Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution

Reading level: young adult or grades 5-9 "Ji-Li has written a compelling memoir which reveals her gradual disillusionment with what she had been taught to believe about the Chinese communist government. A highly successful student, Ji-Li’s life begins to unravel during the Cultural Revolution when her family wants her to turn down a chance to be trained by the government as a gymnast. Self-centered at first, the effects that propaganda have upon the lives of people she respects - including her own family - expand her concerns beyond her own. A unique yet universal coming-of-age story. A 1998 Parents’ Choice® Gold Award." (text taken from Amazon)
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Average: 4.8 (23 votes)


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Red Scarf Girl as a core research book

Field of Interest/Specialty: English
Posted On: 01/12/2020

Theresa Doerfler
10th grade English teacher
Oakland Catholic High School
Review of Red Scarf Girl
Red Scarf Girl is appropriate for 9th or 10th grade readers (though it could certainly be used for middle grades). It was first published in 1997, by Ji-Li Jiang, who was born in 1954, grew up in Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution, and came to the United States in 1984, at age 30. Jiang now works as a writer and consultant who promotes cultural exchange between Western countries and China. There are some interesting video interviews with her available on YouTube.
Red Scarf Girl is a memoir, so it is a fascinating look at what it was like to grow up as China underwent great changes. Jiang’s child-like enthusiasm for the revolution, her faith in Chairman Mao, and her fear for her family (who had been landlords prior to the revolution) are infectious. As David Henry Hwang mentions in his Foreword, Ji-Li’s story makes her readers “experience the Cultural Revolution on a gut level.” Through the eyes of a child, readers come to understand the impossible choices facing young people at the time: “To slander a good teacher, or be labeled an enemy of the people? To reveal the location of a forbidden document, or risk its being discovered by the Red Guards? To betray [one’s] parents with lies, or ruin [one’s] own future?”
At my school, we use Red Scarf Girl as one of our choice books that is a starting point for a sophomore research paper. The idea is for a student to get immersed in another way of looking at the world and then find a global issue to research. I think students could consider a wide variety of world issues with Ji-Li Jiang as a guide and source of inspiration: they could consider the importance of education, social class, ideas about loyalty to family or government, immigration (when and how does a family leave a beloved home country?), conformity vs. individuality and personal freedom, stress and anxiety among teenagers, or even bullying (the way a “crowd mentality” can cause people to lose empathy and mistreat one another). This memoir evokes great empathy for the idealism of the revolution and can raise questions about what is an ideal form of government or an ideal way for human beings to exist together on this planet.

Red Scarf Girl - A Relatable Story of Coming of Age in Communist China During Cultural Revolution

Field of Interest/Specialty: History
Posted On: 01/06/2020

Nevenka DePasquale
Academic Support Teacher
Oakland Catholic High School
Red Scarf Girl is a wonderful and insightful story and a perfect book for middle and high school readers. The main character Ji-Li Jiang deals with very typical 12-year old issues such as striving for academic excellence, competitiveness, peer pressure, bullying and acceptance. On the other hand, through the protagonist’s everyday struggles, the reader learns about life in communist China during the cultural revolution with its impressive propaganda and ideology that is incredibly oppressive to so many who do not fit the mold.
Ji-Li Jiang is eager to prove how dedicated she is to excel in everything so she can be one of Mao’s perfect followers but on her way to achieve that she faces the truth of rejection by her peers, school leaders and even some of her neighbors because of her family who comes from a wrong class (landowners) prior to the change of governments. Not only do her attempts leave her rejected in school but also put her family in danger while they are under a watchful lens of cruel government representatives.
As Ji-Li Jiang goes through internal conflict of family loyalty and pursuing her dream of being a true communist, she learns how little freedom there is in her surrounding, how oppressive is the ruling class, that there is very little trust in society where she lives.
This book is a great tool to teach students about the communist ideology and the conflicting system it created in China but also with any other country under this kind of government. It can be used in history classes but also in English classes as it offers a different perspective of life and truth.
Finally, this book brings memories of my own young childhood during the socialist regime in former Yugoslavia. I was a red scarf girl who wore a white shirt, a red scarf, blue skirt and a military style hat with a stitched red star. I was the girl who was told that our leader expects only excellence from me and that socialist and communist ideals of living for the common good and rejecting individualism where the only way to live. Luckily, just as Ji-Li, my family told me the real truth of the oppressive system that eventually died and freedom was born.

Red Scarf Girl Book Review

Field of Interest/Specialty: Japan
Posted On: 03/02/2019

A. Marissa Smith
American Public Librarian University System
Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution is a true story. In the book, Ji-Li Jiang, recounts her experience of living through the Chinese Cultural Revolution as a pre-teen. Ji-Li was faced with difficult decisions about loyalty to her family or country. Her entire family dealt with extreme hardship.
The book begins as Ji-Li is finishing middle school and the start of the Cultural Revolution. At first the changes it brings appear to be for the better, but as time progresses Ji-Li sees that things are not so simple. Her family becomes a target of the people and she is forced to choose between renouncing her family and supporting the revolution, or siding with her family and facing economic and social consequences.
The book’s epilogue fills in the time after the Cultural Revolution to the present. Ji-Li eventually moved to the United States along with most of her family. Her grandmother stayed in China.
Written for the “young adult” audience, Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution, does a good job of introducing young readers to the Chinese Cultural Revolution in an age-appropriate manner. It is a title on the ALA Notable Children’s Book List and would be an excellent supplement to middle school or high school courses studying Chinese History.

The Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution

Field of Interest/Specialty: Social Studies 5-12
Posted On: 01/05/2019

Melissa Curtiss
Grades 6,7, & 8
Social Studies
Harts PK-8
The book is an excellent source of information on the Chinese Cultural Revolution. I believe the novel could be used in classrooms from grades 6 and up. I choose to use the audio version of the book The Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution was narrated by Christina Moore. I have many students with lower reading levels, so this helps them keep up with class discussions. My students seemed to respond better to the audio plus no funding for a class set. This book covers a variety of emotional and physical trails of a young girl in her teens. On the surface it’s an interesting history lesson, but then it also teaches social lesson on the affects of rumors and bullying that many students can relate to worldwide. Students also get a lesson on how political correctness can destroy families just as much as rumors. I loved the book because it allows my students to make the connection that life is hard regardless of where you live. Also, that you must choose wisely in decision making.

Red Scarf Girl // Ideas for Classroom Application

Field of Interest/Specialty: World History
Posted On: 01/12/2018

Maura Doyle
Oakland Catholic High School
10th Grade World History II
The story of Jiang Li in the Red Scarf Girl is one that is relatable and applicable to lessons on China for many age groups. This autobiographical book tells the story of the author's struggle and daily life in China as they experienced the cultural revolution. The initial naiveté of the author is effective in showing the dramatic changes in her daily life without notice. The novel is relatable to students, especially in an emotional moment where Ji Li is forced to choose between wanting to please Mao's communist officials and her allegiance to her family and father. Her choices result in additional suffering for her and her family.
The book is a useful teaching tool at a variety of ability levels. The reading level is simple and is acceptable for both Middle School and High School students. For High School students the book will be an easy read, but that in no way negates its value. There are many different angles to approach this book in the classroom during a unit about China, the Cultural Revolution, or even the study of Communism.
In a unit on the Cultural Revolution, this book is a natural supplement. It provides narrative context for mindset of the Chinese Communist Party. It mentions many concepts of the Cultural Revolution that can be further explored by students, including: Red Guards, four-olds, da-zi-bao, etc. The book provides one perspective on these terms, so I would suggest that students conduct research to develop a more thorough understanding of these ideas.
In my sophomore World History class we study Communism and we study China. Students learn of the Cultural Revolution, but this book brings alive the real life applications of Communism in China. As a teaching tool, this book works as both a study of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and as an examination of the core philosophies of communism.
This book is useful in studying Communism because it provides many examples of behaviors and values that the Chinese government thought to be essential to Communism. It also provides frequent commentary and examples of the downfalls of Capitalism. It would be useful to have students mark examples throughout the text that illustrate Communism and Capitalism and discuss those moments.
I think when using this text in the World History Classroom as a study of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, it is important to acknowledge that this book is representative of one story and one perspective. It should be combined with many other primary and secondary accounts of the events to deepen and enhance the narrative. However, this story will provide emotion and relatability, where other sources may not.
I find units are most valuable when its themes can be extracted and applied to the current day. For my students, I would ask them to consider the themes of this book as they reflect on government and power. I would make connections to the Chinese government today and ask them to find similarities and differences between key government aspects then and now.

Red Scarf Girl

Field of Interest/Specialty: literature/social studies
Posted On: 01/10/2018

T. Matthews
Grade 6
Mother of Sorrows School
Red Scarf Girl by Ji Li Jiang is a memoir written from the perspective of a 12 year old girl struggling with typical issues such as acceptance from peers, teachers, and self. The story takes place during China's Cultural Revolution during the 1960's and 1970's. Ji Li, a proud proletariat and supporter of Mao, wants nothing more than to be part of the Red Guard. This would be her chance to play a part in creating the China that Mao envisioned. In her quest to become part of the revolutionary youth movement, she discovers that she is not able to belong to this noble cause since her grandfather was part of the bourgeoisie landlord class. This dashed all her hopes of ever taking part or belonging to the effort to purge China of its traditional and any capitalistic ways. Because some of her classmates found out why Ji Li was unable to take part in the Red Guard, she was teased and taunted and made to feel as an outcast. As the story progresses, she finds that the youth involved in the Red Guard are extremely accusatory of many people they have grown up with in their town. The novel details the terror that the citizens live under wondering about when the Red Guard will come and upset their homes and lives. It also details the public humiliation and harassment of Chinese citizens. Ji Li evolves throughout the story and eventually questions the Chinese government.
The story is engaging and intriguing for middle school students and teaches lessons about acceptance, empathy, compassion, love of family, and government control. Students will be able to relate to the difficulties of growing up and fitting in with peers. The story is effective in showing the emotions of Ji-Li throughout the story and it makes the students want to delve deeper into the psyche of the author and what she is struggling with throughout the novel.
There are many resources about China's Cultural Revolution to help students understand the novel more fully. Integrating social studies and literature units would work well with this topic and novel. There are several primary sources that coincide with the subject matter and would create an effective unit for students.

Red Scarf Girl - Useful for Cultural Comparisons

Field of Interest/Specialty: Foreign Language
Posted On: 11/27/2017

The unique perspective of a young teenage girl in the memoir Red Scarf Girl makes the Cultural Revolution in China more relatable for all readers. Ji-Li Jiaong manages to capture the feelings of the people, as well as describe the events that she witnessed and experienced in the late 1960’s in a captivating way. I would recommend this book for middle school and early high school students as a way to stimulate discussion and gain insight not only into Chinese history, culture, and thinking, but also bullying, and the mentality of countries experiencing dictatorships worldwide.
Before reading this book, I had a very unclear impression of the Cultural Revolution. Red Scarf Girl led me through the initial excitement, terrifying fear, and painful reality of this historical time through the eyes of a young girl. All middle school students can relate to the “clique system” that exists in all schools: the overachieving students, the smart students, the quiet students, the athletic students, the popular students, the bullies – this book shows how even the universal “clique system” in schools was turned upside down by the Cultural Revolution. Suddenly students that were very well respected were villainized, and students who had little influence in the past found strength and power. This theme of empowering the weak would be very intriguing to most middle school students. I believe that students could relate the “clique system” to the “class system” that existed in China prior to the Cultural Revolution.
I also believe that this book could be used to stimulate discussion and writings about bullying. In the book, many ordinary citizens were suddenly empowered by the Communist Party to gain control through physical threats and mental abuse. Innocent victims were tortured and abused because of circumstances they could not control. In contrast, why does a bully strive to control others? Who empowers a bully?
Finally the topic of dictatorships and why societies are vulnerable to dictators could be compared to many countries both historically and in the present day.

Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution

Field of Interest/Specialty: World History and World Geography
Posted On: 01/18/2017

What a fantastic book! I was amazed by the things I learned about the Cultural Revolution that our high school text book does not mention. Red Scarf Girl will be a great addition to my World History class by giving students an idea of what people experienced during this tumultuous period in China's history. The book is at a reading level best suited to middle school but is also appropriate for 9th grade. It will NOT be a challenging read to advanced readers in 9th grade. Instead, it will be an "easy read" but is definitely worth it and could be used as assigned reading outside of class.
Red Scarf Girl is about a young girl, Ji-li Jiang, who gets caught up in the Cultural Revolution. It begins in 1966 when Ji-li is only 12. She faces the challenges of being a good revolutionary and respecting her family. She struggles with many feelings that young people today face in terms of identity, loyalty, authority, and conformity. Important concepts from the Cultural Revolution like communism, Red Guards, propaganda, da-zi-bao, five black categories, Four Olds, Chairman Mao, the Precious Red Book, study sessions, etc. are detailed and give the reader a real sense of what life was like for some people in China.
Red Scarf Girl would be a great way to supplement lessons on the Cultural Revolution. Students not only learn about history through a memoir but they can also parallel current world events and events occurring in their own lives to the story.

Loss of Identity in Red Scarf Girl

Field of Interest/Specialty: Social Studies
Posted On: 01/11/2016

Ji-Li Jiang is obviously a talented writer. Her voice and style are honest, engaging and at times, humorous. Red Scarf Girl is a perfect story for middle school students. Ji-Li's initial acceptance by her classmates then rejection for actions beyond her control is something students can relate to, no matter the context. Ji-Li also addresses the difference between what the world is telling what is right and what you believe for yourself. In today's society, it is increasingly important for students to read non-fiction stories where a person stands against what is commonly accepted. It's easy to read a fantasy where the heroine stands up for herself but believe that courage that strong is only found in fairy tales; it's a whole new experience when that bravery was shown here, in the real world, against a real enemy.
The beginning of the book starts off innocently, with Ji-Li echoing the Communist beliefs touted by the Party. It will be helpful to students who doubt the effect of propaganda, especially since she is around their age. As the book progresses, Ji-Li becomes more conflicted and thus begins to be more of an individual instead of a follower.
Students will be able to pick out themes if this is used in a small group or even in a large. Activities, such as a Reality vs. Belief chart or similarities between Ji-Li and another character, would be useful and easy to accomplish.

Red Scarf Girl - An excellent book for youth and adults

Field of Interest/Specialty: ESL
Posted On: 12/07/2015

In this book a young girl is torn between her belief in The Communist party and Chairman Mao and the love of her family. Her struggle is difficult as she tried to maintain her relationships with her peers and her family. This book is an ideal book for middle school students. This age group should be able to relate to the peer pressure and bullying that are evident in this book.
Initially Ji-Li is respected by her classmates. She is a gifted student and sets a wonderful example. She helps other students and her teachers recognize her acknowledge her accomplishments. As evidence of her family’s status is made known her life changed dramatically. Her peers turn against her for reasons that are beyond her control.
This book could also be used in an ESL setting with adults. The level of a fourth to sixth grade reading would enable adults to read independently and discuss this book. Comparisons could be made between the situations in this book to incidents that may have happened in their own countries. We have a women from Israel that could probably relate this book to the persecution of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. Whether there is an example of political persecution within their home countries, most ESL students should be able to relate to the bullying and “mob mentality’ that occurs in Red Scarf Girl. Children (and adults) can be cruel. “What motivates this behavior?” could be a great discussion question.
The glossary in the back of the book is extremely useful. I would discuss these words with all students before reading the book. Finding these words in context would be an excellent way to more fully understand the meaning s of these words. The prologue and introduction are also very useful. Because the setting is in China this book could also be in several classes across the curriculum. There are many ancillary materials available on line and on the EAGLE site for teachers to use.
Three cheers to Ji-Li Ling for writing a wonderful book for youth and adults to learn and enjoy.