Thursday, July 31, 2014

Words of Wisdom from Wild Swans

"A place a cat tries to hide in is a lucky place."

~~ Dr. Xia, quoted in Wild Swans, 110 ~~

Beaumont in the Wrapping Paper Drawer

Pine in the Cereal & Table Cloth Cabinet

Fuqua, Napping Next to Josef's Ashes

A secret napping spot of our youngest cat, Fuqua (3 years old next month), is in the sunroom on the little underneath shelf of the wicker coffee table, wrapped around the can containing the ashes of our dear old Josef cat (who died in 2007 at age 19). As my sister Peggy said: "I find there are very few coincidences in this universe. Sweet little Fuqua is probably channeling equally sweet little Josef."

Even though Fuqua never met Josef, he seems to sense that there is some kind of special connection on that shelf! Some of Josef's toys are there, and you can also see Josef's favorite purple socks with green cuffs, which he loved dragging around the house or bringing up and leaving beside my bed as a present. They actually had little kittens printed on them as part of the original design! Once again, it's as if he knew that those socks were meant for cats! Cosmic!


This post, long in the making, contains a selection of my favorite passages from Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang, who grew up in the 1960s under the Maoist Regime. I highlighted so many paragraphs when reading this intense memoir, but have tried to focus on the most informative descriptions of what life was like for the author, her mother, and her grandmother -- the three wild swans of the title:

76: When hiding their Japanese friend from the Russians in 1945: "In case anybody asked, they would say she was my mother's cousin. The Chinese have so many cousins no one can keep track of them."

81 - 83: For a short time back in 1946, Chang's mother dated a young man named Mr. Liu, "who was about nineteen [and] seemed to be a man of the world; he was wearing a dark - green suit with a handkerchief sticking out of his breast pocket, which was tremendously sophisticated and dashing for a provincial town like Jinzhou. He was enrolled in a university in Peking, where he was reading Russian language and literature. My mother was very impressed with him . . . ."

But after a few months, despite his "urbanity . . . my mother felt he was shallow. She noticed that he never went to Peking, but lounged around at home enjoying the life of a dilettante. One day she discovered that he had not even the The Dream of the Red Chamber, the famous eighteenth - century Chinese classic, with which every literature Chinese was familiar. When she showed how disappointed she felt, young Liu said airily that the Chinese classics were not his forte, and that what the actually liked most was foreign literature. To try to reassert his superiority, he added: 'Now have you read Madame Bovary? That's my all - time favorite. I consider it the greats of Maupassant's works.'

"My mother had read Madame Bovary -- and knew it was by Flaubert, not Maupassant. This vain sally put her off Liu in a big way . . .

"My grandmother . . . said, 'Who ever heard of a girl rejecting a man because he got the name of some foreign writer wrong?'"

99: " . . . the Chinese tradition made it virtually impossible to say no to a relation. The obligation to one's family and relatives always took precedence over one's own moral judgment."

114 - 15: "From the moment the Communist forces arrived [in 1948], my mother had been longing to throw herself into working for the revolution. She felt herself to be very much a part of the Communist cause. After some days of waiting impatiently, she was approached by a Party representative who gave her an appoint to see the man in charge of youth work in Jinzhou, a Comrade Wang Yu."

"My mother set off to see Comrade Wang one morning on a mild autumn day, the best time of year in Jinzhou. The summer heat had gone and the air had begun to grow cooler, but it was still warm enough to wear summer clothes. the wind and dust which plague the town for much of the year were deliciously absent."

125: "She was both soft - spoken and persuasive, and also, something rare in China, precise. This was an extremely important quality for him, as he hated the traditional florid, irresponsible, and vague way of talking. . . . She was also attract by his conversation. He struck her as learned and knowledgeable -- definitely not the sort of man who would mix up Flaubert and Maupassant."

133 - 39: "My mother did not get on with some of her bosses in the Women's Federation. They were older, and conservative, peasant women who had slogged for years with the guerrillas, and they resented pretty, educated city girls like my mother who immediately attracted the Communist men. My mother had applied to join the Party, but they said that she was unworthy.

"Every time she went home she found herself being criticized. She was accused of being 'too attached to her family,' which was condemned as a 'bourgeois habit,' and had to see less and less of her own mother. . . .

"Just eighteen, recently married, and full of hope for a new life, my mother felt miserably confused and isolated. She had always trusted her own strong sense of right and wrong, but this now seemed to be in conflict with the views of her 'cause' and, of ten the judgment of her husband, whom she loved. She began to doubt herself for the first time. . . .

"From the very beginning of their marriage, there was a fundamental difference between my parents. My father's devotion to communism was absolute: he felt he had to speak the same language in private, even to his wife, that he did in public. My mother was much more flexible; her commitment was tempered by both reason and emotion. She gave a space to the private; my father did not. . . .

"My mother's joy at Liberation had turned to an anxious melancholy. Under the Kuomintang she had been able to discharge her tension in action -- and it had been easy to feel she was doing the right thing, which gave her courage. Now she just felt in the wrong all the time. When she tried to talk it over with my father he would tell her that becoming a Communist was an agonizing process. That was the way it had to be."

171 - 72: "In the Youth League my mother was working with people her own age. They were better educated, more carefree, and more ready to see the humorous side of things that the old, self - righteous peasant - turned - Party - official women she had been working with before.

". . . my mother was treated with more respect . . . As she grew to be more confident and to rely less on my father, she felt less disappointed with him. Besides, she was getting used to his attitudes; she had stopped expecting him always to put her first, and was much more at peace with the world."

221 - 22: "This absurd situation [transferring 100 million laborers from agricultural work into steel production in 1958] reflected not only Mao's ignorance of how an economy worked, but also an almost metaphysical disregard for reality, which might have been interesting in a poet, but in a political leaders with absolute power was quite another matter."

246: "As a child, my idea of the West was that it was a miasma of poverty and misery, like that of the homeless "Little Match Girl' in the Hans Christian Andersen story. When I was in the boarding nursery and did not want to finish my food, the teacher would say: 'Think of all the starving children in the capitalist world!' In school, when they were trying to make us work harder, the teachers often said: 'You are lucky to have a school to go to and books to read. In the capitalist countries children have to work to support their hungry families.' Often when adults wanted us to accept something they would say that people in the West wanted it, but could not get it, and therefore we should appreciate our good fortune. I came to think this way automatically. When I saw a girl in my class wearing a new kind of pink translucent raincoat I had never seen, I thought how nice it would be to swap my commonplace old wax-paper umbrella for one. But I immediately castigated myself for this 'bourgeois' tendency, and wrote in my diary: 'Think of all the children in the capitalist world -- they can't even think of owning an umbrella!' "

247: "My image of a foreigner was more or less the official stereotype: a man with red, unkempt hair, strange - colored eyes, very, very long nose stumbling about drunk, pouring Coca_Cola into his mouth from a bottle . . . Foreigners said 'hello' all the time, with an odd intonation. I did not know what 'hello' meant; I thought it was a swear word. When boys played 'guerrilla warfare,' which was their version of cowboys and Indians, the enemy side would have thorns glued onto their noses and say 'hello' all the time."

. . . that I will continue to add when time allows . . .

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