conducted by Mia Funk & Anastasia Yang with the participation of collaborating universities and students. Associate Interviews Producer on this podcast was Anastasia Yang. Digital Media Coordinator is Hannah Story Brown