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Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister by Jung Chang: Your Preview Verdict

November 5, 2019

Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is a gripping story of love, war, exile, intrigue, glamour and betrayal. 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.

This eye-opening historical book was incredibly popular with our Preview readers. See some of their highlights here:

What an incredible story of the three Soong sisters, extremely well researched and written, All three sisters are fascinating and all rose to fame from love wars heartbreak exile glory this book has it all very very interesting – Deborah, NSW, 5 stars

I read this in 3 nights. I was quite interested in and it was a great read. Not a type of book I would normally read but am glad I did. The women it’s about were strong willed and knew what they wanted. They lead an interesting life of lots of ups and down. It was so interesting to read about this era and country and all that happened and is still happening. I would recommend to this book. – Beth, TAS, 5 stars

Having read Wild Swans by Jung Chang a few years ago and being unable to put it down I was eager to read Big sister Little Sister Red Sister and it did not disappoint. This book I could not put down. It is very well written and easy to read. My knowledge of Chinese history is at best poor and this book gave me a greater understanding of how China became a communist country. If you enjoy a book where the charactures are well and empathetically written and captivating and you will love this book. – Sonia, VIC, 5 stars

Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is the fascinating collective biography of the Soong sisters of Shanghai – three strong-willed, passionate, and independent women who influenced the development of modern China and Taiwan, often from opposing political camps. Jung Chang’s research is impressive, delving into archives in the US, the UK, Taiwan, Russia and Hong Kong, as well as diaries, interviews with the Soong’s family and friends, and eye-witness accounts of various events. The result is a vivid and detailed historical book that is easily accessible, entertaining and truly interesting. – Dominique, SA, 4 stars

Chinese politics, history and family in one fascinating tome. Fans of “Wild Swans” will find this another epic read. This is not light reading as a level of concentration is required. – Kelly, QLD, 4 stars

Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister by Jung Chang is the story of the three Soong sisters from Shanghai. The book covers their marriages to important men in China, and is intertwined with Chinese history in general. I found it an interesting story about the women themselves and their involvement in China’s power struggles. I also learnt a lot about China’s history in the 1900’s, of which I was quite ignorant. I enjoyed the story. Thanks to Better Reading for the opportunity to read and review this book. – Fay, VIC, 4 stars

‘Big Sister, Little Sister and Red Sister’ is a fascinating, historical journey across decades and countries. I was enthralled to read it. It was extensively researched with footnotes and a bibliography including private letters. It tells the story of three sisters from a wealthy Shanghai family who followed different paths. They were all influential. Their legacies impacted on different countries and historical events. Yet it is also a story of love, power, danger and strong family ties. There is significant insight into the lives of Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek. Additionally, the story details historical events such as the Great March, the invasion of China by Japan, the cooperation between the Chinese Nationalists and the Communists to fight the Japanese and then the fallout when these two factions turned on each other. It covers the complicated relationships between countries and within countries which include assassinations and hostage taking. I knew very little about Chinese history and now have a limited understanding of the complexities. Big Sister, Little Sister and Red Sister is a thriller more for the fact that it is based on facts using primary sources and interviews. – Sandra, ACT, 5 stars

What a fascinating read! The influence of the three Soong women in China, as told by Jung Chang, is inspiring and I’m glad she chose to tell their stories rather than her original focus of Sun Yat-Sen. I particularly enjoyed Part IV, The Sisters in Wars (1937 – 1950). I thought their stories were told in an informative, compassionate way. While the author doesn’t make excuses for some of the perhaps less desirable behaviour or traits of each of the sisters, she does offer non-judgmental explanations. Readers interested in history will thoroughly enjoy this book. – Alice, NSW, 4 stars

At the turn of the 19th century the Soong sisters were among the first generation of Chinese women to benefit from the edict against foot binding, and educational opportunities for girls. Each girl was sent by their parents to America for schooling and a Christian upbringing. As a teen in the US Ei-Ling (Big Sister) recognised, unlike Confucius, that China’s progress must come largely through her educated women. And what progress these sisters influenced! Following the end of the Qing dynasty, the only democratically elected (but short lived) government in Chinese history fostered free speech, an independent legal system, private enterprise, the modern Chinese language, and competing political parties. It was a fertile time for change, including Russian meddling and funding, resulting in Sun Yat-sen becoming regarded as the Father of China. Ching-Ling (Red Sister) at his side became revered as Madame Sun. Untouchable Ei-Ling, with her husband, controlled national finances and adroitly amassed a personal fortune. But still China was not politically unified. With Sun’s death Chiang Kai-shek replaced him to become the Nationalist Generalissimo who drove out the Russians. When the Japanese invaded, his wife May-Ling (Little Sister) delivered a speech for war aid to the US Congress which received a 4 minute standing ovation. She also revealed her diplomatic nous by gifting pandas to the Bronx Zoo. The country united, but the period of democracy ended with Chiang’s dictatorship and his eventual exile to Taiwan. Jung Chang delivers a thoroughly researched account of the Soong sisters’ lives, loves and losses in a turbulent historical epic full of luxurious lifestyles, power struggles, assassinations, ‘Red Terror’, war, and the birth of modern China. – Anita, QLD, 4 stars

This is the biography of three women deeply embedded in the story of modern China. It wasn’t entirely successful as a biography; however, it’s an excellent and accessible history of a hundred years or so in China. Chang tells of the Soong sisters, who between them had political, financial and personal relationships with Sun Yat-sen, Mao, and Chiang Kai-shek. I didn’t get a strong sense of the sisters. Chang must have been working under significant difficulty in accessing documents about an eventful period. Still, the sisters didn’t come to life for me. In particular, I found it hard to keep straight which was which. As a light history of an important and recent part of Chinese history, this is exceptionally good. Chang covers the important events, and has a good eye for when to go into more detail. This is more personal than many histories, because Chang is ultimately interested in the people. If you’re interested in Chinese history, or some of the forces that shaped that nation, this is a good way to get an overview and a strong sense of the country. It’s well written, and clearly well researched by an author who cares about her subject. – Lorraine, ACT, 4 stars

I confess that before I read Big Sister Little Sister Red Sister, I did not know much about 20th Century China. Mao and Chiang Kai-Shek were merely names. I was much more interested in the Imperial past, and Kung Fu films! Seeing the 20th century China through the lives of the very influential Soong sisters was genius. We were able to travel from Pre-Communist times, to full on enclosed Communism and through to today’s more open, Capitalism influenced, times. I was fascinated how they had so much power and influence over China’s direction and how much they had to pay for this power. Each sister was strong and determined, in her own way, and own direction. They were not united in belief. When one rose the others would fall, and have to tread carefully. I really enjoyed seeing the patterns of the rise and fall of power, the cause and effect of actions, all from a distance of a few years. China finally makes sense to me. – Daniella, QLD, 4 stars

Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister – what an extraordinary book! Jung Chang has created a biography of three sisters which reads as easily as a novel. Stretching from 1866 – 2003, we follow the unexpected story of Ei-ling, May-ling and Ching-ling Soong who became possible the most powerful and influential women in China throughout the Twentieth Century. Although politics at times divided the sisters, the sense of family and their connections remained paramount. We are guided through the early days of the Chinese Republic, Chinese Democracy and Communist Nationalism; lives entwined with the giant names of the era – Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao. Chang has skilfully avoided any personal bias to provide us with the views of each woman; we see the world, and China in particular, through the eyes of each of these educated, highly intelligent and well-travelled sisters. Highly recommended for readers who are fascinated by the history of China and the role of women in shaping it path to the present day. – Chris, QLD, 5 stars

Big Sister, little sister, red sister is a fantastic novel. It pulled at my heart strings and left me feeling very emotional. I could not put this book down. The author has written a novel that is engaging and certainly a page turner! I enjoy novels that are placed in different areas of the globe and learning the cultural differences. – Aleisha, QLD, 5 stars

An interesting insight into how the lives of 3 sisters so strongly influenced wartime, Maoist and today’s China. When history is so often only told from the male perspective it’s fascinating to see how in a time when women had little power all 3 ultimately helped shape so much of 20th century China. – Kim, NSW, 4 stars

Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is the biography of the amazing Soong sisters who together made a huge impact on history. The three sisters became a modern Chinese fairytale; “In China there were three sisters. One loved money, one loved power, and one loved her country.” Jung Chang divides the book into five parts spanning the years 1866 – 2003. It features the rise of Sun Yat-Sen and the overthrow of the Chinese monarchy to May-Ling’s marriage to Chiang Kai-Shek. I’m not normally a great fan of non-fiction, especially political tales, however this riveting biography is so well written it at no time becomes weighed down. The three sisters, their lives and loves, make for some fascinating reading. Moving from grand parties in Shanghai to penthouses in New York, from exiles’ quarters in Japan and Berlin to secret meetings in Moscow we read about power struggles, godfather style assassinations, secret talks and bribes making this a book that is compulsive reading. – Veronica, NSW, 5 stars

Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister, by Jung Chang, tells the stories of the three Soong sisters, Ei-Ling (Big Sister), May-ling (Little Sister), and Ching-ling (Red Sister), all of whom are significant figures in Chinese history. In reviewing this book, I must begin by saying that I am in awe of the immense amount of research conducted by the author. The book contains a lengthy Biography and the author acknowledges an impressive range of sources. Thus, the depth of information within the book would appeal to readers seeking a rich foray into Chinese political history. Unfortunately, I do not fall into this category. This, combined with the fact that I found myself seeking a less-intense reading experience at the time, meant that I found myself skimming the pages. There is, however, no doubting the quality of this work and its appeal to its intended readership. – Alison, QLD, 4 stars

 

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