'Wild Swans' author Jung Chang lauds Hong Kong's freedom
Writer Jung Chang is always happy to court controversy with her work and welcomes the chance to talk to Chinese readers in Hong Kong
And the author of the autobiographic Wild Swans believes in providing those new perspectives. "I wouldn't dream of writing something that is not controversial," she said, prior to her first appearance at the Hong Kong Book Fair today.
"I want to discover new things and look at things from a new angle, using historical documents."
Chang's second book, Mao: The Unknown Story, was based on new, declassified Russian archival materials concerning Mao Zedong . It was co-authored by her husband Jon Halliday, an historian specialising in Russia. "It was a riveting experience for both of us as we discovered so many new things about Mao over a period of 12 years," the 61-year old London-based author said.
She admitted their findings upset some people, including academics, but added: "I dare say none has pointed out any factual error in our book since it was published in 2005."
"After Wild Swans, Mao obviously became my next subject because he dominated my early life and I had many unanswered questions about him," she said. "As it turned out, Mao was a bad man but a good subject."
In much the same way, Mao inspired Chang to write her next book, the biography of Cixi, the Empress Dowager of the late Qing Dynasty.
Chang says The Concubine Who Launched Modern China , due out in October, is set to overturn "received wisdom that she was a diehard conservative and despot who opposed reform".
"My interest in Cixi came from my grandmother's bound feet, a practice which at first I thought was outlawed by Mao thanks to the party education, but later found out it was the empress' edict," she said.
"Bear in mind, too, Mao was born in 1893, meaning he spent his childhood and youth under Cixi's reign. I was amazed at how Mao as a peasant lad could enjoy such extraordinary freedom and opportunity, something I did not have in my time."
She hoped the new book, which concerns an older historical figure, would fare better on the mainland than her previous publications, which are banned.
"Even when I visit my elderly mother in Sichuan province, I can't talk about my books in public," she said.
"So I am delighted to have the opportunity to have a dialogue with readers in Hong Kong, including those coming from the mainland.
"I am so happy Hong Kong is separate from China in this sense, and, to a large extent, it has kept a lot of its freedom. I don't know what I'd do without Hong Kong," she laughed.