Thursday, June 3, 2021

Red Scarf Girl by Ji-Li Jiang


If you follow me on Goodreads, you've probably noticed me reading an influx of older books lately. That's because I recently found a whole bunch of my old books in my garage and I'm rereading all of them to see which ones I want to keep and which ones should go. You can track this project by checking out this shelf I made, where I'm chronicling my experiences.

RED SCARF GIRL is a memoir of the Cultural Revolution in China. In it, Ji-Li is 13-14. She is descended from landlords, which makes her family a "black family," kind of similar to the low songbun of descendants of political traitors and undesirables in North Korea. Unlike North Korea, however, people in China had a chance at upwards mobility-- by betraying their friends and family and casting off their heritage and renouncing their former ways of life (specifically, the "four olds").

Through young Ji-Li's eyes, we see people getting tortured and interrogated by the Red Guards, antiques being confiscated and destroyed, and the intense period of upheaval where tradition is slowly but surely replaced by Mao's new doctrines. Ji-Li really captures the chaos, confusion, and uncertainty, and it's written in a way that really makes it sound like she is a teen.

I actually think I enjoyed reading RED SCARF GIRL more this second time around because I didn't know as much about China when I read this for the first time. Since then, I've read a lot more about China and I've started learning Mandarin so the reading went much more smoothly for me this time, since I knew how to pronounce all the names and words now. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading memoirs, especially historical memoirs or memoirs that detail a highly specific and powerful experience. This is a very intimate account of the Cultural Revolution and it's worth a read.

4 out of 5 stars

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