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Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution Paperback – July 29, 2004
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From School Library Journal
Grade 5-9. This autobiography details the author's experiences as a teenager during the Cultural Revolution. Though wanting to be devoted followers of Chairman Mao, Jiang and her family are subjected to many indignities because her grandfather was once a landlord. Memoirs of the period are usually larded with murders, suicides, mass brainwashing, cruel and unusual bullying, and injustices. Red Scarf Girl is no exception. Where Jiang scores over her comrades is in her lack of self-pity, her naive candor, and the vividness of her writing. The usual catalogue of atrocities is filtered through the sensibility of a young woman trying to comprehend the events going on around her. Readers watch her grow from a follower into a thoughtful person who privately questions the dictates of the powers that be. She witnesses neighbors being beaten to death, her best friend's grandmother's suicide, the systematic degradation of her father, and endless public humiliations. At one point, Jiang even enters a police station to change her name in a confused attempt to dissociate herself from her branded and maligned family. She makes it very clear that the atrocities were the inevitable result of the confusion and fanaticism manipulated by unscrupulous leaders for their own petty ends. Ultimately, her resigned philosophy attaches no blame: this is what happens when power is grossly abused. The writing style is lively and the events often have a heart-pounding quality about them. Red Scarf Girl will be appreciated as a page-turner and as excellent discussion material for social studies curricula.?John Philbrook, formerly at San Francisco Public Library
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
From Kirkus Reviews
A child's nightmare unfolds in Jiang's chronicle of the excesses of Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution in China in the late 1960s. She was a young teenager at the height of the fervor, when children rose up against their parents, students against teachers, and neighbor against neighbor in an orgy of doublespeak, name-calling, and worse. Intelligence was suspect, and everyone was exhorted to root out the ``Four Olds''--old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits. She tells how it felt to burn family photographs and treasured heirlooms so they would not be used as evidence of their failure to repudiate a ``black''--i.e., land-owning--past. In the name of the revolution, homes were searched and possessions taken or destroyed, her father imprisoned, and her mother's health imperiled--until the next round of revolutionaries came in and reversed many of the dicta of the last. Jiang's last chapter details her current life in this country, and the fates of people she mentions in her story. It's a very painful, very personal- -therefore accessible--history. (Memoir. 11-15) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
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Top customer reviews
The book is well-written, and does an excellent job of showing life in this tumultuous time as seen by a highly intelligent girl who was only twelve years old when the Cultural Revolution began. I highly recommend it.
I'll be honest... I wanted to give this a five-star rating, but the writing itself was just not up to that caliber. It was, however, an interesting and informative story of Chinese families enduring the harsh conditions of the Mao Revolution in China. It's also a very interesting and informative human history of how easily people can be 'brainwashed' into believing half-truths and lies.
This story reminds me a little of another similar story, "The Plum Tree" set in Germany before and during Nazi Germany and war. Many normal, peace-loving Germans were also 'brainwashed' by Hitler and his henchmen. Humans can be so easily turned, one group against another - it's happened so many times in our past history, and it'll be done again and again in our future. Sad, truly sad.
The most jarring and maybe problematic part of the book for an American reader like myself is that there is no resolution to the issue, no hero that swoops in and saves the day, no justice for those wrong or punishment for those who abused the power they had. But I suppose that that is the great enigma of modern China. They suffered so much during the hardcore Communist days with people occasionally killed by neighbors, others exiled to work in labor camps and many millions starved to death by heavy-handed utopian-minded economic maneuvers by an omnipotent party apparat gone wild. Despite all this they never renounced Communism like their Eastern European political brethren but they did embrace capitalism on an incredible scale while still referring to themselves as Communists without ever admitting to or even acknowledging the massive hypocrisy it implies. Statues and humongous portraits of Mao still adorn public buildings, cultural landmarks and peoples' homes and the majority of those who suffered underneath his despotic rule don't even have any hard feelings. One of the characters in the book even says something along the lines of "I never blamed Chairman Mao, I always assumed he was just trying to do what was best for the country." It made me think of the time Britney Spears said of Bush during the run-up to the Iraq War that "he is just the President and we should just follow him" or some such nonsense.
At the end of the day this book made be even more cynical about any political process that involves more than a few million people that haven't all been living together for the past 3,000 years. When I said in the title for the review that the book may disappoint more mature readers, I say that because I think as you get older you crave definite resolutions to the different stories you're told. When you listen to or read a very tragic story with a definite antagonist, you need to know that that person was punished and that those who were wronged at least got to "have their day in court" or whathaveyou. For this reason I think younger people should read this book to learn that things in life aren't always divided into black & white or good & bad and that sometimes people who do horrible things often get to live out mediocre lives with no punishment ever for the crimes they have committed. I guess what I'm saying is I liked this book for allowing me to wallow in my pessimism a little while longer.