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Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution
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Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution

4.0 149
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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Nien Chang
Ji-li's deeply moving story should be on the shelf of every person's library. He4r courage in the face of adversity and her steadfast loyalty and love for her family are truly inspirational for young and old alike.
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
Ji Li's childhood in Shanghai was a happy one. She lived with her parents, brother, sister and grandmother. They had a loving and devoted nanny/housekeeper. Growing up in Communist China, she had been raised to believe "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". When she was twelve years old, she looked forward to going to Shi-yi Junior High but her life changed forever when Mao announced his Cultural Revolution and the importance of destroying the "Four-Olds": old ideas, old cultures, old customs, old habits. Ji Li was excited about being a revolutionary and was surprised at her parents' reticence. Over the next two years, Ji Li would experience humiliation, confusion and fear as she and her family were judged by the fact that her deceased grandfather had been a landlord. Family photos were destroyed, their beautiful furniture was taken away, and Ji Li's father was imprisoned. Ji Li's warmth and exuberance immediately pull in the reader as she shares her story. As these true events unfold, she provides a personal glimpse into a major event about which Americans know very little. A fascinating memoir which fulfills the author's hope of helping Americans understand China.
VOYA - Kat Kan
Until her twelfth year, Ji-Li Jiang was the "golden girl" of her school in Shanghai, a bright, talented class leader who revered Chairman Mao and fervently embraced the revolutionary communist beliefs of her country. Mao Tse Tung's 1966 Cultural Revolution turned that world upside down; overnight, previously held virtues were now condemned, many in authority were removed, and even teachers were suspected of being exploiters and revisionists. Worse, a family secret became common knowledge: Ji-Li's paternal grandfather had been a "filthy capitalist," a landlord. The whole family was tainted by his class status, reviled by neighbors, and Ji-Li and her siblings were labeled "black whelps" and treated as pariahs. While Ji-Li struggled at school, she was also assailed by authorities who pressed her to betray her parents in order to restore her own good standing. Her steadfast loyalty to family cost her dearly. Ji-Li's memoirs of these critical years of her life from ages twelve to fourteen vividly portray the tumultuous period of the Cultural Revolution and its devastating effects on everyday people. Her compelling story makes history come alive for teens, much as Anne Frank's diary has done for decades. No reader will be able to put this book down without wondering whether he or she would have had the courage at such a young age to stand up to constant pressure and threats from peers and the authorities Ji-Li had been taught to obey. All libraries should have this book. Glossary. VOYA Codes: 5Q 3P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Will appeal with pushing, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
Library Journal
Gr 4-9-Red Scarf Girl (HarperCollins, 1997) is the memoir of Ji-Li Jiang, who grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution. Ji-Li Jiang was only 12 when Mao Zedong instituted the Cultural Revolution, and her life was greatly affected. An intelligent child, she quickly learned that her "bad" class status meant more in this new China than her scholastic successes. Her grandfather was a landlord, which caused the Jiang family many hardships. Throughout it all, Ji-Li struggled to remain loyal to both her family and Chairman Mao. She witnessed many of the humiliations experienced by people who had bad class status. Through an epilogue, listeners discover the final outcome for Ji-Li Jiang, her family, and some of the others highlighted in this memoir. Listeners are drawn into this emotional story immediately. Christina Moore's narration carries the story, conveying the emotional tensions that existed in Ji-Li's life. Moore does an excellent job of varying her tone and allowing each character to find his/her own voice, making it easy for listeners to follow the plot and distinguish the characters. This audiobook should fly off the shelf through word of mouth.-Kathryn King, Walnut Hill Branch, Dallas Public Library, TX Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 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
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.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

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.

Meet 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.

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Red Scarf Girl 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 149 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.
Anonymous 11 months 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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was a great book about what a real person went through during the cultural revalution if you had a bad family history. All in all it was great
Trishul More than 1 year ago
Touching, gives a feel about what happened during the Cultural Revolution through the eyes of a kid who is part of a black family.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The beggining of this book was pretyy good . It was intersting but it got boring at the middle and end. There was nothing distinct happening at the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very good book I loved it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was a gret book!it was a well written book when we read this book in 6th grade! Eventhough it wad kind of boring in the beginning. It was great!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is a great book if you want to lean about the history of china's politics
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story was very touching to me because it told of how a girl my age stood up. It also is a great documentary of the cultutral revolution in chhina.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ji li is a young girl in elementry school who suceeds in school but is teased becaue of her family status. This is during the coltural revolution in china. She us soooooooo loyal. Ji li is tild that she forget er family status and either follow in her parents footsteps and probably not suceed or follow chariman mao. She faces a hard decision. This autobiography is very detaild and abiut 170 pages for me. Ji li is sweet kind brave and string. BUY THE DAMN BOOK ALREADY!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Imagine having to stay with your family through thick and thin, rooting for them no matter what. As crazy as it  sounds, that is just what Ji-li Jiang did in her memoir, Red Scarf Girl (the one this review is for). This mildly exciting account takes place during the Chinese Revolution, in China, obviously. Ji-li has everything going for  her at the beginning of the story. She is smart and talented, and she thinks she might even be recruited into the  Revolution’s group. Everything changes when she finds out that her grandfather was a landlord—a group that is  despised. The chairman’s people ruthlessly take away anything they consider “four olds,” even if it is harmless.  Throughout the book, Ji-li struggles with the choice between leaving her family to escape prosecution or staying  with them. This book was somewhat enjoyable. There was some suspense, but there was really no excitement  as things just got worse and worse for her. I do not recommend this for people who are looking for action or a  light-hearted story. I would recommend it for younger teenagers that do not mind the lack of anticipation or a not-so-happy ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A little romance (read it at school)!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nice bok read it for school (7th) really interesting