Jung Chang always knew she was destined to become a writer, but living in China under the tyranny of Mao Zedong, she said “it was impossible for me to even dream of being a writer.”
Adrian Sturdza from the Romania Epoch Times spoke with Chang about her life, her books, and what inspires her to write.
Chang is a world renowned Chinese-British writer who co-authored “Mao: The Unknown Story” with her husband, historian Jon Halliday. Her books, which also include “Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China” and “Empress Dowager Cixi,” have rewritten the modern narrative on Chinese history.
Chang said that while researching “Mao: The Unknown Story,” she and her husband “knew we would be in trouble, so to speak, for writing this book.” They were able to put that concern aside, Chang said, for what she said is a higher priority for both of them.
“I think we both, my husband and I, are both committed to justice, and to telling the truth,” she said. “I think I would regard that as sort of more important than any consideration.”
Her bravery for telling history as it happened, and to challenge the modern narratives on Chinese history shaped by political interest, came through example. It was the bravery of her parents, she said, that inspired her to begin writing.
The first time she wrote was after her father had been arrested for standing up against Mao by protesting the Cultural Revolution, which lasted from 1966 to 1976 and killed as many as three million people.
It was on her 16th birthday. Chang lay on her bed and began writing a poem, when the men who persecuted her father raided her home. “I had to rush to the toilet to tear up my poem and flush it down the toilet, and that was the end of my first literary venture,” she said. “But the desire to write never left me.”
By standing up against Mao, her father was arrested, tortured, driven insane, and exiled to a camp where he died young. She said people questioned why he chose to speak up, why he couldn’t just keep quiet. “But for my father,” she said, “his principles, and his pursuit of what he thought to be justice and truth, was more important.”
Chang was exiled to the edge of the Himalayas where she became a “barefoot doctor,” then a steel worker, then an electrician.
“When I was spreading manure in the paddy fields, when I was checking electricity supplies on top of the electricity post,” she said, “I was always writing with an invisible pen in my head. I just couldn’t put pen to paper.”
The next time she began writing, it was because of her mother. “It was a result of listening to my mother telling me about her life, about my grandmother’s life, about her relationship with my father,” she said.
Her mother’s stories led Chang to research the real history of China, and to tear through the myths formed by political interests. She said this process, and her writing about these lost histories, bring her “the satisfaction of being a historical detective, to find out about the truth.”
Adrian Sturdza contributed to this report.