Monday 18 November 2019

Book Review: Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister by Jung Chang #BRPreview

Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister
Jung Chang

Three Woman at the heart of Twentieth-Century China

Publisher: Penguin Books Australia 
Imprint: Jonathon Cape
Publication date: 15th October 2019 
Genre: Biography / Historical
Pages: 400
RRP: $35.00 AUD
Format read: Uncorrected proof paperback
Source: Courtesy of the publisher via Bettter Reading


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 the biography of the amazing Soong sisters who together made a huge impact on history.
The three sisters became a modern Chinese fairytale. They were much talked about and fanciful gossip about them was often passed around.

“In China there were three sisters. One loved money, one loved power, and one loved her country.”

Charlie Soong being very forward thinking sent each of his daughters to an American boarding school at a young age. He made influential friends who were then introduced to his daughters. The sisters were very intelligent and interested in the politics of their country. They also believed that women should be man’s equal and the three sisters all rose to positions of influence.

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.

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.