Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Jung Chang.
The author's great-grandfather was Yang Ru-shan, born in 1894 as the only son. It was his duty to produce heirs, effectively continuing the family name. Yang Ru-shan married at fourteen to a woman six years older. His wife had been given no name at all and was merely called "Two Girl". Just a year after they were married, they had a daughter, Yu-Fang, the author's grandmother and the first of the three women in this story.
Yu-fang was forced to become concubine to a warlord general when she was only fifteen. They spent several days together before he left, returning six years later. Her life was miserable. She was under the complete control of her husband, even from afar, and had no freedom and no security. One their second visit together, Yu-fang became pregnant with a daughter who would be named Bao Qin. The child would later be adopted by her stepfather and her name changed to De-hong. After the death of the general, Yu-fang moves back into her father's house but he doesn't want her there. She eventually has a nervous breakdown and is visited by Dr. Xia, her future husband.
Dr. Xia's family object to the marriage, saying he should take her only as a concubine, but Dr. Xia loves Yu-fang and insists. One son commits suicide but the two marry anyway and soon give the children all Dr. Xia's wealth and move away to begin their life over. Yu-fang calls that the happiest time of her life. Then political unrest occurs and their lives are in upheaval.
In this atmosphere, De-hong becomes a teenager and begins to work with the Communists. It's there that she meets and falls in love with her husband, Chang Shou-yu. He is an officer and, from the beginning, is seemingly uncaring of his wife's happiness if that conflicts with what he deems is his duty to the party. They have five children and De-hong suffers one miscarriage and has one abortion. Yu-fang and Dr. Xia are living with De-hong and her family when Dr. Xia dies, leaving Yu-fang to stay on to help raise her grandchildren.
The following decades are filled with political unrest, warring factions, and conflicting regulations. Eventually, both Chang Shou-yu and De-hong are persecuted and both spend time in detention camps, being "reformed" and "reeducated". It's in this unsteady political climate that their oldest daughter, named Er-hong at birth and later called Jung, becomes a teenager. She takes little interest in politics, preferring to study and read. She's criticized for remaining apart from her fellow students, but seldom mixes unless it's with her own friends. Her father dies a broken man, confused because the party he'd loved and lived for had abandoned him.
When Jung is in her mid-twenties, she has a chance to go to Britain to study. She wins the opportunity and later decides to remain in the West.
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Duration of this unit is approximately six weeks
Wild Swans is a very compelling but challenging book to read and teach, since it is not only a three-generation memoir but also a subjective view of 20th century Chinese history from 1909 through the death of Mao. Students reading below grade level may find this book extremely difficult due not only to the sophistication of the language and the complexity of the tale, but also due to the significant discussion of Chinese history and politics. Therefore, I have included the Social Science standards as well as the English/Language Arts Standards, because this book could also serve as an excellent introduction to modern China history.
This book is on our 12th grade Extended Literature Reading List and I taught it in the 2001-2002 school year to seniors in our Independent Study Program. Because I meet with students individually once per week, the following assignments were developed with that in mind. However, any of these assignments could be used in a regular classroom with few or no modifications. I also have included extremely explicit directions for writing assignments, which might normally not be written but rather disseminated through direct instruction.
The large number of assignments for this book are due to several factors:
- Homework assignments in the Independent Study Program should approximately equal the amount of time a student would spend in a classroom
- There is a range of assignments at varying levels of complexity to address individual student needs
- I would not assign all of the following assignments except in rare cases, or on student request,. Rather, I would choose the assignments which best address the skills and needs of individual students
All of the assignments which follow help the student explore the Essential Questions. There is one large project, which is very complex and demanding: to examine one of the two Essential Questions through the exploration of a significant event in 20th century Chinese history. This is explained in detail in the handouts for the report.
Other assignments include a reading log, map studies, two analytical essays, suggestions for extended readings and film analysis, a timeline, recommendations for self-guided field trips in the San Francisco Bay Area and a book review as well as additional one-week Oral History "mini-project" There should be something here for every student!