By: Angela Rusnak
During the first quarter, one of the books the freshmen could read for our IRP (Independent Reading Project) was Red Scarf Girl, by Ji-Li Jiang. This memoir tells the story of the Cultural Revolution through the eyes of young Ji-Li Jiang. Her family is among those persecuted for living a “bourgeois” lifestyle. People are interrogated and arrested, homes are searched for foreign and bourgeois influences, and turmoil overwhelms the country. Ji-Li learns that her grandfather was a landlord, one of the worst kinds of people, according to the beliefs of the Cultural Revolution. Her father is arrested, and Red Guards search her home. Her once bright future disappears, and she now lives in a world of oppression.
In addition to the political and social issues in her country, Ji-Li experiences many struggles that children and teens still face today. The Red Successors harass her because of her unfavorable class background, just like many teens are bullied today simply because they are different. As the oldest child in her family, Ji-Li feels responsible for her younger siblings’ well-being. Being the oldest in my family, I can understand where she’s coming from. It must have been especially stressful to protect her siblings during the Cultural Revolution.
I enjoyed reading this book. Jiang realistically portrays her emotions during the Cultural Revolution, making it easy to understand her fear, anger, and despair. Witnessing such terrors at a young age would scar me for life. In my opinion, reading about historical events from a child’s perspective is more interesting than reading from a textbook or other source. However, I felt that the ending was a bit anti-climactic. It simply ends with Ji-Li’s grandmother sweeping the streets as punishment for being a landlord’s wife, and Ji-Li promising to take care of her family. Then there is an epilogue briefly describing Ji-Li’s immigration to America and how her life is different now. I feel like there is no real resolution to the events of the story.
Overall, Red Scarf Girl is a great account of the Cultural Revolution. Jiang’s story takes you to China during the revolution and places you in the middle of all the action. If you’re interested in a firsthand account of an important era in Chinese history, this is the book for you.
Editor’s Note: Seton-La Salle students have the option to read 6 novels independently throughout the school year in preparation for the WPCTE English Festival. This year’s English Festival will take place and Duquesne University and will feature young adult fiction author, David Lubar.