Real Leaders

Jung Chang: Chinese-born British Writer

Jung Chang is a Chinese-born British writer now living in London, best known for her family autobiography Wild Swans, selling over 10 million copies worldwide but 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 25 March 1952 in Yibin, Sichuan Province, China. Her parents were both Communist Party of China 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. 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”, “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.

Chang left China in 1978 to study in Britain on a government scholarship, staying first in London. She later moved to Yorkshire, studying linguistics at the University of York with a scholarship from the university. She received her PhD in linguistics from York in 1982, becoming the first person from the People’s Republic of China to be awarded a PhD from a British university.

The publication of Jung Chang’s second book Wild Swans made her a celebrity. Chang’s unique style, using a personal description of the life of three generations of Chinese women to highlight the many changes that the country went through, proved to be highly successful. Large numbers of sales were generated, and the book’s popularity led to its being sold around the world and translated into nearly 40 languages.

Chang became a popular figure for talks about Communist China; and she has travelled across Britain, Europe, America, and many other places in the world. She returned to the University of York on 14 June 2005, to address the university’s debating union and spoke to an audience of over 300, most of whom were students.


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