Jung Chang's Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China, brought to you by BBC Arts and Radio 4. Read by Pik-Sen Lim, it was originally Book of the Week in September 2013.

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Jung Chang (Getty)

About the author

The groundbreaking memoir Wild Swans was an instant commercial and critical success when it was first published in 1991 and saw Jung Chang swiftly rise to international fame.

The horrors of China’s turbulent 20th century come alive as Chang vividly recounts her family story across three generations. Firstly we discover that her grandmother was sold as a concubine, then we learn of Chang’s mother’s harsh life as a member of Mao’s Communist Party, and finally she tells her own story.

Here Chang reveals what it was like to grow up under the worst excesses of Mao’s Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, including the imprisonment and torture of her parents after her father publicly criticized the haloed Mao.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China won the 1992 NCR Book Award (now the Samuel Johnson Prize) and the 1994 British Book of the Year. It has been translated into 37 languages and has sold more than 13million copies worldwide. To this day it is banned in China.

Mao: The Unknown Story, written with her husband Jon Halliday, was published in 2005. After a decade of research, this highly critical account of China’s despotic leader quickly became a bestseller. It was broadcast as a Book of the Week on Radio 4. Like Wild Swans it is banned in China.

2013 saw the publication of Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China. Here Chang reassesses the reputation of the formidable 19th-century stateswoman who single-handedly dragged China into modernity. She overturns the conventional view of the Dowager Empress as a deeply conservative and cruel despot. It was broadcast as Radio 4’s Book of the Week in September 2013.

Jung Chang was born in 1952. After studying English at Sichuan University she won a scholarship to Britian in 1978 where she often tried to elude Chinese officials keeping tabs on her movements. In 1982 she became the first student from Communist China to receive a British doctorate.

Chang has received honorary degrees from the Universities of York, Buckingham and Warwick, the Open University, and from Bowdoin College in the United States.

Elizabeth Allard, BBC Readings Unit