Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution

Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution

by Ji-li Jiang


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In 1966 Ji-li Jiang turned twelve. An outstanding student and leader, she had everything: brains, the admiration of her peers, and a bright future in China's Communist Party. But that year China's leader, Mao Ze-dong, launched the Cultural Revolution, and everything changed. Over ht next few years Ji-li and her family were humiliated and scorned by former friends, neighbors, and co-workers. They lived in constant terror of arrest. Finally, with the detention of her father, Ji-li faced the most difficult choice of her life.

Told with simplicity and grace, this is the true story of one family's courage and determination during one of the most terrifying eras of the twentieth century.Ji-li Jiang was twelve years old in 1966, the year that Chairman Mao launched the Cultural Revolution in China. An outstanding student and much-admired leader of her class, Ji-li seemed poised for a shining future. But all that changed with the advent of the Cultural Revolution, when intelligence became a crime and a wealthy family background invited persecution'or worse. For the next three years Ji-li and her family were humilated and reviled by their former friends, neighbors, and colleagues and lived in constant terror of attack. At last, with the detention of her father, Ji-li was faced with the most dreadful decision of her young life: denounce him and break with her family, or refuse to testify against him and sacrifice her future in her beloved Communist Party.

Told with simplicity, innocence, and grace, this unforgettable memoir gives a child's eye view of a terrifying time in twentieth-century history'and of one family's indomitable courage under fire.

01 BlueSpruce Award Masterlist (YA Cat.)

Author Biography: Ji-li Jiang was born in Shanghai, China, in 1954. She graduated from Shanghai Teacher's College and Shanghai University and was a science teacher before she came to the United States in 1984. After her graduation from the University of Hawaii, Ms. Jiang worked as an operations analyst for a hotel chain in Hawaii, then as a budget director for a health care company in Chicago. In 1992, she started her own company, East West Exchange, to promote cultural exchange between Western countries and China. Ms. Jiang lives in the San Francisco area. This is her first book for children.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061667718
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/23/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 167,228
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Ji-li Jiang was born in Shanghai, China, in 1954. She graduated from Shanghai Teachers' College and Shanghai University and was a science teacher before she came to the United States in 1984. After her graduation from the University of Hawaii, Ms. Jiang worked as an operations analyst for a hotel chain in Hawaii,then as budget director for a health-care company in Chicago. In 1992 she started her own company, East West Exchange, to promote cultural exchange between Western countries and China.

Read an Excerpt

Red Scarf Girl
A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution

Chapter One

I was born on Chinese New Year.

Carefully, my parents chose my name: Ji-li, meaning lucky and beautiful. They hoped that I would be the happiest girl in the world.

And I was.

I was happy because I was always loved and respected. I was proud because I was able to excel and always expected to succeed. I was trusting, too. I never doubted what I was told: "Heaven and earth are great, but greater still is the kindness of the Communist Party; father and mother are dear, but dearer still is Chairman Mao."

With my red scarf, the emblem of the Young Pioneers, tied around my neck, and my heart bursting with joy, I achieved and grew every day until that fateful year, 1966.

That year I was twelve years old, in sixth grade.

That year the Cultural Revolution started.

The Liberation Army Dancer

Chairman Mao, our beloved leader, smiled down at us from his place above the blackboard. The sounds and smells of the tantalising May afternoon drifted in through the window. The sweet breeze carried the scent of new leaves and tender young grass and rippled the paper slogan below Chairman Mao′s picture: study hard and advance every day. In the corner behind me the breeze also rustled the papers hanging from the Students′ Garden, a beautifully decorated piece of cardboard that displayed exemplary work. One of them was my latest perfect math test.

We were having music class, but we couldn′t keep our minds on the teacher′s directions. We wereall confused by the two-part harmony of the Young Pioneers′ Anthem. "We are Young Pioneers, successors to Communism. Our red scarves flutter on our chests," we sang over and over, trying to get the timing right. The old black pump organ wheezed and squeaked as impatiently as we did. We made another start, but Wang Da-yong burst out a beat early, and the whole class broke into laughter.

Just then Principal Long appeared at the door. She walked in, looking less serious than usual, and behind her was a stranger, a beautiful young woman dressed in the People′s Liberation Army uniform. A Liberation Army soldier! She was slim and stood straight as a reed. Her eyes sparkled, and her long braids, tied with red ribbons, swung at her waist. There was not a sound in the classroom as all forty of us stared at her in awe.

Principal Long told us to stand up. The woman soldier smiled but did not speak. She walked up and down the aisles, looking at us one by one. When she finished, she spoke quietly with Principal Long. "Tong Chao and Jiang Ji-li," Principal Long announced. "Come with us to the gym." A murmur rose behind us as we left the room. Tong Chao looked at me and I looked at him in wonder as we followed the swinging braids.

The gym was empty.

"I want to see how flexible you are. Let me lift your leg," the Liberation Army woman said in her gentle voice. She raised my right leg over my head in front of me. "Very good! Now I′ll support you. Lean over backward as far as you can." That was easy. I bent backward until I could grab my ankles like an acrobat. "That′s great!" she said, and her braids swung with excitement.

"This is Jiang Ji-li." Principal Long leaned forward proudly. "She′s been studying martial arts since the second grade. She was on the Municipal Children′s Martial Arts Team. Their demonstration was even filmed."

The Liberation Army woman smiled sweetly. "That was very good. Now you may go back to your classroom." She patted me on my head before she turned back to test Tong Chao.

I went back to class, but I could not remember the song we were singing. What did the Liberation Army woman want? Could she want to choose me for something? It was too much to contemplate. I hardly moved when the bell rang to end school. Someone told me that the principal wanted to see me. I walked slowly down the hall, surrounded by my shouting and jostling classmates, seeing only the beautiful soldier, feeling only the electric tingle of her soft touch on my head.

The office door was heavy. I pushed it open cautiously. Some students from the other sixth-grade classes were there already. I recognised Wang Qi, a girl in class two, and one of the boys, You Xiao-fan of class four. I didn′t know the other boy. The three of them sat nervously and respectfully opposite Principal Long. I slipped into a chair next to them.

Principal Long leaned forward from her big desk. "I know you must be wondering about the Liberation Army soldier," she said. She sounded cheerful and excited. "Why did she come? Why did she want you to do back bends?" She looked at us one by one and then took a long sip from her tea mug as if she wanted to keep us guessing. "She was Comrade Li from the Central Liberation Army Arts Academy."

I slowly took a deep breath.

"She is recruiting students for the dance training class. She selected you four to audition. It′s a great honour for Xin Er Primary School. I′m very proud of all of you, and I know you′ll do your best."

I did not hear the rest of her words. I saw myself in a new Liberation Army uniform, slim and standing straight as a reed, long braids swinging at my waist. A Liberation Army soldier! One of the heroes admired by all, who helped Chairman Mao liberate China from oppression and defeated the Americans in Korea. And a performer, just like my mother used to be, touring the country, the world, to tell everyone about the New China that Chairman Mao had built and how it was becoming stronger and stronger.

I couldn′t help giving Wang Qi a silly smile.

Red Scarf Girl
A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution
. Copyright (c) by Ji-li Jiang . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Red Scarf Girl 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 164 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very good! very touching moments as i reached into china's culture Reccomended
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anyone who loves heart-wrenching books wil definitely love this book! It was amazing and I fell so srry for Jiang Ji Li. I was so clse to crying. She inspires me to never give up no matter how bad things may seem and tat if the whole world stops loving u your family will always love u no matter what.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this book exspresses how china got rid of all the four olds witch came to be a hard task for china and how having little money was a good thing and the strugle of a little girls fight against the Chinise government. She is trying hard to keep her family from falling apart. This is a great book that I think every one should read!As you read you feel the same way the little girl feels and you see it like your are standing there watching it happen into history!! I really recomend this book!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just met ji li she is very nice and has many bad memories about this horribel time it is kind of like our 9/11 ps her dad is famos in rush hour 3 n 201 + many more wonderful grate book i hilghy sugjest it 4 u
CaitlinMD More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I had known about Communist China. But to see it thourgh the eyes of someone my age really moved me.I would say it' s for ages 9 plus.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was FABULOUS! I am 11 years old and this book was the most educational book i've ever read!! I read it during school, and if i haven't learned about the Cultural Revolution and still read this book, it wouldn't of made a difference!!! It made me have mixed emotions; Happy, sad, and suprized. It is sad at some points, happy at other points....
RenWright More than 1 year ago
The Red Revolution The Red Scarf Girl by Ji Li Jiang, is a memoir of how Mao’s reign affected families in China. The story begins with Mao’s revolution. This revolution required Chinese families to get rid of the 4-Olds which were old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits. The memoir is about Ji Li who was at the top of her class, had a pretty wealthy family, and lots of friends. But since Ji Li’s grandpa was a landlord her family suffered punishment and horrid name calling. Landlords, wealthy people, teachers, monks and capitalists were seen as Anti-Revolutionists and were greatly punished. The theme in the The Red Scarf Girl is revolution and oppression. The Cultural Revolution meant a huge change for China. When the 4-Olds and 4-News were established in China, China was changed. All schools, including colleges, were closed so students could focus on the revolution. The revolution included tearing down old signs, and old buildings, and replacing them with the 4 News. Mao oppressed the Chinese people to the point of brainwashing them. Ji Li described him in the epilogue, “To us Chairman Mao was God. He controlled everything we read, everything we heard, and everything we learned we learned, in school. We believed everything he said. Anything bad was the fault of others. Mao was blameless.” It was not until Mao died in 1976 that all the people of China woke up. They realized Mao wasn’t a God and realized all the wrong that was done. “The most frightening lesson of the Cultural Revolution: Without a sound legal system, a small group or even a single person can take control of an entire country. This is as true now as it was then,” Ji Li said in the epilogue. This book not only tells the reader about the Cultural Revolution but it also takes the reader through the struggles. There are many books about history and struggle but The Red Scarf Girl is one of the few that makes you feel like you were there. This book is very vivid and intriguing . It tells you about the harsh reality many people in China had to face. I would definitely give this book a 10/10. I really enjoyed all the stories Ji Li shared throughout the book. Although many of these stories brought pain to my heart, I enjoyed hearing her point of view. It's important to learn about history but it is especially important to hear from the people who actually lived through that history. I loved this book but it was hard to read all the abuse Ji Li and her family received. If you enjoy reading personal stories in history then the The Red Scarf Girl is for you. I would also recommend, Anne Frank, A Diary of a Young Girl. Its another great book full of historical experiences.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book discusses what societies in China were like, focusing on one particular family and their difficulties during the Cultural Revolution. Ji-Li Jiang was a twelve years old when the revolution first started. Being a sixth grader, she was not sure what exactly was happening. After Mao Zedong started the Cultural Revolution, their family was in fear of everyone and everything. At times, the Red Guard would come in and tear apart the entire house looking for things they could not have. When her father was detained, life got even harder for her and her family, but they made it through. I enjoyed this book and learning about the Cultural Revolution. I found it was an easy read, but full of new information I didn't know before. I was surprised to read about the Red Guard and what they did to everyone that was of a lower power to them. One thing I didn't like was the lack of information in the beginning, but I caught up after a few chapters. I found that discrimination was brought up a lot against social classes and background information. I would suggest this book to people that enjoy learning about history, in an easy read. Also, to ones that enjoy adventurous books, with some depressing parts as well.
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ursula on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good children's-level book about the Cultural Revolution.
HankIII on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Last semester, I had my 9th graders read this book; a few enjoyed it and were interested in the Cultural Revolution. Ji-Li Jiang writes clearly and the book is moving; I've read better books about that time, but all in all, it gives a strong personal glimpse into that terrible time, and for that, and that alone, I would recommend it particularly for 9th to 12th graders.
angela.vaughn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have read several books about China's cultural revolution, and I wish I had found this book first. I loved that Jiang added a glossary at the back for words and phrases commonly used during that time. I felt she really wanted to bring understanding to the readers, and she did a wonderful heart felt job. You get a sense of that time, knowing that you could never fully understand unless you lived it too. I will be giving this book to my younger daughter to read soon, and hope it will be the starting point of a great love for all of the Asian culture-good and bad, and the strength of its people.
cestovatela on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jiang Ji-li is just 12 years old when the Cultural Revolution sweeps through China. Once at the top of her class, she loses both her academic standing and the respect of her peers when her family's aristocratic history is revealed. Her home is ransacked, her parents interrogated and over and over again, she is given a choice: break ties with her "black" parents or share their dismal fate. What separates this book from dozens of other Cultural Revolution memoirs is Jiang Ji-li's ability to convey a child's-eye perspective of the events she witnessed. I clearly saw the conflict she and so many other children faced: kids instinctively love and respect their parents, but at the same time, the school system preached "parents are dear, but Chairman Mao is dearer" from kindergarten on. This, coupled with a child's desire to help their country and win approval from authority figures, forced children into a tough dilemma -- protect your family or protect your country and your own future. Although I found this book interesting and poignant, it is aimed at middle school students. The writing style and ideas the book deals with are correspondingly simple. 11- to 13-year-olds should be able to read this book and learn about world history without getting too upset. For adults who already know something about the Cultural Revolution, this would be a good choice to broaden your perspective. However, if it will be your first journey to China's recent political past, try an adult-level memoir first. Red Azalea by Anchee Min and Wild Swans by Jung Chang are both excellent.
MrsBond on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Memoir of a young girl as she and her family live through the Cultural Revolution in China. Documents her struggle of who to trust - family or government. Text flows simply and beautifully. Includes: glossary.
matthew254 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Red Scarf Girl was a dollar pickup at my local thrift store. I was intrigued at the context and historical value but was let down at the less-than-fairy-tale ending. In fact, it's really anti-climatic. What it amounts to is a huge sad buildup that never resolves. I can't honestly say that it's one of the best memoirs on the planet (as some would claim in some reviews) but it is historically relevant and appropriately aimed at young adults.
laurenryates on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have never studied the Cultural Revolution of China, so this book was a huge surprise to me. The book starts with 12 year old Ji-li Jiang during the beginning of the revolution. She does well in school and is very popular, but when she is selected to audition for the Central Liberation Army Arts Academy, her parents forbid her, knowing their class will effect her acceptance. Her parents try and shield her from much of the goings on, but she is still ridiculed for her social class because her grandfather was a landlord. The rise of the Red Guards starts to make the book seem like it is telling the story of the Holocaust. The Red Guards come in and search her house. Her father is detained among false accusations. She soon finds that her mother is trying to expose the Red Guards in a letter she is writing. The Red Guards come and search the house again and find the letter. Her mother and grandmother are punished and she is forced to take on the responsibility of her family. In the end, her father is released and they eventually move to America where she realizes how truly terrible Communism is, although she still feels a connection to her old country. She later starts a business in the hopes to bridge the gap between the two countries. I really enjoyed this book as I did not know much about the cultural revolution. It was interesting to read that in the end she still felt loyalties to her country, even though they were treated so badly there. I think this would be an excellent book for any high school student to read as Ji-li is easy to relate to.
patrickpx2014 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am similar to Ji Li, the main character of the book. I live in Shanghai and am about the same age. Personally, I think Red Scarf Girl is a book suitable for kids of all age, who are interested in learning about The Cultural Revolution.
Niecierpek on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ji-li Jiang was twelve years old when Mao started his restructuring of the country that later became known as his Cultural Revolution. Her account was interesting, not revelatory for me, but had a quality in the narration that I really liked- even though it is a memoir, Jiang manages to narrate it in the voice of the brain washed twelve year old.
librarymeg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Many Americans, myself included, have an opinion about China, Communism, or most likely both. What most of us have neglected to do is explore how valid our opinions are. Ji-Li Jiang's memoir was written for children, and because she is a teacher her book is very accessible for most elementary school-age kids. It's no less interesting or valuable for adults, though, simply because we are not her intended audience. Red Scarf Girl brings us with Ji-Li as she grows up in the height of China's cultural revolution, not long after the beginning of Communism in that country. It's an unclouded, child's-eye view of both what it's like to grow up in these conditions, as well as how political atrocities can take root in a community of normal, well-intentioned citizens. It also has strong themes of the importance of family, and of understanding your beliefs and the costs of holding them. This book was touching, frightening, hopeful, and infuriating by turns, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone, especially in light of the upcoming Beijing Olympics.
autumnesf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is actually my daughters book - it was given to her by her 4th grade teacher while we were in our wait for referral. This is a good book. I read it in one day (although it is thick, it is written at about a Jr. High level). I hope Cierra reads it as it will give her quite an education on the cultural revolution. Highly recommend for your teens or even for adults.
moonbridge on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good children's story that shows how good people can be easily swayed by government censorship and media control.
heathersblue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Incredibly sad story of a child living through the cultural revolution. Well written and teeming with lessons about history and how dangerous leadership without a well determined legal system can become.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was mean to me i had to read it for school and i no understand anythung and it made me want to die
Anonymous More than 1 year ago