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Born in Communist China in 1952, she is the author of the renowned tale, Wild Swans. Born in Sichuan Province, the home of many famous classical Chinese poets, she experienced firsthand the brutality of Mao’s regime. Her parents were Communist officials and for a time lived in shared but comfortable accommodation. She was slightly privileged and went to a good school. Her father was a scholaras as well as an official and inspired her to write poetry. However with the onset of the Cultural Revolution, things began to change.

At school she was encouraged to attack teachers when most were very kind or at least fair. Jung tells us that the main motivation was not to do with cruelty towards students, or betrayal of the State but personal hatred, usually down to poor grades. She is never able to join in and is regarded with suspicion. Such actions demonstrate the total loyalty and control Mao had over Chinese children, thanks to lengthy indoctrination. The worst is yet to come.

Eventually her parents’ moderate views get the family into trouble. They are forced into poorer accommodation, food becomes more difficult to find, her parents lose their jobs and are eventually publicly humiliated and detained in camps. In one episode, Jung is forced to watch a boy pour ink over her father’s face. This does not last forever but sadly, it destroys her father who had been a member of the Communist Party long before his wife. She is also forced to destroy her precious poetry, fearing that it would get her family into trouble. Intellectual pursuits were condemned, as they bred non-conformity and potential opposition to the regime.

She bares this period of grief with admirable resolute. She gets by, has somewhere to live and is never totally alone. Indeed it takes her a long time to find anything wrong with Mao, and it is only with his death that she finds herself unable to weep. An extract regarding this is below. Yung managed to study English and after careers as a barefoot doctor and electrician, she was granted a place to study English in London. This was due to her own ability and in no small way to her mother’s dedication and determination to use her influence to force her through a system overflowing with red tape and favouritism towards the children of high officials. She still lives there and teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies, a London university.


The news filled me with such euphoria that for an instant I was numb. MMy ingrained self-censorship immediately started working: I registered the fact that there was an orgy of weeping going on around me, and that I had to come up with some suitable performance. There seemed nowhere to hide my lack of correct emotion except the shoulder of the woman in front of me, one who was apparently heartbroken. I swiftly buried my head in her shoulder and heaved appropriately. As so often in China, a bit of ritual did the trick. Sniveling heartily she made a movement as though she was going to turn around and embrace me I pressed my whole weight on her from behind, hoping to give the impression that I was in a state of abandoned grief.

The Chinese seemed to be mourning Mao in a heartfelt fashion. But I wondered how many of their tears were genuine. People had practiced acting to such a degree that they confused it with their true feelings. Weeping for Mao was perhaps just another programmed act in their programmed lives.

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