I read Red Scarf Girl by Ji-Li Jiang this weekend. It’s not the first time I’ve read it, but it’s been ten years since I picked it up.
It’s a Young Adult autobiography from the Cultural Revolution in China. It covers the Red Guard teens who were enforcers of Mao’s dictates. I saw so many parallels with our world today — which isn’t a good thing.
The story opens up with the youth destroying a store sign “Great Prosperity Market” because of the “Four Olds.” Prosperity was no longer seen as a good thing.
“The names of many shops still stank of old culture, so the signs had to be smashed to make way for the coming of new ideas.“
Ji-Li Jiang proudly wore her red scarf and dreamed to be part of the Red Guard when she was older. Unfortunately, her family was black-listed because her grandfather — who died when her dad was seven — was a landlord. It didn’t matter that she had never met her grandfather and the family had gone through desperate times. A landlord was one of the worst things anyone could be. The ancestors of the landlord were marked for life.
Here’s an excerpt about the Four Olds from the online Britannica:
When Mao formally launched the Cultural Revolution in August 1966, he had already shut down the schools. During the following months, he encouraged the Red Guards to attack all traditional values and “bourgeois” things and to put CCP officials to the test by publicly criticizing them. These attacks were known at the time as struggles against the Four Olds (i.e., old ideas, customs, culture, and habits of mind), and the movement quickly escalated to committing outrages. Many elderly people and intellectuals were physically abused, and many died. Nonetheless, Mao believed that this mobilization of urban youths would be beneficial for them and that the CCP cadres they attacked would be better for the experience.https://www.britannica.com/place/China/Economic-policy-changes
It’s an excellent book and a quick read. What I found so eye-opening was how it showed cancel culture on steroids. Soon, nobody was safe. Everybody was being turned in. The former party leaders in the community were found to have some fault of Four Olds and they were treated as badly as Ji-Li Jian’s landlord family.
What are your thoughts about carrying the faults of our past generations?
Do you have any good books to recommend?