Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister
Jung Chang

Book cover image

Narrated By: Joanna David

Duration: 13 hours and 33 minutes

What to expect

Brought to you by Penguin.

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 a gripping story of love, war, exile, intrigue, glamour and betrayal, which takes us on a monumental journey, from Canton to Hawaii and New York, from exiles' quarters in Japan and Berlin to secret meeting rooms in Moscow, and from the compounds of the Communist elite in Beijing to the corridors of power in democratic Taiwan. 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.

*LONGLISTED FOR THE HWA NON-FICTION CROWN 2020*

Genre

Biography: historical, political & military, Asian history, Gender studies: women & girls, Political ideologies

Listen to a sample

One of this autumn's biggest reads, it's an astounding story told with verve and insight.

Stylist

Chang is too deft a biographer to tell you how to think. The sisters are sage and foolish, selfless and vain, brave and fearful, loyal and treacherous... It is up to the reader to decide if the Soongs are fairytale princesses or wicked stepsisters... The sisters were divided by politics, united by love. Even as you recoil from their actions, you are moved by their bond. In this lucid, wise, forgiving biography Chang gives a new twist to an old line. Behind every great man... is a Soong sister.

The Times

The Soong sisters were an extraordinary trio… Jung Chang has shown, in books such as Wild Swans, her instinct for a compelling story, and that instinct stands her in good stead here as she weaves her way through the complex history of China from the 1880s to the 1970s… Well worth reading, in particular for the way it shows how powerful women have helped to shape modern China. At a time when, 70 years after Mao’s victory, the country’s political leadership contains almost no prominent women at all, that is a particularly apposite message to hear.

Sunday Times

Outstanding... As with her previous books, most famously Wild Swans, it is Chang’s sympathetic, storyteller’s eye — her attention to deeply human detail during the most extraordinary circumstances — that makes her work remarkable. Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is another triumph.

Evening Standard

Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is a monumental work, worthy both of Jung Chang’s Mao and of the great, rambling, heterogeneous Chinese folk epics of the oral past, such as The Water Margin and The Three Kingdoms. Its three fairy-tale heroines, poised between east and west, spanned three centuries, two continents and a revolution, with consequences that reverberate, perhaps now more than ever, in all our lives to this day.