Jiang, J. (1997). Red scarf girl. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publihers.
Red Scarf Girl by Jiang Ji-Li is a harrowing journey of a young girl growing up during the Cultural Revolution in China. This young adult novel is historical fiction account and is based upon the author’s own experience growing up in Communist China. The first-hand experience and historical accuracy is what makes this novel a great representation of life at this time. Not only is this book historically accurate, it conveys ideas about the Communist Revolution in understandable ways for young adults. As the story explains, young Ji-Li is overcome with excitement and fervor when the Revolution hits the scene. Young students are taught in schools about the great accomplishments of their leader, Chairman Mao Ze-dong; these young children are ready to do whatever it takes to expunge the presence of capitalism and western influences from China forever. The lengths they will go to in order to do this is sometimes shocking. Young adults renounce their families and slander those they believe to be “capitalists”. As the Revolution progresses, it becomes clear that things have gotten out of hand. People are severely beaten, detained, or shunned from their communities. Families are broken and children are forced to grow up too fast. At the beginning of the novel, Ji-Li expresses her enthusiasm for this Revolution; towards the middle she starts to question whether the practices resulting from the Revolution are right or not, and by the end of the novel she has the scars to prove that the Cultural Revolution in China did not work out the way she thought it would. In fact, it didn’t work out the way many people thought it would. This transformation of the main character juxtaposed against the transformation of China during the Revolution gives the reader an idea of what life was like during this tumultuous time. This book serves not only as a lesson about the Cultural Revolution in China, but about any political, religious, or social ideology in general. In theory, anything can sound perfect; it is only in practice that we find things go stray. Indeed, increased fervor and zeal can carry things to the breaking point, just like they did in China. This novel can be a great resource or tool for any teacher who wishes to convey the climate of the Cultural Revolution in China to young adults in a tangible and understandable way. Ji-Li Jiang’s Red Scarf Girl uncovers the atrocities of the past, while proving a point for the future.