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The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir Hardcover – April 26, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

There’s a funny and telling scene in Huang’s memoir in which the author, raised in central China in the 1970s, recalls his first trip to London on a student visa, and recounts his wonder at seeing grass grown just to be mowed. Yet as mysterious and misunderstood as the West is to Huang, so his description of life under Mao will come as a revelation to readers. The food rationing, party politics, and Cultural Revolution that Westerners have a vague knowledge of are all viewed through the highly personal lens of Huang’s family. Using his grandmother’s stubborn insistence on a traditional burial, banned under Mao, as a set piece, Huang demonstrates the tightrope many Chinese walked between their personal belief in ancient Confucian teachings and the public demands of the Communist government. Restrictions are relaxed, only to be renewed, and Huang struggles to come to terms with where his true allegiances lie. Today, as China continues to rapidly evolve, Huang, who now resides in the U.S., is firmly on the side of family and freedom. --Patty Wetli


The Little Red Guard is a remarkable memoir. Wenguang Huang gave it an ingenious dramatic structure, which reveals the tensions and emotional struggles within his family.  At the psychological level, the story has universal resonance that is beyond history and culture. Huang tells it with extraordinary candor, acuity, and the cruel irony of life. As a result, the story is full of gravity, absurdity, and grief.”—Ha Jin, author of Waiting

The Little Red Guard—his first book—establishes Wenguang Huang as a master storyteller. Vividly engaging and often surprising, this memoir of coming of age in an ordinary Chinese family amid the social and political wreckage of Mao’s Cultural Revolution is uncommonly wise and deeply moving.” —Philip Gourevitch, author of The Ballad of Abu Ghraib and We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families

“With brilliant humanistic insights, Wenguang Huang reveals how the terrors of youth, both large and small, imprint our lives with psychic markers and force us, eventually, to confront the irrational foundation on which strong character can be found.”—Patrick Tyler, author of A Great Wall: Six Presidents and China

“Just as he has done in his translated works, Wenguang has transformed the intimate stories of a Chinese family into a gripping book that will appeal to readers of all cultures.” —Liao Yiwu, author of The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories, China from the Bottom Up

“Delightful… a book that brings a corner of modern China alive—a book filled with humor, family squabbles and ordinary life in a large city in a one-party state... [with] echoes of J.D. Salinger.”—Wall Street Journal

“A gripping, lyrical memoir…revealing, ironic and effortlessly elegant.”—Chicago Tribune

“A riveting, well-crafted story…at times comic and at times heartbreaking... [with] plenty of fresh and unforgettable revelations.”— (pick of the week)

“Perfect, moving.”—The Daily Beast

“Illuminating… Huang’s coming-of-age story eloquently describes his family coping with change and how, in a turbulent time, he made sense of the world.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A memoir centered on a coffin? Yes, and it works.”—O, The Oprah Magazine

“A trenchantly observed story that depicts the clash of traditional and modern Chinese culture with a powerful combination of sensitivity and mordant irony.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Another interesting way to look at China, something readers crave.”—Library Journal

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (April 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594488290
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594488290
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,007,642 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By The Owl on April 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this, the Age of the Memoir, few such works capture the essence of a life and its times as compellingly as Wenguang Huang's "The Little Red Guard." The author shows us post-revolutionary China with its stifling conformity and brutish contempt for human achievement and takes us through to the current era of rampant materialism--Communist style. The framework is simple: A boy is put in charge of of his grandmother's coffin--guarding it, hiding it and sleeping next to it at night. Burial is forbidden by a government desperate for land--at first for farmland to feed the revolution, later for handbag factories and tai chi schools. But grandma insists on burial next to her beloved husband, who died before cremation became the rule. She must remain intact to properly join him in the afterlife. Her devoted son, Wenguang's father, obeys her wishes, even though he fears losing status as a highly-regarded Communist Party factotum.
The tale unfolds at the level of "ordinary" people living in near poverty and obedience to authority. Yet, as the grandson grows into manhood and samples the best of Western education, his slavish devotion to Party rapidly fades. Hiding a coffin no longer seems a foolish violation of government rule but more a symbol of family ties that trump any doctrines dictators may try to impose.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By CarenT on April 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I met Wen Huang seveal years ago and eagerly awaited this book, having read his translations. The Little Red Guard is a family memoir capturing timeless family dynamics through the lens of Chinese traditions; it is an intimate reflection on growing up in late 20th century China; it is an immigrant's story, describing the adventure and also the heartache of leaving home for new horizons; and most of all, it is an exceptionally candid self-portrait of a man who shares his self-doubts, regrets, and his hopes with the reader as if he were talking to a trusted friend. As touching as it is riveting, it will linger in memory long after the final chapter. And it is a book I will reread more than once.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Shirley Evans on April 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Over several years, I have read articles by Wenguang Huang and books that were translated by him. I have hoped that he would eventually write his own book instead of just doing translations. I finally got my wish.

This book is a view into a culture and a family that, in final analysis, is not really that much different than my own. The book begins with a simple request by an aging grandmother that she be buried next to her husband and not be cremated, as was the requirement to conserve land in Communist China. We move through the years with Wenguang's family as his father struggles to honor his mother's request, even though that may jeopardize his career and status in the community and even though it may endanger him and his family. As time went on, Wenguang's father died, and the burden of honoring the last wishes of Wenguang's grandmother passed to him and the rest of his family.

This book was well-written, is interesting and was a joy to read. I am so glad Wenguang wrote this book to share some of his life and experiences with us. The language, culture and customs of China may be different from the U.S., but matters of the heart are universal, and this book was written from the heart. I definitely recommend this book and hope purchasers enjoy reading it as much as I have.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A. Ho on April 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Little Red Guard" is relevant in so many ways beyond its cover story. Author Wenguang Huang neatly wraps his experiences of growing up, family responsibility, political influences, and death into a multi-colored memoir.

The irony of life bleeds through the pages. In some ways, it is so painful, it can only make you laugh. Through obedience comes disobedience, especially with family - both the one who raises you with their sweat and tears, and the one that governs your country.

The permanent influences of political unrest is prominent in Wenguang Huang and his family's life, but "The Little Red Guard" only reminds you that "small" family matters can still counter massive political movements anywhere in the world, China or otherwise.

All in all, "The Little Red Guard" is a fluid read and an easy hook to catch on to - a story you only hope will resolve. You don't need to know much about China, communism, or feel politically/socially enraged to understand and to feel the workings of a family living beyond just living, no matter the limitations.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Aaron on May 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Huang's book, irrespective of its eye-catching title of "little red guard", is more than a story about a kid growing up during the oppressive years of Mao's communist era. Sprinkled with exotic China elements, like foot-binding, chastity arch, elaborate funeral rituals, the book actually is about a person trying to free himself from human shackles, in this case, Grandma's coffin, and everything connected with it. Grandma's coffin, and the planning of Grandma's funeral, have consumed the good part of Huang's father's life, and is the constant source of friction in the family. Huang later on tried to establish a new life in the United States, cutting off the ties with a tradition he despised. He abandoned his favorite tofu and noodles, opting for Spaghetti. He dated an American girl friend. His Chinese became choppy. Only later in his life, he realized that the exact tradition he tried to run away from, is what binds a family together. Grandma's quest to reunite with her husband, Grandpa's relatives' tenacious efforts in guarding his graveyard, keep human faith intact. After a full circle, Huang gave his late Mother a proper traditional funeral, and his eulogy in the funeral made many people shed tears - a sign of a good, filial son, something to make his mother proud!
The book is witty, fluent, and hard to put down once you started - and like watching a good movie, it lingers in your mind for a long time even after you finish it.
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