Listen now | Watch on YouTube. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or any other podcast platform. Read the full transcript here. Follow me on Twitter for updates on future episodes. Timestamps (00:00:00) - Growing up during Cultural Revolution (00:15:58) - Could officials have overthrown Mao?
Jung Chang comes from the higher levels of a failed social stratum: she is the grand-daughter of a warlord.
Like most members of fallen elites, she has an extremely bitter view of those who replaced her kind and remains blind to the fact that they failed when they had a chance to remold China.
Chang assumes that students of peasant background are 'semi-literate' and had 'little aptitude', while she was clever and deserved the best.
Though Chang claims that she was the victim of a brutal regime, in fact, as well as being a Red Guard, she was the privileged daughter of China's elite.
It is a peculiarity of the reception of Wild Swans that it was told and read as a story of great personal suffering, when its author grew up with a wet-nurse, nanny, maid, gardener and chauffeur provided by the party, protected in a walled compound, educated in a special school for officials' children.
As a Grade 10 official, her father was among the 20,000 most senior people in a country of a billion, and it was in this period that children of 'high officials' became almost a class of their own.
Still, the enthusiastic Western audience of Wild Swans found something to identify in Jung Chang's perennial fear of being reduced to the level of the rest of ordinary people, shuddering with her at the prospect that 'Mao intended me to live the rest of my life as a peasant' (Heartfield 2005).
It was during the supposedly most difficult times of her family that Chang managed to leave the countryside a few weeks after she was sent down, become a barefoot doctor, an electrician and then a university student, and finally receive a generous scholarship to study in the UK, the kind of career moves that were dreams for millions of young Chinese – all during the Cultural Revolution.
Chang conveniently omits the fact that her home province of Sichuan was one of the worst-hit during the difficult years and Chang does not mention any eyewitness account of death by starvation.
The Party Secretaries of other worst-hit provinces like Wu Zhipu of Henan, Zeng Xisheng of Anhui, Shu Tong of Shandong and Zhang Zhongliang of Gansu were sacked after the Great Leap Forward disaster except Li Jingquan, the Party Secretary of Sichuan, Chang's home province.
One wonders why. If it was because Sichuan managed to cover up the disaster so well, then it is reasonable to assume that Chang's father must have done a good job since he was the Deputy Minster of the Propaganda Department of Sichuan province during the height of his career. (What motivates Chang to rename her father's Propaganda Department as "Public Affairs Department," by the way?)
Chang's claims about 'millions of deaths' are hysterical nonsense for which no supporting evidence exists and for which evidence to the contrary is abundant.