Wild Swans

Wild Swans

Wild SwansJung Chang. Wild Swans

The author


Each response on this blog or on Facebook must:

  1. Acknowledge the previous entry/ies from your classmate/s
  2. Include evidence to support your point of view
  3. Take turns writing
  4. At least 2 entries required for each student

  1. Due Monday: 24 January 2011: Read 21-25; Make ‘conversation’ (comments in the margin of each page.)  Write 2 comments on this page about the reading.
  2. Due Wednesday: 26 Jan: Read 25-33. Make ‘conversation’ (comments) in the margin of each page.  Write 2 comments on this page about the reading.
  3. Due Friday: 28 Jan: Read 33-42. Make ‘conversation’ (comments) in the margin of each page.  Write 2 comments on this page about the reading.

#1 Reading: 21-25: 1909-1933

Historical terms

    1. Concubine
    2. Warlord general
    3. Manchuria
    4. (100 miles north of Great Wall)
    5. Yixian
    6. Importance of oldest son
    7. Mandarin
    8. 1894-95: Japan attacked China in Manchuria
    9. 1900: Boxer Rebellion
    10. 1904-5: Japan-Russia war (result)
    11. 1911: emperor overthrown
    12. Pu Yi
    13. Republic
    14. Sun Yat-sen
    15. Vacuum of power




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37 responses to “Wild Swans

  1. Pingback: Spring 2010 posts « History of Stuff

  2. Pingback: Grade 10: CHINA | History of Stuff

  3. The first five pages of “Wild Swans” by Jung Chang really impressed me on how detailled the author talks about what is happening in her provincial town Yixian. But, unfortunately, it has a little negative point, it makes the reading at some parts monotone and you easily stop reading and get distracted by another thing.
    Otherwise, I really enjoyed reading about the traditions and culture in China in the first part of the 20th Century. Foreign traditions always fascinated me because you see how different are the cultures and ways of life, you learn a lot from it, and I am sure that the next pages will be as good as my first impression. Hope you had the same impressions!

  4. Charles really read my thoughts, or I read his. I agree with everything he wrote, although I have some points to add. One thing that fascinated me was the feet binding, the grandmother in the story had experienced this madness. She was told in young years when she tried to persuade her mother to let her stop to bound her feet that “unbound feet would ruin her entire life”. I do not really get the point why the Chinese made it into such a “big deal”. And how could the Chinese men even think that it was erotic to see naked bound feet when they were covering in rotting flesh and stank when the bindings were removed.
    I got also really fascinated by how the author manage to make it into a good story at the same time as she just throws out with information about China’s history.

  5. In these first 5 pages the author managed to include a lot of information about her province and so on. What I noticed is that women are not given any importance at all. They are taken for as items not people. Another thing that I saw is that marriage was seen in a very different way back then compared to modern times. The author states, “Marriage was seen above all as a duty, an arrangement between two families.” This shows that marriage has nothing to do with love or with the feelings of the people who are getting married.

  6. In this book, women are portrayed as objects of pleasure for men. They have to endure a lot of excruciating pain in order to be worthy of a husband. Only perfect women such as Yu-Fang were considered as women. I agree with Ash, we can see that love has no meaning and a daughter is something to get rid of as soon as possible through marriage. We can see this when the author writes : ” Over dinner the two men agreed that if the baby was a boy he would be married to the six-year-old niece. I also find it strange that if your family is not intellectual you do not deserve a name : ” Because her family was not an intellectual one and did not hold any official post, and because she was a girl, she was not given a name at all.” This also shows that women do not really count in their society, you could almost say that they are only used for offspring. ” Being the second daughter, she was simply called Number Two Girl. “

  7. Just by reading these five pages of Wild Swan you get a real insight of how life was in China, especially a life of a girl. It is almost fascinating how women were thought of objects rather than humans. Just the fact that the daughter was not giving a name because she was a girl and came from a nonintellectual family is upsetting. Like Erik said, the binding of the feet was fascinating as well and also so brutal of how the author explained “My grandmother screamed in agony and begging her to stop. Her mother had to stick a cloth into her mouth to gag her. My grandmother passed out repeatedly from the pain.” How could it be worth doing that to a child? Also where did the tradition come from?

  8. All from Erik, Ashwath , Stephane and Hannah were very true, as Hannah and Erik said, I was also very impressed on how our life is so different form their’s. This is why travel all over China to see all its traditions would a very interesting idea to discover all China’s food, culture, traditions, way of living.
    Also, as Stephane and Ashwath clearly said, the men were superior to women, women are just here for the pleasure of the men, they are under their husband’s control. Besides, when Jung Chang said that her grandmother was married at a very young age and that she did not choose who to marry, it reminded me of two things: India, because it has the same tradition about the wedding and also a bit of “Things Fall Apart”, a fascinating book about Nigerian culture wrote by Chinua Achebe. There too, the men had all the power, they were the one having the titles, they were the one doing all the good things and giving all the bad things to do to their women. All this made me think a lot, it really shows that the author has a very good way to write and very interestinf and want from us to read more…

  9. Yeah, Charles is right. In India they had the same habit of arranging their young daughters marriages and seeing them as items of pleasure, but that tradition has died out quite a long time ago. Fortunately, they didn’t practice foot binding in India 😀 .

  10. Now when continuing with Wild Swans it keeps showing how women were treated, as we all said before, like objects. How the grandmother were arranged to marry General Xue and was not even told until the whole thing was a decided.

    Reading about the wedding it said that there were a lot of music and noise because;“ Making a lot of noise was considered essential for a good wedding , as keeping quiet would have been seen as suggestion that there was something shameful about the event.” According to our culture that is exactly what it would be, shameful. Young girls marry a much older man, arranged by her parents.

    As good as this book shows us how tradition was in China etc. I agree with Charles that it would be very interesting to go there for real and see the culture with our own eyes, wouldn’t that be the best way of learning, maybe even better than tests? 🙂

  11. If you could afford a concubine as a men in China, you had automatically gained both status, respect and a lot of other advantages. If a father accepted the proposal to his daughter, she could not refuse the proposal in a way that her father and her future husband would see as serious, the only way for her to “escape” was suicide. But what would happened if the woman’s father did not accept the proposal. Was it even possible for a father to deny a proposal between his daughter and another man?

  12. If the man who proposed did not have a lot of power and a low status I think the father could deny the proposal. However if the man had a high status and a lot of power, maybe the father had to accept it.
    What do you think?

  13. I do not think Hannah that it really depended on the status and the power for a father to choose or not his daughter’s husband, I think any father will choose instead of their daughter who she will marry because the dad is sure that his daughter will not make the best choice to get the highest in the society, the daughter might love a farmer, but that would not help the family at all. You need to remember that the marriage is a tradition in China and that it is more likely to be an arrangement between families to higher up in the society than a true love. Otherwise, Hannah and Erik were very true. Especially about this odd tradition for the wedding.

  14. I have to agree with both Hannah and Charles, but I am quite convinced that if a father gets a good “offer” or with other words; a powerful and wealthy man wants to marry his daughter. I am sure that the father will accept this. He might refuse the “offer” if he either are very powerful and wealthy himself or if he has a modern view on traditions and society. In a modern and civilized Chinese family these days, I would be surprised if the marriage-tradition still was more important than the woman’s own will.

    Was it possible for concubine to “upgrade” herself later in the relationship to a “real” wife? And what do you think, was it possible to have more than “just one real wife”?

  15. I understand what you mean Charles! What I meant was that it would be difficult for the father to say no to someone with a higher status than himself title rather than someone with a lower?

  16. Erik is right. If a Father gets a ‘good offer’ from another wealthy man then surely he would accept it since it will put his daughter and the rest of her family, including the father on a higher level in society. The father won’t care about his daughters feelings if he is faced with a chance to get rich.

  17. And Erik, I think it’s possible for a concubine to ‘upgrade’ if for some reason the actual wife separates from the husband. What do you think?

  18. Oh, right Hannah, I misunderstood your question!
    Besides, I just wanted to answer Erik’s question:
    As we saw throughout those pages, we saw how concubines were treated: if you look down the page 33, you can see how horribly the concubines are treated by the General Xue when the concubines do something wrong. I think that it is not possible to higher up as a concubine to even be the only true lover of the “husband”, apart from really getting the “husband’s” heart, I do not think that concubines can do that, because when you look at the definition of the word you can conclude that a concubine is like a prostitute, this is why concubines are not really respected and taken seriously. Hope I helped you with your question Erik!

  19. But Jung Chang’s grand-mother, who was a concubine of General Xue had a really grand ceremony and she got to sit in a sedan chair that was being carried by 8 men around town. I’m sure a prostitute won’t get all of this.

  20. Talking about Jung Chang’s grandmother, her father must have been really lucky to get the General to see his daughter and get her to become the General’s concubine as I’m sure a lot of fathers would want to show and marry their daughters to the General!

  21. I agree with Hannah’s first comment about these pages. Women were treated like objects, and their marriages could be seen as shameful in today’s society, which in my opinion is quite right. I find it repulsive that the father of a 15 year old girl agrees for her to become a concubine to a general. Even though the man is of high status, that doesn’t mean that this is acceptable. The girl is too young to have a relationship with a much older man, and even so, she doesn’t even get to choose whether she wants this or not, she has no choice.

    It’s also strange for me to think of a bride wearing red. Even though it’s not a big deal, I’m just so used to women wearing strictly white in marriage type ceremonies 😀

  22. I totally agree with anna about the fact that a 15 year old girl has to be the concubine of a grown man. To me it could even be classified as pedophilia, but as this was normal at that time, Jung Chang’s grandmother is lucky to have been a concubine to a General. I also find it strange that there is a ceremony, I don’t understand why they can not just get married.

  23. Yes, I agree with Stefan that it is classed as pedophilia for us nowadays, and that is one of the most disgusting things possible. I wonder exactly what the grandmother thought about all this. I mean the book does say how much she didn’t want this, but it would be interesting to get a closer look to her exact thoughts. Also it is weird that they had a ceremony for the concubines, even though concubines aren’t supposed to be treated like wives, right? They’re just there for the “pleasure”.

    Did the book say how many wives and concubines the General had?

  24. Yes a ceremony is strange as they are not classified as wives. Concubines are not as bad as prostitutes as it is part of the ancient Chinese traditions. I think that the book did mention how many wives the general had.

  25. I also found strange that the General was once a calligrapher, and how his jobs changed as his social and political status evolved.

    • Stefan, I thought the fact that the General was a calligrapher got him his prestigious job was very interesting. Do you think that in our culture if you had good handwriting that would lead to you getting a good job?

  26. After finishing up (in advance) the first chapter of “The Wild Swans”, I got very interested in how a 15 years-old concubine’s life was. I did not know what was concubine before starting this book, but now I feel that I have learned a lot from this chapter.
    Firstly, I cannot imagine living in a house without the right to leave, you get very easily depressed for several years, it reminded me of Aung San Suu Kyi, that had a terrible life in Birmania, but was free around November 2010.
    Secondly, throughout all we have read till now, we can easily conclude that the General Xue was vey very rich, he had a very big mansion and payed all his concubines, a lot of money.
    Also, the marriage at the first part of the 20th century, was vital to be a very good one, then, the parents can easily upgrade in the society thanks to their daughter’s husband. I also saw that men were very superior than women, women could not complain or have their idea at all, men could have all the privileges.
    Last but not least, something that really jumped into my eyes, is that when the concubine had to come to see the General Xue with her daughter, she firstly met with “the real wife”, I found that very strange because you cannot imagine that at our time such thing, let a mistress go see your husband because he is sick, it would never happen. I think that Jung Chang precised this point, to show us how different were the traditions in the old China.
    I really enjoyed reading this very interesting chapter, I have learned a lot and I know that I am not wasting my time.
    Hope you enjoyed as well, and let me know your opinions guys!

  27. Responding to Ms.Fitz’s comment, no I don’t think that in the present, having a nice hand writing would get you anywhere. It is very common to have nice handwriting just as a personal pleasure because it is always nice to hand in something neat and tidy rather than messy. But from the book states, having a nice calligraphy was not given to everyone, and the ones gifted with this talent were almost 100% going to be successful and evolve in society.

    • Actually being a calligrapher nowadays could be rewarding, but only if you are the very best, which is hard to achieve. It is definitely not valued as much as it used to be, because of our new technology where all those things can just be done on a computer, where it would end up more ‘exact’. But if you are an artist, it’s definitely beneficial to also have the ability to draw letters well, in different styles. Since I want to continue studying art after I’m done with school, I tend to practise different types of letters all the time 🙂

  28. I know we’re not supposed to really talk about the topic of ‘women’ in the story anymore, but there was something that really confused me. From what we learnt earlier, it said that concubines were nothing like wives, and that a man and his concubine do not have a marriage. But then on page 33, it talks about how General Xue’s former concubine betrayed him by having an affair with one of the servants. He says that he tied her to the bed and put cloth inside her mouth and dripped alcohol onto it, so she slowly chokes to death. It also said that, “For a woman to betray her husband is the vilest thing possible”. This makes absolutely no sense. Because she was a concubine and not a wife, which means that they were not married. Then later on, it also talks about how the grandmother went to complain to her father about her situation, but he just told her that she has to suppress her emotions and only focus on the duty to her husband. I know that the General only has one wife and then the rest are concubines, but they are still pretty much married, it seems.

    Am I misunderstanding this, or do you guys not get it either?

  29. Even this time, Charles manage to read my mind. Or maybe he did not, it might be a trick by author of this book, Jung Chang. She has probably “underlined” the details that she wants us – the reader – to drag attention to. It works very well, according to the fact that me and Charles basically had the same thoughts and comments about the book.
    I can really see what Charles means when he says that he cannot imagine living in a house without the right to leave. It would be “mission impossible” for me as well, even though the grandmother had possibility to go out with certain company. It would still have the feeling that I was under surveillance and the feeling of freedom would not occur.

    I also understands Anna’s opinion about the marriage, I had myself the same thought. I seems like the men in the book choose to say that it exists a marriage between the concubine and themselves when it benefits the men. And the opposite when it does not benefits them, or when it benefits the women in the situation.

    On page 42, it says that because “the general had no son, his wife adopted his ten-year-old nephew so he could carry the tasks.” Should not the boy who got adopted get all the power over the mansion and the wife/concubines instead of General Xue’s “real wife” because of his sex and so on?

  30. I was so confused as well! The author talks about them like they were his wives. Also I was a little confused about the fact that he didn’t have any children except for Bao Qin, how come? Or did I just get the whole thing wrong?
    We have talked about how China has all the five types of different landscapes and I like the fact that it also shows us in the book. When she was traveling to General Xue they saw the landscape changing: “Instead of the bare, brown-yellow soil of the plains of Manchuria, here the earth was darker and the vegetation denser, almost lush compared with the northwest.“

  31. I think Anna that the grandmother, when she was the new concubine of General Xue, had a ceremony I think and maybe it was to show that it is not a real marriage but she that she still promises to stay with him only. I know that this chapter does not show a good treatment of men onto women, but you need to remember that he is a general he is very very wealthy man, control a part of China, it is kind of a dictator, he does what he wants and if some people do not want to, he will not do anything.

  32. I was also a bit confused about the fact that he had so “limited amount” of children when it sounded like he had lots of concubines. In the third paragraph on page 40, it says that “the number-two concubine had a daughter a little older than my mother” but a bit lower down on the page is says “This was a further bond between the two women, as well as being a reason for the concubine’s favour with General Xue, who had not other children apart from my mother.” Does this mean that he only had one child as Hannah pointed out? Or had the number-two concubine a child with another man? In that case the pregnancy would have happened before the relationship between the number-two concubine and general Xue because an affair between the number-two concubine and another man, as a servant for example is not even thinkable – they would both be dead at this point in the story. According to what we have learned, the concubines is choose very early in their life, 15 years old was for example the grandmother in the story when she got chosen to be General Xue’s concubine.

  33. Anna is right, it is very confusing. Though what confuses me even more is that leaving one’s husband is the vilest thing to do but slowly choking your concubine or wife isn’t as bad? The Chinese have it the wrong way round.

  34. The Japanese are really becoming a threat for China. In the book it states, “In 1928, the ruler of Manchuria, Chang Tso-lin, the Old Marshal, was assassinated by the Japanese, who were becoming increasingly active in the area.” This shows that the Japanese are quickly gaining power. How can a small island like Japan increase their military power so much quicker than China? Has it got to do anything with Japan industrializing so quickly?

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