Red Scarf Girl

Now it would be a blue scarf.As Mlle. Nicework and I were strolling to Starbuck’s after voting in the local election held here this morning, we pondered the privilege of living in a genuine republic. She recalled a book she had read in 4th or 5th grade called Red Scarf Girl, a memoir of growing up during one of Chairman Mao’s recurrent programs of mass extermination in China. The story had impressed her.

She told me of two parallel incidents from the story:

Toward the beginning of the enormity known as the Cultural Revolution, two elderly shopkeepers, filled with enthusiasm for the nascent movement, decide to change their old shop sign to something more Mao-like. They then try to break up the old bourgeoise sign. The hammering apart of the large board is difficult for the old couple, and so the whole neighborhood — likewise filled with East-is-Red enthusiasm — all join in, helping to get the demolition done.

Some months later, in a similar scene, another two shop owners are trying to get some task done, but by this time the Cultural Revolution has devolved into a social and political disaster of paranoia, denunciation, imprisonment and execution. When the neighbors make some feeble movement towards helping the business owners, the police force them away. The owners are under suspicion of something-or-other by the government and are to be shunned.

The Cultural Revolution was not so full of Hope and Change as they’d all dreamed.

Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution
By Ji-Li Jiang; David Henry Hwang
(HarperTrophy, Paperback, 320pp.)

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