August 1, 2022

Wild Swans

I made 68 highlights while reading Wild Swans by Jung Chang. The book will give you insights into life under Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution.
  • Being an official brought power and money.

  • Feet binding was introduced in China by an emperor's concubine. Bound feet were considered erotic and kept hidden in silk shoes.

  • People used to make a lot of noise at weddings. Keeping quiet would have suggested that there was something shameful about the event.

  • A weapons company in Italy said it would accept 'lootable villages' as collateral.

  • In a traditional Chinese household, one's status is determined by where one sits.

  • Only government offices, schools, and Japanese factories had Sunday off. For other people, only festivals provided time off from daily routines.

  • A patient is a human being. That is all a doctor should think. He should not mind what kind of a human being he is.

  • In 1946, women could live independently and find work, i.e. teaching or medicine. Most families still considered working unnecessary.

  • Try to be a scholar or run a small business, but do not try to be an official. Doing so will ruin you, just as it ruined me.

  • Inflation exceeded 100,000 per cent in 1947 and reached more than 2.8 million per cent in 1948.

  • Mao learned from ancient Chinese warfare that conquering hearts and minds was the most effective way of conquering people.

  • Guerrilla warfare was the only way to survive.

  • Harbin, primarily built by Russians, was known as the "Paris of the East".

  • The party permitted my father to talk about love with my mother.

  • The need to obtain authorisation for almost any action became a fundamental element in Chinese Communist rule. It meant that people learned not to take any action with their initiative.

  • Cleanliness was often associated with the bourgeoisie.

  • Mao Zedong wanted to control all thoughts.

  • Pettiness, intrusiveness, ignorance, and envy characterised the revolution.

  • My father felt that nepotism and favouritism were the slippery slopes to corruption, which was the root of all evils in China.

  • Married couples were only permitted to spend time together on Saturdays.

  • The Chinese Communist Party launched new policies with propaganda drives to persuade people that they were beneficial.

  • When the Communists came to power, they took over all the media. The minds of the entire population were then subjected to tighter control.

  • Under the Communists, compiling detailed files on people's backgrounds was a crucial part of their control system.

  • Because the Chinese language is tonal, it has a musical quality.

  • In 1956 Mao announced a policy known as the Hundred Flowers, which in theory meant greater freedom for the arts, literature, and scientific research. The party wanted to enlist the support of China's educated citizens. They were needed as the country entered a stage of 'post-recovery' industrialisation.

  • Mao identified himself with Stalin.

  • Mao called steel the 'Marshal' of industry and ordered steel output to be doubled in one year. Instead of trying to expand the steel industry with skilled workers, Mao decided to get the entire population involved.

  • 'Self-deception while deceiving others' gripped the nation.

  • When information is withheld or fabricated, it is difficult for people to have confidence in their experience or knowledge.

  • The totalitarian system in which they lived warped their sense of responsibility.

  • The whole nation plunged into a state of doublespeak. Words lost their connection to reality, responsibility, and people's real thoughts. Lies were told with ease because words no longer had any meaning.

  • Mao said China was becoming a communist society, where everyone shared material goods. The peasants took this to mean that they would get a share, regardless of how much work they did. With no incentive to work, they just went to the fields and had a good snooze.

  • Mao was an expert at 'divide and rule'. He used it to manipulate others into sacrificing their interests for his own.

  • Mao wanted a big and powerful population based on a large number of citizens. Mao said that if the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on China, the Chinese would 'just go on reproducing' and rebuild their numbers quickly.

  • The school canteen sometimes prepared a 'bitterness meal' to show us what life without Mao was like. It was supposed to be what poor people had eaten under the Kuomintang.

  • Mao Zedong turned China into a world power, and many Chinese no longer felt ashamed or humiliated about being Chinese. In reality, Mao's leadership isolated China from the rest of the world.

  • In 1965, we got told to remove all the grass from our lawns. Mao had said that grass, flowers, and pets were bourgeois habits and were to be eliminated.

  • In 1964, France became the first leading Western nation to recognise China at a full ambassadorial level.

  • Books got burned across China, except for Marxist classics and the works of Stalin, Mao, and the late Lu Xun.

  • A Chinese saying goes, "Where there is a will to condemn, there is evidence".

  • A capitalist president can become an ordinary citizen overnight. It's good not to get permanent power. Otherwise, officials tend to abuse that power.

  • I realised then that happiness and kindness go together.

  • The term 'detention' changed to 'Mao Zedong Thought Study Courses'.

  • In Mao's revolution, there was nothing to do. To release their energy, many young people became Red Guards. Violent denunciations and battles were how they released their frustration and anger.

  • The population increased by two hundred million during the Cultural Revolution.

  • The only foreigners whose pictures we often saw were Albanians. Albania was China's only ally.

  • In 1968, all university students in China 'graduated' en masse without any exams. They were then assigned jobs and dispersed to every corner of China.

  • Mao once said, "Peasants have dirty hands and cowshit sodden feet, but they are much cleaner than intellectuals".

  • The cultural revolution taught me that the only way to judge people is by their actions, not their beliefs.

  • Sceptical thinking was my first step toward enlightenment.

  • Their hearts and minds will follow when you have them by the balls.

  • We worked ten hours in the fields, even though we could have done the job in five. But we had to be out there for ten hours for it to count as a day's work.

  • I found that boredom was as tiring as manual labour.

  • Reading Marx helped me to think rationally and analytically.

  • Most money-making activities were banned for individual households because they were regarded as 'capitalist'.

  • As with millions of Chinese couples, they lived separately and were entitled by law to twelve days a year together.

  • In 1965, Chinese leader Mao Zedong said, "The more you read, the more stupid you become".

  • No matter how power-hungry he was, Mao tried not to burn bridges.

  • Mme Mao and other luminaries of the Cultural Revolution had a chance to shine only in persecution, not construction.

  • Ignorance can be excused. Glorifying ignorance, however, is inexcusable.

  • I was impressed by the West's relative lack of political witch-hunts, dignified treatment of individuals, and a remarkable degree of personal liberty.

  • The tolerance of opposition and protestors is what keeps the West progressing.

  • Mao created a moral wasteland and land of hatred.

  • A reign of ignorance marked Maoism.

  • The collective population carried out the Cultural Revolution's greatest horror - suicide, breakdown, and death.

  • The course of liberalisation is irreversible.

  • The saddest part of this otherwise happy ending is that Wild Swans is still banned in China. It seems that the Communist Party leadership views the book as a threat to its power.

  • Mao was as evil as Hitler or Stalin. The world, however, knows little about him.