Jung Chang is a Chinese-British writer now living in London, best known for her family autobiography Wild Swans, selling over 10 million copies worldwide but was banned in the People's Republic of China. Her 832-page biography of Mao Zedong, Mao: The Unknown Story, written with her husband, the Irish historian Jon Halliday, was published in June 2005.
Chang was born on 25 March 1952 in Yibin, Sichuan Province. Her parents were both Chinese Communist Party officials, and her father was greatly interested in literature. As a child, she quickly developed a love of reading and writing, which included composing poetry.
As Party cadres, life was relatively good for her family at first; her parents worked hard, and her father became successful as a propagandist at a regional level. His formal ranking was as a "level 10 official", meaning that he was one of 20,000 or so most important cadres, or gan bu, in the country. The Communist Party provided her family with a dwelling in a guarded, walled compound, a maid and chauffeur, as well as a wet nurse and nanny for Chang and her four siblings.
Chang writes that she was originally named Er-hong, which sounds like the Chinese word for "faded red." As communists were "deep red," she asked her father to rename her when she was 12 years old, specifying she wanted "a name with a military ring to it." He suggested "Jung," which means "martial affairs."
Like many of her peers, Chang chose to become a Red Guard at the age of 14 during the early years of the Cultural Revolution. In Wild Swans, she said she was "keen to do so" and "thrilled by my red armband." In her memoirs, Chang states that she refused to participate in the attacks on her teachers and other Chinese, and she left after a short period as she found the Red Guards too violent.
The failures of the Great Leap Forward led her parents to oppose Mao Zedong's policies. They were targeted during the Cultural Revolution, as most high-ranking officials were. When Chang's father criticized Mao by name, Chang writes in Wild Swans that this exposed them to retaliation from Mao's supporters. Her parents were publicly humiliated – the ink was poured over their heads, and they were forced to wear placards denouncing them around their necks, kneel in gravel, and stand outside in the rain – followed by imprisonment, her father's treatment leading to lasting physical and mental illness. Their careers were destroyed, and her family was forced to leave their home.
Before her parents' denunciation and imprisonment, Chang had unquestioningly supported Mao and criticized herself for any momentary doubts. But by the time of his death, her respect for Mao, she writes, had been destroyed. Chang wrote that when she heard he had died, she had to bury her head in the shoulder of another student to pretend she was grieving. She explained her change on the stance of Mao with the following comments:
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.
Chang's depiction of the Chinese people as having been "programmed" by Maoism would ring forth in her subsequent writings. According to Wild Swans (chapter 23-chapter 28), Chang's life during the Cultural Revolution and the years immediately after the Cultural Revolution was one of both a victim and one privileged.
Chang attended Sichuan University in 1973 and became one of the so-called "Students of Workers, Peasants, and Soldiers." Her father's government-sponsored official funeral was held in 1975. Chang was able to leave China and study in the UK on a Chinese government scholarship in 1978, a year before the post-Mao Reforms began.