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was on her mind; she was restless. One day, she declined a shopping trip, and settled at my black dining table on which a bouquet of golden daffodils shone. Cupping a mug of jasmine tea in her hands, she told me that what she most wanted to do was talk to me. My mother talked every day for months.
For the first time in our lives, she told me about herself and about my grandmother. My grandmother, I learned, had been the concubine of a warlord general, and my mother had joined the Communist underground at the age of fifteen. Both of them had eventful lives in a China that was tossed about by wars, foreign invasions, revolutions, and then a totalitarian tyranny. In the general maelstrom they were involved in poignant romances. I learned about my mother’s ordeals, her close shaves with death, and her love for my father and emotional conflicts with him. I also came to know the agonizing details of my grandmother’s footbinding: how her feet had been crushed under a big stone when she was two to satisfy the standards of beauty of the day. Tourism became the backdrop of our conversations. As we traveled to the Isle of Skye in Scotland and Lake Lugano in Switzerland, my mother would talk in planes
“I had always dreamed of being a writer. But when I was growing up in China, the idea of writing for publication seemed out of the question.”
and cars, on boats, during walks, and halfway through the night. When I was out working, she would stay at home and speak into a tape recorder. By the time she left Britain, she had done sixty hours of recordings. Here, outside the social and political confines of China, she was able to do something she had not been able to do all her life: open her mind and her heart.
As I listened to my mother, I was
overwhelmed by her longing to be understood by me. It also struck me that she would really love me to write. She seemed to know that writing was where my heart lay, and was encouraging me to fulfill my dreams. She did this not through making demands, which she never did, but by providing me with stories – and showing me how to face the past. Despite her having lived a life of suffering and torment, her stories were not unbearable or depressing.
Underlying them was a fortitude that was all the time uplifting.
It was my mother who finally inspired
me to write Wild Swans, the stories of my grandmother, my mother, and myself through the turbulence of twentieth-century China.
Jung Chang is the author of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China.
THE REVOLUTION WILL BE TELEVISED: THE VIDEO ART OF WILD SWANS VIDEO DESIGNER WANG GONGXIN
At Wild Swans, audience members will experience the dynamic video design of pioneering Chinese media artist, Wang Gongxin. Born in 1960, Wang comes from the same
generation as Wild Swans writer Jung Chang. Like Chang, Wang experienced first-hand the brutalities of Mao’s Cultural Revolution: his mother raised him on her own because his father was confined to a labor camp. He began drawing when he was young, “My mom and my high school art teacher encouraged me to pursue painting,” he says. Once the Cultural Revolution was over, Wang received a Bachelor of Arts in oil painting from Beijing Normal University.
Even by then, the early 1980’s, the only
arts training available in China was in oil painting or guohua (traditional Chinese ink painting). In a 2010 interview for Artspace
China, Wang reflects: “…I was bored by this learning environment and wanted more. It was very difficult to get access to other forms of knowledge, though… you knew you wanted to do something new but you only had these brushes and pencils in your hands.” In the mid-1990’s, after living in New York for years, he managed to put down his brushes and began working in video. “For me, compared to the Chinese brush, video is an easier way to communicate,” says Wang, “Each generation uses its own knowledge… Video is useful in discussions of contemporary society … it can at least create a dialogue through people’s interaction with the works.”
Wang Gongxin is known for the ingenious
“interaction” of his video design with physical objects or architecture. One of his early works, The Brooklyn Sky (1995) was made from footage he recorded of the sky from his New York City apartment. When he moved back to China, he dug a hole in the floor of his house and placed the video monitor inside it. The work referenced the American saying that if you dig deep enough you will reach China, but it also articulated an interest in the changing relationship between East and West. The project established Wang as one of the foremost and original multimedia artists in modern China.
WANG GONGXIN. ALWAYS WELCOME, 2003. VIDEO INSTALLATION
LEARN MORE ABOUT WANG AND THE REST OF THE WILD SWANS TEAM, INCLUDING AWARD-WINNING SCENIC DESIGNER MIRIAM BUETHER, AT AMERICANREPERTORYTHEATER.ORG/BLOG
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