Table of contents
- B) Childhood of Yu-Fang
- C) Problems with Foot Binding
- D) Comparing the life of Yu-Fang and Bao Qin
- E) The evolution of the dynastic cycle
- F) The life of Jung Chang
- G) Life after the Cultural Revolution
- H) A voice in society is important
- I) Women in Politics
- J) Life after Mao
- K) Conclusion I
- L) Final Remarks
The social and political environment often determines how a person leads and controls the rest of their life. Human beings are compelled to follow their path by emulating what others do or looking at the current circumstances they are in. It is the society they live in that shapes humans and their actions, and it is through experience — positive or negative — that humans shape their present actions towards the world they live in. The Chinese people have experienced revolutionary change, both socially and politically throughout the 20th century. Even though the Chinese citizens tried to show their potential to the government, their liberty and freedom were always suppressed, and were never able to gain control. In Jung Chang’s autobiography, Wild Swans, changes in the political regime can influence the way generations of women in China experience their childhood and the way they participate in public life.
B) Childhood of Yu-Fang
The story starts with Yu-Fang, Jung Chang’s grandmother, who had a very agonizing childhood compared to the Bao Qin, and Jung Chang. Yu-Fang was born right at the end of the Manchu empire, which has been ruling the nation for more than two hundred years. This was also the time when the threat of the Japanese invasion was a constant reality in the region of Manchuria, which is where the family’s hometown of Yinxian is located. Right when Yu-Fang was two years old, they wrapped her feet, also known as foot binding, a practice that is done in China to modify the shape and size of their feet. Foot binding was considered a mark of beauty and a status symbol at this time, even though it causes excruciating pain. As Chang described, “My grandmother screamed in agony and begged her to stop. Her mother had to stick a cloth into her mouth and gag her.” (Chang 1991: 24). Oftentimes, this would result in stunting the women’s growth, limiting her ability to move, as well as leaving a mark of disability, a mark that is not erasable. This represented the cultural attraction towards petite, childlike women for wives, and figuratively it is a candid picture of what family's forced on their daughters purely for financial gain — they were even willing to permanently impair her in one of the most essential human ways.
C) Problems with Foot Binding
This practice is completely unnecessary to all Chinese women, showing the mistreatment and abuse towards women during this time. Chang is illustrating all the current difficulties and issues with China, as foot binding left all females unable to live life properly. As this was during the time when China was reforming under Mao Zedong, the citizens were constantly under pressure to follow the Chinese political culture, such as valuing obedience to authority, in other words, listening to your elders. Foot binding became popular among the elite during the Song Dynasty and eventually passed on to most social classes in the Qing Dynasty, therefore having almost one hundred percent of all Chinese women having their foot bound.
D) Comparing the life of Yu-Fang and Bao Qin
On the other hand, the binding of women’s feet can be contrasted with Chang’s mother, Bao Qin’s situation: She is forced to walk across China to get to Nanjing for her military training, and it leads to her having a miscarriage on her first child. She is often seen as a woman who was capable of anything since she is able to work for the communist party of China, and also for Mao Zedong’s red army ever since she was fifteen years old, but she has not realized the struggle she is currently going through, and how broken and how unethical her culture really is. Communism completely took over Bao Qin’s life, as they “were advancing southward with unstoppable momentum” (139). Once Bao experienced her first miscarriage, her husband completely disowns her, telling her that he will no longer take care of her showing that the wife has not yet demonstrated to the husband that she is fully prepared for her role as a mother. Bao is being judged for her performance as a mother in a society that has grown to become very totalitarian — brutal, faceless, and systematic. The miscarriage indicates that Bao has just experienced the feeling of not being able to handle life anymore, as her surroundings completely take over her inner self and she is not able to process anything she does anymore.
E) The evolution of the dynastic cycle
The dynastic cycle has dominated the culture and the morality of the Chinese people. The cycle repeats as every new dynasty evolves: it rises to a political, cultural, and economic peak, and sooner or later, because of all the citizens who turned immoral, the frustrations within the dynasty, and rebellions that occurred, the dynasty would often be overthrown, and China would go through a stage known as the “Period of Disorder,” where all Chinese citizens and the ruler go through a “mental breakdown” as they are not quite sure how to continue. Eventually, the dynasty would be overthrown, and a new dynasty will develop, and this process went on for at least two thousand years. This has been a continuity for Chinese history from the early times to the present by looking at the succession of empires and dynasties, implying that there is little basic development or change in social or economic structures. In fact, this has prevented the Chinese from what they are fully capable of doing. Andrew Wedeman’s article, “China’s Corruption Crackdown: War Without End?” discusses about the anti-corruption crackdown and the most intense attack on high-level graft in the post-Mao era led by Xi Jinping, China’s president, and Communist Party Chief. Wedeman describes Jinping’s corrupt actions as it “has targeted corruption not only within the party’s political apparatus, the state’s administrative bureaucracy, and the military’s command structure, but also in the state-owned industrial, commercial, and financial sectors. Despite three decades of economic reform and marketization, the state continues to control the commanding heights of China’s economy.” (Wedeman 213).
F) The life of Jung Chang
Chang realizes that her life is greatly influenced by the Cultural Revolution and the philosophy of Mao Zedong. When she explains about being publicly tortured for promoting capitalism, her father started experiencing mental health problems, later being diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was given electric shocks and insulin injections while being tied tight onto the bed, recalling that her father had “tears in his eyes, (and) begged my mother to ask the doctor to change the treatment.” (353). Chang’s father even described how it “feels worse than death” (353). She wonders how everyone has turned into monsters, and causing all this pointless brutality, and blames Mao’s wife and also the Cultural Revolution Authority for having her father deteriorate mentally and physically each passing day. The Cultural Revolution left more serious issues with China, especially after the death of Mao Zedong.
G) Life after the Cultural Revolution
Many people were left in poverty as there was a severe generation gap as young adults were denied an education, and the terror during the Cultural Revolution has caused people to fall back on traditional personal relationships, and the government also suffered a loss of legitimacy when millions of urban Chinese became disillusioned by the obvious power plays that took place in the name of political principle during the 1970s. Women were much more heavily involved in this as they were the ones who were heavily restricted from working and having an education until the Cultural Revolution came to an end. Jung Chang describes her life that education is super important to her, and is also a way for her to have hope in herself. Right when the Cultural Revolution comes to an end, and directly right after, Mao Zedong dies, Chang rushes to get into a university to study English, and later receives a scholarship to study in England and spends the rest of her life there (citation). Chang is excited and passionate to know what happened to China during the time she was under Mao, and under communism. Right, when she received her acceptance letter into Sichuan University, she was so determined to help people, she aimed to help the other children in her family, and looked forward to helping educate her youngest brother, Xiao-fang, so he can make up for all the missed school years (457-458). She realizes the importance of being able to navigate through the complexities of the political system, as she previously wasn’t allowed under Mao Zedong’s rule.
H) A voice in society is important
Being able to have a voice in society is important. Being tightly controlled by the government is not the most successful way to control human beings, humans are often intelligent and they have different ways of expressing their emotions, such as forming an alliance to the desire cause, and also through the internet. Even back when the Cultural Revolution ended, the leaders of the revolution was still expressing their thoughts and emotions. Chang describes the time where she witnesses a political campaign when she was going through the back door of the university, and she automatically assumed it was the cultural revolution leaders who blocked the front door (465). China often restricts their citizens to see and say various types of information as they believe it's too destabilizing for the country as large and complex as them. The Chinese believe that all individuals deserve basic standards of human dignity, but they prioritize their economic development is more than their political rights.
I) Women in Politics
The meaningful participation of women in roles in society has been an important focus on global development policy. Women’s political participation leads to democracy, suiting more citizens’ needs, and also a more sustainable future. In China, with only one gender being able to participate in any political role, from the Politburo Standing Committee to the Central Committee, there has never been a female in one of those positions. From Wild Swans, the main leaders under control are Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and Zhou Enlai, and they are all male. Males usually have a more firm, more strict personality compared to females, and when it came to Mao Zedong publicly humiliating Chang for promoting capitalism, the punishment was taken too far, compared to if there was a female leader in charge, they would have gave a warning was told to do some dirty work for the government. If a male was promoting capitalism, Mao Zedong would have not publicly humiliated him, rather he would have gave a slight warning. Politics requires a balance of both males and females to reach gender equality and without that, the laws made, and punishments that are issued are not fair to either gender.
J) Life after Mao
As Chang leaves her old memories behind in China and continues her next chapter in Europe, she takes in a sense of authority and empowers and embraces her female identity. She understands and continues to think about how corrupt and evil society is to the Chinese culture, and is super relieved that she made the decision to move away from China, so she can reside in a place that will treat her with equal opportunities. She even felt that the nation would improve if Mao Zedong was not ruling the country. After Mao’s death, Chang described what he left behind, such as a “brutalized nation, but also an ugly hand with little of its past glory remaining or appreciated.” (496). Mao Zedong has corrupted the whole Chinese nation in which ways are indescribable, for example, “mourning Mao in a heartfelt fashion.” (496). There was no way to even realize if these emotions were genuine, if they sincerely loved Mao, or if they were just trained to take pride in the ruler at all times. Chang described this act as “Weeping for Mao was perhaps just another programmed act in their programmed lives.” (496).
K) Conclusion I
In synthesis, during childhood the previous generation suffered through corruption, torchure, and evilness; the new generation suffered through gender inequality and communism. While China’s government is still tightly controlled and maintained, obedience to elders, respecting the Chinese political institution, and prioritizing the economic reforms prior to political rights remain the same from the past.
L) Final Remarks
The lives of Bao Qin and Jung Chang differed from the life of Yu-Fang in various ways. All of these changes represent the improvement of representing women in Chinese society. The social condition, in which Bao Qin and Chang lead their lives, provided them with more freedom as compared to the life of Yu-Fang. Bao Qin and Chang played an active role in the field of politics. The differences in the position of women during the period of Yu-Fang and Chang, bring forth the improved social conditions, in which the women of China are leading their lives since the late nineteenth century.