“Delightful . . . a book that brings a corner of modern China alive.”—The Wall Street Journal
When Wenguang Huang was nine years old, his grandmother became obsessed with her own death. Fearing cremation, she extracted from her family the promise to bury her after she died. This was in Xian, a city in central China, in the 1970s, when a national ban on all traditional Chinese practices, including burials, was strictly enforced. But Huang’s grandmother was persistent, and two years later, his father built her a coffin. He also appointed his older son, Wenguang, as coffin keeper, a distinction that meant, among other things, sleeping next to the coffin at night.
Over the next fifteen years, the whole family was consumed with planning Grandma’s burial, a regular source of friction and contention, with the constant risk of being caught by the authorities. Many years after her death, the family’s memories of her coffin still loom large. Huang, now living and working in America, has come to realize how much the concern over the coffin has affected his upbringing and shaped the lives of everyone in the family. Lyrical and poignant, funny and heartrending, The Little Red Guard is the powerful tale of an ordinary family finding their way through turbulence and transition.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.52(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.71(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
What People are Saying About This
“A gripping, lyrical memoir . . . revealing, ironic, and effortlessly elegant.”
“There is no overstating the profound effect of the Cultural Revolution on the lives of every single Chinese, and the Huang family’s struggles to bury their grandma is a heartrending example…perfect, moving.”
—The Daily Beast
“Lively…inspires as many laughs as it does tears.”
—The New Yorker
—The Washington Post
“A memoir centered on a coffin? Yes, and it works.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
“A riveting, well-crafted story… at times comic and at times heartbreaking… there are plenty of fresh and unforgettable revelations.”
“An interesting look at China through the lens of family.”—
New York Post
“Mesmerizing and lyrical.”
—New Jersey Star-Ledger
“New and refreshing and adds a different perspective into the canon of immigrant literature.”
“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 trenchantly observed story that depicts the clash of traditional and modern Chinese culture with a powerful combination of sensitivity and mordant irony.”
“[Huang’s] description of life under Mao will come as a revelation to readers.”
“Another interesting way to look at China, something readers crave.”
"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 some 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 story-teller. 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
“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
“Although Wenguang Huang came to the West years ago from China, memories of his native country still resonate. Through his writing, time reverses itself, and the ghosts from his past have been revived, like falling leaves returning to their roots. Just as he has done in his translated works, Wen 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 Corpse Walker – Real Life Stories: China from the Bottom Up
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wenguang Huang gives us a glimpse of the life of a somewhat ordinary family during the days of Chairman Mao in China. His grandmother had wished to be buried next to her husband in another province, but during the Mao regime, cremation was required; burial was not really an option. Most who attempted to honor their older ancestor's wishes would be caught and cremation would be forced. Huang's father came up with a scheme to honor his mother's wishes by getting cooperation from various extended family members, including a policeman. There was no guarantee that the burial could occur, but he hoped that his efforts would at least alleviate his mother's growing anxiety about her afterlife. Part of the plan was to build a coffin (in secret, of course). Wenguang became the keeper of the coffin, sleeping next to it in his early adolescent years. We see some changes in government and insurrections, such as the one in Tiananmen Square, in the years following Chairman Mao's death. We also see the role that this secret coffin played in the life of this family.It's a book that gives insight into a culture that few Americans know little about beyond rumors. In spite of its potential, I found that it was easy to put down and not a very absorbing story. That's not altogether bad in that life in communist China should make us uncomfortable. I do wish, however, that it had been more captivating.This review is based on an uncorrected proof provided through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.
I was surprised by this book. The most endearing part it the that it is a true story. Knowing this helps you connect with the author and his family.However I was a little put off by the repeating of certain reverts and the odd jumping around at the beginning of some chapters. Putting that aside I will be recommending this book to others.
THE LITTLE RED GUARD, subtitled ¿A Family Memoir¿ is a domestic slice of life of Communist China. Taking place primarily in Xian, Wenguang Huang reminisces about the lives of his parents and family from the early 20th century and the events that affected his family. It is the story of survival, of a family brought so low by flood, war and governmental restrictions that at one point their horses give away their hiding place so the invading Japanese can take them away. It was a sobering contemplation to this reviewer that while I was growing up in an affluent suburb of Southern California, this family suffered earthquakes that left them homeless, repeated revolutions and numerous famines caused both by drought and by Mao¿s economic policies. Walking the political tightrope of the 60¿s and 70¿s, weaving successfully between the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward and everything in between, required personal stamina and a kind of diplomatic finesse that one only sees at the top rung of the United Nations leadership. The thread that runs through Huang¿s story is his Grandma¿s passionate desire for a traditional burial at a time when such a thing was illegal. To honor her, the family faces a dilemma that will govern and overshadow their lives for decades: how to venerate the grandmother¿s wishes and not violate government policy and thereby lose their hard won status in the Communist Party or worse. Along the way, there are revelations, such as the extraordinary power of superstition and ignorance; which, while they might offend our modern sensibilities and appear ridiculous, nevertheless exert their influence and must be dealt with and, to a certain extent, respected.When Huang¿s father seeks the advice of a friend who has been in and out of the government¿s good graces, he is given this man¿s blessing, and it appears they can move forward with plans to give Grandma the burial she frantically needs to know she¿ll get when she dies. However, with seven-eighths of the book yet to go, you just know it isn¿t going to go smoothly. Every member of the family has a personal interest in the process and outcome of Grandma¿s burial plans. Huang¿s acceptance to the foreign language school and his sister¿s university plans are only possible for children of ¿reliable revolutionary families.¿ Grandma¿s inability to understand what her coffin has to do with the children¿s future underscores the discombobulating clash between the old ways and the way of the revolution (in all its manifestations), as well as the disconnect between the individual and the establishment and what happens when any government is out of touch with the people it governs.Huang writes in a simple and elegant style. He skillfully depicts the impressions of a child¿s memory without degrading those memories by lapsing into child speak. There are lighthearted and touching moments that make you laugh. When Mao¿s death gets Huang thinking about his grandma¿s dying (she won¿t die for decades), he starts wailing during his classroom¿s moment of silence and passes out. While his teacher¿s are impressed by his devotion to Mao, the school nurse diagnoses a vitamin deficiency and injects him with B vitamins. There are minor editing and verb tense flaws and some awkward sentence structure that trip up the flow of the narrative, but only occasionally.During the revolution in 1989, the author faces political unrest as a young man, not a child any longer, and thinks of the many warnings of his by then late father against being too outspoken. Retreating from activism, he turns his attention once again to his Grandma, now with dementia and bedridden. This second part of the memoir gives the reader a snapshot of the changing moral landscape of the late 80¿s and early 90¿s. Huang¿s mother, as a widow, still isn¿t allowed to touch bridal gifts for fear of bringing bad luck to the bride, but his brother brings his girlfriend home for overnight visits on a regular bas
In The Little Red Guard Wenguang Huang tells about his life growing up in China as the child of model Communists., except model Communists shouldn¿t consider burial after death, at least not according to the party. However, Huang¿s grandmother, born in the early 1900s is from an era of bound feet for women and a progeny of pre-communist China. She still believes in the old ways and wants to be buried in the home village next to the husband to whom she has remained faithful since his death decades earlier. So, Huang¿s father, much to the chagrin of his wife, promises to bury his mother next to her husband. The only problem is how to arrange the whole thing when the practice is banned and following it is the exact opposite of the expectations of a model Communist.Huang uses the promise made by his father to his grandmother to tell his family¿s story about living and working in Xi¿an and, more importantly, to illustrate the clash of generations living under one roof during times of great upheaval in China¿s history: the Cultural Revolution, opening and the aftermath of Tiananmen Square. Through the disagreement over this burial versus cremation issue, he illustrates, within a family, the same changes occurring throughout China¿his grandmother¿s embrace of the old ways and superstitions, his parents unwavering belief in the Communist party and finally his and his siblings idealism and cynicism during opening and the emergence of capitalism. Throughout the book, he indicates the impact of the promise on his family, the relationship between his father and mother, and that with his father. I thought The Little Red Guard was an interesting and easily-readable book.
I really enjoyed reading this book. The memoir of Wenguang Huang's life in communist China during the 70s and 80's was very interesting. He tells of how his grandmother becomes obsessed with having a traditional burial at her death. The problem for the family, trying to uphold communist rules and live the correct kind of communist life, have to break the law in order to give their grandmother a burial. Burials are against the law in communist China. The family has to secretly make a coffin, hide it, and collect friends and family to help with the illicit plan. The planning and money saving takes years and has a great toll on the whole family.I found the telling of daily life in China to be very interesting. I learned a lot of how hard it was to live under communist rule. It was also interesting to see the constant changes in how the government would rule and change rules throughout the history of the book. Since the author is about the same age as me it was interesting to think back on my own childhood and compare my life with his. I'm still amazed that in the 1970s they had to walk 2 blocks from their apartment to use the latrine!I can without reservation recommend this book to everyone! Thanks for the book LibraryThing!!!!
What a wonderful memior!! I would encourage anyone with an interest in China and in family memoirs to read it -- While the Chinese family experience may be very different from your own, there are nonetheless many similarities in the relationships within an extended family. The author has a real talent for telling a story and enabling the reader to visualize the time and place and the empathize with various characters.
Wen is a very likable and easy to relate to narrator. Living with a grandmother, who is from a time when they still bound woman's feet, he and is family try to navigate between the old customs and the new ways after Mao's cultural revolution. Burial is no longer an option, as Mao only endorses cremation, a fact that his grandmother finds horrible. The old customs dictate that she must be buried next to her husband so that they may be reunited. At the age of nine, as the oldest grandson, Wen is designated the coffin keeper and this coffin and the money needed to be saved for his grandmother's funeral plays an adverse effect on their lives. His writing style is very easy to follow and life under Mao is conveyed in ways that affected his family. When Mao dies, things change again and it is really difficult to imagine what the Chinese people have gone through in a relatively short period of time. Really found this book very interesting and showing the impact on one family made it all the more striking.
I greatly enjoyed this book and read it all in one day. It was quite absorbing, a bit like sitting down with an old friend and hearing a fascinating family tale. The story begins in China, after the Cultural Revolution. Three generations of family are living together: one, Grandma, who lived most of her life before the revolution, the second, the parents, whose lives straddle the before and after of the revolution, and the third, the children, who were born into the aftermath of the revolution. The author is a member of this last generation, and poignantly describes the confusion generated by the conflicts between his schooling, which emphasizes loyalty to Mao and the revolution, and the messages from his beloved grandmother emphasizing loyalty to the old traditions and filial piety. The family itself becomes the canvas upon which these battles play out, as Grandma wants a traditional burial when she dies, which flies in the face of the new custom of cremation. These battles rage ways that are sometimes hilarious, and sometimes heartbreaking. As such, the family is a vehicle for showing the impact of the Cultural Revolution on ordinary people. It¿s quite moving to learn important lessons about China¿s history through the true tale of a family who lived through the upheaval of the last century. This is a well-written memoir that brings history to live with humor, compassion and wisdom.
My favorite memoirs are those where the memoir events play out against great historical events in a way that illuminates history and culture as well as telling the personal story. This is what Wenghuang Huang has accomplished in The Little Red Guard as he tells the story of his family against the background of major uphevals surrounding the establishment and relaxation of communism in China. The result is a wonderfully readable account giving insight into an era and a culture.Huang¿s grandmother was the matriarch of her family. Widowed young with a small son, she kept her dead husband¿s name alive by fiercely protecting her son through wars, famines and floods¿once she and her son spent three days in a tree cut off by floodwaters. Her son became a man, married and had children of his own. In the Chinese way, the generations lived together. But problems arose when Grandma, beginning to fear her own death, expressed the desire to be buried beside her husband instead of the cremation which was mandated by the Communist government. Huang¿s father started secretly acquiring materials to build a coffin which remained in the two room apartment for decades; family, cousins, and acquaintances were brought into the plans to move Grandma¿s body to a village for burial at that misty time in the future.Discovery of the plans would have brought censure to Huang¿s father by the communist party, and would have ended his career and the careers of Huangs brothers and sisters. The coffin brought them together, but also split them apart as they struggled to merge the old ways and the new as well as family loyalty love and the communist government.I found this to be a very intriguing, well written story. My only criticism is that the last few chapters felt a bit long. Recommended.
When I started reading The Little Red Guard, I thought I was in for just another run-of-the-mill memoir growing up oppressed by Communism. However, I was pleasantly surprised with Wenguang Huang¿s fresh take on the subject; maybe the content was similar to other books covering the same time period of the 1970s, but the lens through which Huang views the era makes this a compelling and unique read. Huang¿s grandmother spends years fixated on her inevitable death and funeral. In an era where traditional funerals are illegal (cremation being the state sanctioned way to go), Huang¿s grandmother implores her son to prepare for her funeral in advance. The filial son¿s devotion to his mother and preparations for the funeral have major ramifications on the everyday life of Huang¿s family. In addition to exploring the various plans his father makes for the funeral, Huang discusses the relationships in his family - complex relationships that undergo a lot of stress thanks to the grandmother¿s machinations, schools¿ influences and parental pressure to succeed. The Little Red Guard is an excellent, well-written book that I would highly recommend to anyone, not just fans of history or memoirs.
Growing up under Communist Rule. Sleeping next to your grandmothers coffin, a symbol of what your father thinks about day and night. A culture far removed from 21st century America.Great read. Could not put it down!
A memoir by the author as he grew up in China under the Communist dictatorship of Chairman Mao Zedong and his Cultural Revolution, and the revolutionary period after Mao¿s death. Huang was a Little Red Guard during this time and was encouraged to rat out anyone he saw disobeying the law. He recounts how his grandmother was obsessed with her death and a traditional burial, something forbidden during that time, and the friction this caused in his family.One of the most interesting sections took place during Huan¿s time as a student in the United States and how he slowly came to realize that all that he had been hearing about Western Civilization was indeed, just propoganda. Well written, easy to read, and gives a good picture of life in China and the sacrifices made by the average citizen.
Very interesting book, especially if you like memoirs. This wasn't the final edition, so hopefully the problems I found will be ironed out by the official publications. I found this very hard to follow, and I couldn't quite figure out the order of events. Once I gave up and relaxed I enjoyed it more.
I enjoyed this book - read it in a day. Through personal stories, it gives a face to historical events around the Cultural Revolution and how they impacted a generation. These stories need to be told so that our Western nations can understand the extreme sacrifices ordinary Chinese have faced, whether brought on by their natural environment or their socio-political environment. Not many of us have considered our badges of honor to be patches on our pants. The unifying theme of Grandma's coffin fascinated me, but sometimes seemed forced. My understanding of the time and place represented by the book has been deepened, and it could have been deeper if book was a little less choppy (The use of more dates would have helped). Considering that I often don't give more than 10-20 pages to a book that doesn't hold my attention - the above review might seem a little harsh for a book I read completely. That's why it is 3.5 stars and moving towards a 4.
This book is full of funny yet heartwarming stories about childhood, adolescence and coming of age. The joys and pains of growing up and family described in the book are at once universal and next foreign to those of us who grew up with seemingly unlimited political freedoms. The stories provide interesting insight into growing up under communism and the author's bittersweet memories of life under Mao.