The biographer of Mao on life during the Cultural Revolution, finding strength in her mother, and the sisters who helped shape modern China

Jung Chang was born in China in 1952 and came to Britain in 1978. She is the author of Wild Swans, Mao: The Unknown Story (with her husband, the historian Jon Halliday) and Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China. Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages and sold more than 15m copies outside mainland China, where they are banned. Her latest, Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China, charts the lives of the Soong sisters, who were among the most significant political figures of early 20th-century China.

Your new book explores the dynamic between three women in a family, as did Wild Swans
Wild Swans shows how life was different for each of the women – my grandmother, my mother, me. This book is also about very different lives, but because of political beliefs not generations. Big Sister [Soong Ai-ling] and Little Sister [Soong Mei-ling] were passionately anti-communist, whereas Red Sister [Soong Ching-ling] supported Mao. To start with, I didn’t want to write about the sisters; they were like fairytale [characters]. But while I was doing research, I realised how extraordinary they were, with all their mental agonies, moral dilemmas and heartbreaks.

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