Wild Swans

I just finished reading Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang, which is a masterly written piece of work following the lives of three generations of women from the same family and of China.

A hundred years is a long time for any country and many changes can and will happen in such a time period. But China underwent massive changes socially, economically, emotionally, religiously, in such a short period of time (less than 100 years), to go from a feudal lord way of life to the Kuomintang era to Mao-style Communism to the present day version of Chinese Communism.

It is a stark contrast to go from a feudal warlords and concubines to an “egalitarian” society. Growing up in the West, the concept of foot-binding and women as property to be used to improve a father’s social position are as much foreign as disgusting and barbarian to me. How could a father just sell his (teenage) daughter off, especially to a man that’s almost his age? I do realize that life expectancies were different in the early 20th century, but to give your young daughter to a man almost your age (???) with the knowledge that she will be a concubine, not a wife. The author’s great-grandfather was a piece of work…he traded everything that he could to try and scrounge a higher socioeconomic place in feudal China. It very popular to romanticize the feudal era in Korean dramas at the moment, but the realities of selling a daughter, not having personal freedoms, of some lives being worth more than others are hidden in the glorification of feudal times.

To see the abuses of the Kuomintang government would drive anyone to look for an alternative government and so it’s not really a shock that so many young people would rebel against and turn to what they thought was the complete opposite and the “savior” to their problems.

The things that Mao brainwashed, let’s be honest it was brainwashing, the people, particularly the children, with are scary, it’s so scary that a leader, someone in charge, could say these things and no one senses that a red flag should be raised. A government that encourages people to turn on each other, to report what your neighbor has said or thought, that as long as you’re a certain level in the government you have free reign to do or say whatever you want is far from a just government, a government that truly cares for its people. But yet, the masses couldn’t bring themselves to blame Mao for all the bad things that they were experiencing.

I’m all for the President of the United States addressing American children to encourage them to stay in school, get good grades, go on to university, succeed in post-high school education, get a job, pay taxes, stay out of trouble, don’t do drugs, etc. But I didn’t like the DOE’s worksheet that was suggested to accompany the address, some of the questions and activities, seemed straight out of Mao’s handbook, and that is what I had a problem with. I think that the president, the vice president, the congress/parliment, mayors, superintendents should be constantly informed about what is happening in schools, should care about what is going on in the schools, should be more than a shadowly figure that children vaguely know of, but ideology isn’t something that primary and secondary students should be graded on or judged upon.

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