WRITER Jung Chang laughs when asked if she has any trouble at immigration whenever she visits China.
After all, both of her books are banned there.
'No, my last trip was last year and so far I haven't had any problems,' the China-born writer says over the phone from her home in London.
She adds that she hopes it will continue to be so, as she needs to make visits back to China to see her mother, who is in poor health.
Chang, 55, is probably the most internationally recognised name gracing next week's Singapore Writers Festival.
Born the second of five children in Sichuan province, she left China at the age of 26 to study linguistics in Britain and became the first Chinese national to earn a doctorate from a British university - the University of York - in 1982.
She shot to fame in 1992 with her debut book, Wild Swans, a look at 20th-century China as embodied by the lives of her grandmother, her mother and herself.
It was translated into 30 languages and has sold over 10 million copies, but the book is banned in mainland China to this day. This is a fate which has also befallen her follow-up work, the 2005 biography, Mao: The Unknown Story, which she co-authored with her husband, English historian Jon Halliday.
Among other controversial claims, it asserts that the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong was a completely amoral tyrant responsible for the deaths of 70 million Chinese people, rather than the 30 million commonly estimated - making his rule more bloody than that of Hitler or Stalin.
The book has garnered widespread attention, not all of it positive. Some academics have questioned its sources and objectivity, and political science professor Thomas Bernstein of Columbia University was even moved to describe it as 'a major disaster for the contemporary China field'.
Chang is unfazed by such criticism.
'Our book has broken new ground, and you can't break new ground without controversy,' she says, adding that she and her husband spent 12 years doing research in China and Russia.
Whether or not the biography of Mao is objective, there is no denying that the late dictator had a devastating effect on her family. As she wrote in Wild Swans, her parents were both Communist Party officials who criticised the Cultural Revolution and were subsequently persecuted and imprisoned.
'My father was tortured and driven insane. His insanity was an extremely painful part of my youth,' says Chang, whose father died in 1975.
As with Wild Swans, which was also originally written in English, Chang translated Mao into Chinese herself. The translation was published in Hong Kong in September last year.
Although the book is banned on the mainland, Chang says that copies have been smuggled in from Hong Kong, and pirated copies are available both in print and online.
She says: 'A few months ago, I was surfing some Chinese websites and there were wonderful bloggers from the mainland writing about our book.
'They can tell from the documents and interviews we quoted that our book is the true story of Mao. I feel very rewarded: All the trouble and hard work has been really worth it.'
Despite her misgivings with the current government, she says she was amazed by the changes that swept China after the death of Mao in 1976.
She says: 'When I first went to Britain in 1978, we were not allowed to go out on our own, we had to go out in a group. We had to wear Mao suits. We were quite a sight in the London streets.
'But gradually, I was able to go out on my own and even do my doctorate,' she adds with a chuckle.
Ask if she ever imagined the capitalised and globalised China of today, she pauses before replying, almost wistfully: 'The thing is this: In those days, we never knew, growing up under Mao, what was going to happen tomorrow. Your home might be raided, your parents might be pulled into detention or labour camp, disaster could befall you.
'I just lived day by day. I don't think I ever imagined one day it would end, because we weren't brought up thinking in terms of tomorrow.'
» In Chambers With Jung Chang, a meet-the-author session, is on Dec 7 at 7pm at The Arts House. Admission is free.
» Eat Your Words! A Literary Feast With Jung Chang is on Dec 8 at 7pm at Restaurant 1827 and costs $70 per person. Contact The Arts House box office on 6332-6919 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org