This evening I went to see Jung Chang give the Baggs Memorial Lecture at the University of Birmingham on the topic of happiness. I love both of Chang’s books Wild Swans and Mao so was very keen to hear her speak in person. She did give a previous lecture at the University a number of years ago & unfortunately I missed it so this was my chance to make up for that.
In person, Jung is very glamorous & rather stately. It might be a sign I’m deeply shallow but how a person dresses makes a big impression on me & Jung dressed beautifully. She wore a large brooch on one shoulder which was almost octopus-like which I loved, it was a real statement piece.
Aside from her clothes, what Jung said also made an impression on me. She spoke about her own sense of fulfilment as a writer, but also touched on happiness more generally within China. She made the simple but essential point that people in China can be happy until/unless they come up against the regime. This is true for those whose professions are liable to put them at risk of censorship (artists, directors, writers, historians, etc) but also for the general public when they come up against the Chinese legal system, for example people whose homes have been repossessed as part of development projects.
Seeing inspiring people like Chang always tempts me to chuck in my job and do something more meaningful and fulfilling, but – although I don’t think I am too materialistic – I do find a good wage/pension/annual leave entitlement/sickness pay hard to give up easily. And I do so want to decorate the rest of my house…
Jung mentioned that her next book will be about the Empress Dowager Cixi who I find enormously fascinating so I can’t wait for that. As she said herself it will be a kind-of reverse from her Mao biography which demonised a figure who had previously frequently been celebrated, this will recognise the strengths of a historical figure who has long been demonised.