Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China
A major new biography from the internationally bestselling author of Wild Swans, Mao and Empress Dowager Cixi: a gripping story of sisterhood, revolution and betrayal, and three women who helped shape the course of modern Chinese history.
The best-known modern Chinese fairy tale is the story of three sisters from Shanghai, who for most of the twentieth century were at the centre of power in China. It was sometimes said that ‘One loved money, one loved power and one loved her country’, but there was far more to the Soong sisters than these caricatures. As China battled through a hundred years of wars, revolutions and seismic transformations, each sister played an important, sometimes critical role, and left an indelible mark on history.
Red Sister, Ching-ling, married Sun Yat-sen, founding father of the Chinese republic, and later became Mao’s vice-chair. Little Sister, May-ling, was Madame Chiang Kai-shek, first lady of the pre-Communist Nationalist China and a major political figure in her own right. Big Sister, Ei-ling, was Chiang’s unofficial main adviser. She made herself one of China’s richest women – and her husband Chiang’s prime minister. All three sisters enjoyed tremendous privilege and glory, but also endured constant attacks and mortal danger. They showed great courage and experienced passionate love, as well as despair and heartbreak. The relationship between them was highly charged emotionally, especially once they had embraced opposing political camps and Ching-ling dedicated herself to destroying her two sisters’ world.
Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is a gripping story of love, war, exile, intrigue, glamour and betrayal, which takes us on a monumental journey, from Canton to Hawaii and New York, from exiles’ quarters in Japan and Berlin to secret meeting rooms in Moscow, and from the compounds of the Communist elite in Beijing to the corridors of power in democratic Taiwan. In a group biography that is by turns intimate and epic, Jung Chang reveals the lives of three extraordinary women who helped shape the history of twentieth-century China.
“Utterly engrossing… It stars a trio of extraordinary women… Their gripping collective story reads like Wild Swans meets the Mitfords; and the history feels remarkably close to our own times too.”
Caroline Sanderson, Bookseller
“One of this autumn's biggest reads, it's an astounding story told with verve and insight.”
“As with her previous books, most famously Wild Swans, it is Chang’s sympathetic, storyteller’s eye — her attention to deeply human detail during the most extraordinary circumstances — that makes her work remarkable. Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is another triumph.”
William Moore, Evening Standard
“A rollicking ride.”
Vaudine England, Literary Review
“‘An absorbing biography of the Soong sisters and a history of China… lucid, wise, forgiving…Chang gives a new twist to an old line. Behind every great man…is a Soong sister.”
Laura Freeman, The Times
“A remarkable story of war, communism and espionage related with nuanced sympathy... The lives of the three Song sisters – the subjects of Jung Chang’s spirited new book – are more than worthy of an operatic plot.”
Julia Lovell, Guardian
“Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is a monumental work, worthy both of Jung Chang’s Mao and of the great, rambling, heterogeneous Chinese folk epics of the oral past, such as The Water Margin and The Three Kingdoms. Its three fairy-tale heroines, poised between east and west, spanned three centuries, two continents and a revolution, with consequences that reverberate, perhaps now more than ever, in all our lives to this day.”
Hilary Spurling, Spectator
“The Soong sisters were an extraordinary trio… Jung Chang has shown, in books such as Wild Swans, her instinct for a compelling story, and that instinct stands her in good stead here as she weaves her way through the complex history of China from the 1880s to the 1970s… [Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is] well worth reading.”
Rana Mitter, Sunday Times
“Urgent and powerful… a fascinating window into 20th-century Chinese history.”
“A fascinating tale of the three Soong sisters who played a significant role in the making of 20th-century China…[told] with lacerating honesty.”
Donal O'Donoghue, RTE Guide
“A riveting and action-packed story where it's hard not to be enthralled by the murky underworld of the Soongs — its numerous twists and turns are saturated with money, travel, history, corruption, treachery, risk, honour, glory, fear, deception, power, and politics.”
J.P. O’Malley, Sunday Independent (Ireland)
“Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister, written in a compulsive style that sweeps the story along, is much the fullest account of their remarkable lives available in English… The sisters make a great story told with considerable sympathy for them.”
Jonathan Fenby, Financial Times
“An enjoyable take on China’s turbulent 20th-century history, seen through the revealing perspective of three women at the centre of power”
Andrea Janku, BBC History