Anyone familiar with Jung Chang’s earlier work will know what to expect from her. She paints China’s intense and complex history in bold strokes. This new book offers up roughly a century’s worth of extreme personalities, revolutions, wars, venality and brutality. It is history in black and white, with splashes of red all over.
Chang sprang to prominence in 1991 with Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, the gripping chronicle of her own family’s attempts to survive in and then escape from Mao’s China, focusing on her grandmother, her mother and herself. With her husband, Jon Halliday, she then wrote Mao: The Unknown Story, following this up with Empress Dowager Cixi. Reviews of her books have been sharply divided, some lauding the new insights offered, others excoriating the shaping of sources for polemical purposes. None of this has stopped them from becoming bestsellers.
In this new book she tackles the three Soong sisters, who, through their marriages, came to occupy a place close to the centres of political and financial power in 20th-century China. The ‘Big Sister’ of her title is Ei-ling Soong, who married and, Chang says, largely manipulated the wealthy industrialist