Jung Chang

Sometimes there are events that happen in one’s life that are unexpected and delightful. Yesterday, I experienced one.

Several months ago, my son Ben lent me a book called “Wild Swans,” an account of a Chinese family that spans the years from the 1920s through the 1970s and their experiences through the Japanese occupation, the Chinese civil war, Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” the famine, and the “Cultural Revolution.” The book was so powerful and fascinating that I read it slowly, absorbing every word, and only a week or two ago, began to reread it. So imagine my delight in finding out that the author, Jung Chang, and her husband, Jon Halliday, who have recently published “Mao: The Unknown Story,” were going to be in Tel Aviv at an all day seminar talking about their new book.

The room in which the seminar was to take place was so overpacked that the entire seminar had to be moved to a much larger auditorium. The vice-president of the university quipped that the current students’ strike at least had one positive aspect: there was a vacant auditorium that could be used.

The participants were not disappointed. To say that the day was fascinating would be an egregious understatement. Jung Chang is a woman with such strength and grace and inner beauty. I loved the candor of her presentation. I loved that she introduced her relationship with Israel in terms of a certificate she received from a reader that indicated that the reader had planted trees here in memory of Jung Chang’s family members and that she, Jung Chang, was touched by the gesture and has the framed certificate hanging in her home.

She spoke openly about her feelings as a child and as a young woman and the process she went through in coming to terms with what was happening in China and why it was happening. It was gripping and poignant.

There is a special feeling that I have when I am in the presence of a person who has that kind of courage and strength and openness. In her case, she has openly challenged the Chinese narrative of the Mao years. In the other case, Natan Sharansky defied the Russians and prevailed. To be in the presence of such strength and courage is to feel a power that is almost superhuman.

I was delighted to exchange some words with Jung Chang and was really happy that a friend was present to take a picture of Aaron and me with her and her husband, Jon Halliday.

Jon Halliday & Jung Chang with Rona & Aaron Michelson

Jon Halliday & Jung Chang with Rona & Aaron Michelson

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