A Country Stained Red

by P.E. Kyle 2 years ago in book reviews

A Look at 'Red Scarf Girl'

A Country Stained Red

Red: It is the color of the revolutionary martyr’s blood that had been spilt for a cause that would stain the roots of an entire country for decades to come. The Chinese Cultural Revolution was a dramatic, and often times violent, political renaissance for China. Led by China’s hero, the now deceased Chairman Mao, the revolution lasted from 1966 until the year 1976. This sociopolitical movement altered Chinese life forever. The Cultural Revolution as seen in Ji-Li Jiang’s memoir, Red Scarf Girl, created a lasting impact on Jiang’s community, her friends and family, and the modern Chinese education system.

The cultural revolution in China had great impact on the communities of the Chinese people. In Red Scarf Girl, Jiang’s community suffered from several aspects of Mao’s revolutionary renegade. One effect of the revolution in communities was the newfound importance of political or class status. In revolutionary China, one’s political stance could mean the difference between life and death. Consequently, Jiang’s community found itself wrestling with the revolutionary demon that brought wishes for death to those eager to escape the red mist settling over China. Jiang describes the horrific scene of her best friend’s grandmother’s suicide. “I found myself at the front of the crowd, staring at the pieces of the shattered awning. I heard An Yi’s grandmother’s name and shuddered. An Yi’s grandmother had jumped out the window” (Jiang 113). An Yi’s grandmother had witnessed, shortly before her death, another elderly man being violently punished for being “counterrevolutionary” and not having the proper political stance. She was worried that she too would have the same unfortunate fate and took her life in fear of Mao’s Red Guards. Not only did political stance mean the difference between life and death, but it also determined the outcome of one’s future. The effects of the revolution even ran ramped in schools. Teachers were punished, curriculum changed, and educational privileges were based on a family’s political beliefs rather than their child’s hard work. Educational privileges were no longer based on effort, intelligence, or talent. Those who had better class status’, or political stances, were granted educational privileges over those who actually earned it. Jiang notes in her memoir, “The political background investigations for these academies are very severe” (9). If entrance to a schooling establishment is based off of politics and not the hard work that goes in to school, then it is more than appropriate to say that political stature is a powerful and influential force in the community. The last effect of the revolution in Chinese communities was the metamorphosis of bullying into a social norm deemed necessary to fight against “reactionary monsters.” In Red Scarf Girl, Jiang details the public humiliation of a man by Red Guards who claim to be only enforcing revolutionary standards. “The crowd gave a burst of appreciative laughter…I looked at the man. He stood on the sidewalk, awkward and humiliated, trouser legs flapping around his ankles, socks falling down” (Jiang 32). As proved in the evidence above, the humiliation of this man was no real concern to anyone watching. They laughed and cheered as he had his clothes cut and destroyed in front of a crowd of people. This kind of behavior was caused by Mao’s revolution and effected communities all over China. These changes to Jiang’s community were not the only changes accompanied by proletariat drums and gongs.

Jiang’s friends and family suffered directly from the revolution. Mao’s red poison spread effectively in the revolution, chocking out any familial ties that stand in his way. People began putting Chairman Mao before their own family. Throughout the memoir, Jiang encounters people who have willingly given up their family for the revolution. In one instance, she met a girl who left her ill mother to catch a glimpse of Mao. Eventually, Jiang is tasked with the same decision of choosing between her family and what Chairman Mao deemed to be revolutionary righteousness. “If you want to make a clean break with your family, then you can be an educable child and we will welcome you into our revolutionary ranks” (Jiang 224). The quote presented above is an offer that was made to Jiang as a child. She was told that if she left, is she abandoned, her family that she could be a child that is able to be turned into a revolutionary leader. Is such a price tag really worth it? Buying leadership by dismissing family is a practice brought about by the revolution that affected Jiang’s family and friends. In addition to the abandonment of family life in exchange for a revolutionary one, there was more effects of the revolution on Jiang’s family and friends. The revolution gave Chinese youth, and Jiang’s friends, the impression that they are superior to anyone who is not a proletariat, even if that person is twice their age. There are several accounts in Jiang’s memoir where China’s youth take on leadership roles and punish elders who are stuck in their bourgeois ways. Jiang tells of her experience in which her classmates and friends marched in unison to her Aunt Xi Wen’s home in order to “remold” her. These children, marched to a grown woman’s home and demanded that she hang a da-zi-bao on her door declaring that she is living in a bourgeois lifestyle. Jiang’s classmates forced her aunt to read the da-zi-bao they had composed about her aloud. “Your black bourgeois bones are clearly visible to our proletariat eyes... Remold yourself conscientiously...” (Jiang 47). The statement above is part of what they made her say about herself. The cultural revolution caused youth to gain a sense of superiority to the elders eventually leading to the clash of Jiang’s family, friend’s, and classmates. Furthermore, the revolution caused harsh judgment from peers. Several times throughout the text, Jiang details moments in which she was targeted at school because of her political background. Peers passed harsh judgment on her after the revolution began. Even those who she presumed to be her friends were the first to toss the harpoon. They immediately attacked her. They even wrote a da-zi-bao about her having a inappropriate relationship with a male teacher. The Chinese Cultural Revolution clearly had an effect on communities and families in that era. As supported in detail above, it was proven that Jiang’s friends, family, and community suffered great hardship throughout the revolution. Even still, there is still more to discuss.

“The revolution’s short-term effects may have been felt in Chinese cities, but its long-term effects would impact the entire country for decades to come...” (history.com). The Cultural Revolution left an irremovable scar on Chinese culture and politics. Some may have come to terms with said scar, while others may still try to resist its everlasting nature. Regardless, it still resides over China. According to the History Channel, “Mao’s large scale attack on the party and the system he had created would eventually produce a result opposite to what he intended, leading may Chinese to lose faith in their government all together.” That is exactly what happened. Mao stained the government and education system a deep red. Today the Chinese government, much like it did in the revolutionary days, stifles its people. China is still ruled by communism to this day and continues to keep its people under harsh censorship. China’s students are still being taught of Mao’s “dedication” to China. They are taught that Chairman Mao was a “hero” and that he is the “bravest” man ever to live. A young boy in a BBC video on the revolutions effects on modern China exclaims that even though he does not know who Mao is he knows he is the bravest hero of China. Even children in modern China, decades after the revolution, declare respect and appreciation for Mao, a man who has changed China forever, for better or for worse. This is comparable to how the curriculum changed for Jiang. She, and many other children across China, were taught only of Mao and his accomplishments. The government thought it was more valuable for them to know about Mao than to know about common information. It is clear that even decades later Mao and the Chinese Cultural Revolution impact China and its people.

China’s Cultural Revolution, as described in Red Scarf Girl, created a lasting impact on the author’s community, her friends and family, and the modern Chinese education system.

Mao’s ideals influenced an entire generation of people to follow the same principles. These principles affected Chinese cities, communities, homes, and families. The red stains left from the revolutionary blood shed will leave a lasting vibrancy in China’s heart for many decades to come and will continue to influence generation after generation. It is these effects and their consequences that make way for problematic question: If stains are meant to last forever, can they ever change?

The research for this article was collected from Red Scarf Girl, written by Ji-li Jiang. If you wish to learn more you can find at most online stores (Walmart, Amazon, etc.)

*The picture and caption were taken from NamVietnews

book reviews
P.E. Kyle
P.E. Kyle
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