China's Son: Growing Up in the Cultural Revolution

China's Son: Growing Up in the Cultural Revolution

3.8 16
by Da Chen

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A candid memoir about growing up during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, adapted by the author from his Colors of the Mountain, published by Random House.

Da Chen was born in China in 1962. The grandson of a landlord, he and his family were treated as outcasts in Communist China. In school, Da was an excellent student until a teacher told him that, because of his

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A candid memoir about growing up during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, adapted by the author from his Colors of the Mountain, published by Random House.

Da Chen was born in China in 1962. The grandson of a landlord, he and his family were treated as outcasts in Communist China. In school, Da was an excellent student until a teacher told him that, because of his “family’s crimes,” he could never be more than a poor farmer. Feeling his fate was hopeless, Da responded by dropping out and hanging around with a gang. However, after Mao’s death, Da realized that an education and college might be possible, but he had to make up for the time he’d wasted. He began to study–all day and into the night. His entire family rallied to help him succeed, working long hours in the rice fields and going into debt to ensure that Da would have an education. When the final exam results were posted, he had one of the highest scores in the region and had earned a place at the prestigious Beijing University. Now his family’s past would not harm their future.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Adapted from his adult memoir, Colors of the Mountain, this coming-of-age tale traces the author's boyhood in Maoist China as his family is stripped of property and cruelly treated. "Humor and unflinching honesty inform the narrative," wrote PW. Ages 12-up. (July) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Like Adeline Yen Mah's Falling Leaves (John Wiley & Sons, 1998/VOYA April 1999), Chen's autobiography, Colors of the Mountain (Random House, 2000), has been adapted here for teen readers, but with less success than Mah's work. Chen grew up during the Cultural Revolution as the child of a former landlord. While his father frequently was away at work camps, the good student Chen was ignored by teachers, bullied by classmates, and eventually dropped out of school to join a gang. When Mao Zedong died in 1976, the Cultural Revolution also died, and with the announcement of national exams, attending university again became possible for Chen. Unfortunately, he was now four years behind his classmates and needed to cram to catch up. He did so successfully, eventually being accepted into one of the leading English language programs in the country. The abridgement from Colors of the Mountain is choppy, with quick leaps ahead in time, suddenly formed friendships, and little context within the narrative to explain why Chen's family was so hated. Characters are developed poorly, seeming like caricatures—Chen's hooligan friends, although likeable, seem pat. These problems also were present in the full work, but to a much lesser effect—the story itself flowed rivetingly. Libraries with Asian patrons would be well advised to purchase Colors of the Mountain instead. Teens not interested in reading Chen's longer work would be better served by Ji-Li Jiang's Red Scarf Girl (HarperCollins, 1997/VOYA June 1998) or Red China Blues (Doubleday/Anchor Books, 1996) by Jan Wong. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M J S (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, Delacorte, 213p, $15.95. Ages 11 to 18. Reviewer: Kendall Diane Brothers
Da Chen's beautiful memoir of his life growing up in communist China is a moving account of a young man's struggle to succeed. Adapted from Colors of the Mountains for a younger audience, this book has an easy flow and an inspirational theme. Chen was raised during Mao Tse-tung's Cultural Revolution and as a result Chen and his family were forced to face many difficulties. Because the family was descended from landlords they suffered abuse such as poverty (their lands were taken), public scorn, and their father (a former teacher) being sent off to labor camps. Going to school became such a trial for the young boy that he sought solace with some thugs who respected him and treated him as an equal. Eventually Da, with encouragement and sacrifices from his family, got back into the life of a serious student. Da and his brother studied hard, and the reward for Da was admission to Beijing First Foreign Language Institute. Chen's language is beautiful and his story is often sparked with humor. He does not dwell on victimization or suffering so much as his determination and the love of his family. His courage and the tenacity shown by all of his family is something to be admired. It might be hard for many YAs in America to realize that education is not just a gift but also something worth fighting for and something that can also open doors for you. In reading Da Chen's account they will have a better picture of how attitude and hard work can make all the difference regardless of the circumstances. Readers will enjoy this memoir on several different levels. (adapted from Colors of the Mountain). KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2001, Random House,Delacorte, 213p., Tibbetts
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-China's Son is a retelling for young readers of Da Chen's memoir, Colors of the Mountain (Random, 2000), a book easily accessible to older middle and high school students without adaptation. During the Cultural Revolution, even people living in remote villages like Yellow Stone in southern China felt its effects. The author grew up in this small village, and because his grandfather was a landlord, his family was persecuted. Though he was a bright boy and remained in school for most of this period, he was mistreated by students and teachers alike. He eventually began hanging around with a gang of young gamblers and soon abandoned his lessons altogether though he continued to attend school. The Cultural Revolution ran its course, and college became an option. At this point, Da Chen realized how limited his future would be without an education, but by now, he was woefully behind his classmates. He and his older brother began a rigorous course of study to prepare for college entrance exams. Da Chen's admission to Beijing First Foreign Language Institute is the culmination of a powerful but dry coming-of-age story about a young man struggling to figure out just who he is in a society whose very structure is undergoing massive change. China's Son joins Ji-Li Jiang's Red Scarf Girl (HarperCollins, 1997) and Song Nan Zhang's A Little Tiger in the Chinese Night (Tundra, 1993) as part of a growing body of literature about children living during this difficult period of Chinese history.-Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Adapted from his work published for adults, Colors of the Mountain (1999), this autobiography of a landlord's son growing up as a pariah in his village in the '60s is gripping and funny. Da Chen is a good student, but he drifts in and out of school with the political climate, in many ways choosing the path of least resistance, but also holding onto the things that move him—history and music. As the youngest, he is encouraged by his family to pursue his studies, as all his older siblings have been forced into farming. Da Chen's narrative moves smoothly, communicating setting and character with an immediacy that will draw young readers in. It is nearly word-for-word the same as Colors of the Mountain. For the most part, the deletions are non-essential to the story, although many of them would have made the cultural climate depicted clearer to young readers. It seems that the reason for the adaptation is primarily for length—although it's unlikely that the missing hundred pages would have made the difference between a young person deciding to read this or not. (Autobiography. 10-15)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.80(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

I was born in southern China in 1962, in the tiny town of Yellow Stone. They called it the Year of Great Starvation. Chairman Mao had had a parting of the ways with the Soviets, and now they wanted all their loans repaid or there would be blood, a lot of it.

Mao panicked. He ordered his citizens to cut down on meals and be hungry heroes so he could repay the loans. The superstitious citizens of Yellow Stone still saw the starving ghosts of those who had died during that year chasing around and sobbing for food on the eve of the spring Tomb Sweeping Festival.

That year also saw a forbidding drought that made fields throughout China crack like wax. For the first time, the folks of Yellow Stone saw the bottom of the Dong jing River. Rice plants turned yellow and withered young.

Dad wanted to give me the name Han, which means "drought." But that would have been like naming a boy in Hiroshima Atom Bomb. And since the Chinese believe that their names dictate their fate, I would have probably ended up digging ditches, searching for water in some wasteland. So Dad named me Da, which means "prosperity."

The unfortunate year of my birth left a permanent flaw in my character: I was always hungry. I yearned for food. I could talk, think, and dream about it forever. As an infant, I ate with a large, adult spoon. I would open wide while they shoveled in the porridge. My grandmother said she had never seen an easier baby to feed.

Ours was a big family, and I was at the bottom. There were a great many people above me, with, at the top, my bald, long-bearded grandpa and my square-faced, large-boned grandma. Dad looked mostly like Grandma, but he had Grandpa's smiling eyes. Mom seemed very tiny next to my broad-chested dad. Sister Si was the eldest of my siblings, a big girl who took after Dad in personality and physique. jin, my brother, had Mom's elegant features; we still haven't figured out just who my middle sister, Ke, looks like. Huang, who is a year older than me, grew up to be a tall, thin girl, a beauty with enormous eyes.

We lived in an old house that faced the only street in Yellow Stone. Our backyard led to the clear Dong Jing River, zigzagging like a dragon on land. The lush, odd-shaped Ching Mountain stood beyond the endless rice paddies like an ancient giant with a pointed hat, round shoulders, and head bent in gentle slumber.

We rarely left our house to play because Mom said there were many bad people waiting to hurt us. When I did go out to buy food in the commune's grocery store a few blocks away, I always walked in the middle, safely flanked by my three sisters as we hurried in and out. Neighborhood boys sometimes threw stones at us, made ugly faces, and called us names. I always wondered why they did that. It was obviously not for fun. My sisters often cried as we ran and dodged and slammed our door shut behind us.

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