The best-known modern Chinese fairy tale is the story of three sisters from Shanghai, who for most of the 20th 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 Republic of China, 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 made 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.
Jung Chang is the internationally bestselling author of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China; Mao: The Unknown Story (with Jon Halliday); and Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China. Her books have been translated into over 40 languages and sold more than 15 million copies outside mainland China, where they are banned. She was born in China in 1952, and came to Britain in 1978. She lives in London.
Kirsty Lang presents BBC Radio 4’s flagship arts programme Front Row. She has previously chaired the Orange Prize for Women's Fiction, the Bruntwood Prize for playwriting and has been a judge on the Independent Prize for Foreign Fiction in Translation. Before becoming an arts journalist, Lang was a foreign correspondent for the BBC, Channel 4 News and The Sunday Times.
For ages 16+
Copies of Jung Chang’s new book Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister (RRP £25) are available for £17.50 when you buy a ticket to the talk. These may be collected at the event.
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This event is Speech-to-Text transcribed (STT).