Red Scarf Girl

Red Scarf Girl
Historical Context
• “The story takes
place in Shanghai,
China, during the
onset of Chairman
Mao Ze-dong's
Cultural Revolution.”
• “By 1949 Mao established a
Communist state by
defeating the former ruling
party, the Nationalists. In
1966, when Ji-li's story
begins, Mao has just
imposed the Cultural
Revolution to cut people's
ties to pre-Communist
• “To lead this revolution he
enlisted help--mostly high
school and college students-to implement rules and to
eliminate everything that
suggested a bourgeois
• “Having only grown up
during the Communist state,
many young people had little
understanding of China's
pre-Communist past and
were aggressive about
enforcing these rules. These
factions of young people
became known as the Red
• “The Red Guard frequently
terrorized people they felt
were not good Communists,
and those under suspicion
often lost their positions or
their memberships in the
Communist Party. Many
others were sent to work
camps. Some were thrown
in jail or even killed.”
• At first, the heart of the revolution was land reform.
• “The ultimate goal was to increase economic
output so that China's industrialization could be
built on the profits made in agriculture.”
• “The first step, ‘land to the tiller,’ was to get land
into the hands of those who rented but did not own
it. This was a bloody phase because landlords,
whose lands were seized by local political leaders
without compensation, were attacked by local
peasants and often killed in struggle meetings.”
• Who in the book is a landlord?
From “The Mao Years” R. Keith Schoppa
The Cultural Revolution
• “Mao mobilized the people to carry out
government policies through mass political
• “In the first years of the regime, there were
campaigns against corruption and waste among
elites in party and government (Three-Anti
Campaign) and against corruption in business
and industry (Five-Anti Campaign).”
• “They were called ‘campaigns’ because people
were mobilized to campaign against the "evils"
that were specified by the party.”
From “The Mao Years” R. Keith Schoppa
The Cultural Revolution
• By 1966 there was internal strife in the
Communist Party and many policies were
• Mao recruited young people to engage in
“continual revolution” in order to maintain
control over his party and to draw attention
away from governmental failures.
• This time period is the focus of Red Scarf
• “Mao called on the young people in The Red
Guard to destroy the ‘four olds’: old ideas, habits,
customs, and culture. The years from 1966 to 1968
were a period of almost total anarchy in China.
Red Guards seized and humiliated - in some
cases, beat to death - anyone allegedly linked with
"feudal China." Many people committed suicide to
escape such humiliation and torture.”
From “The Mao Years” R. Keith Schoppa
The Cultural Revolution
• The Cultural Revolution was
meant to change people’s
values and beliefs.
• It was a systematic attack on
Chinese traditions, culture, and
beliefs (the olds), which people
were expected to replace with
new beliefs an values.
• This poster is titled “Destroy
Old World.”
Monsters and Demons
• 'Monsters and Demons' (牛鬼
蛇神 niugui sheshen) was the
term used to vilify specialists,
scholars, authorities and
'people who entrenched
themselves in ideological and
cultural positions' during the
Cultural Revolution.
Monsters and Demons
• Once people were 'dragged out' as 'evil spirits', they were
forced to wear caps, collars or placards identifying them as
such. Being 'cow monsters', they were imprisoned in what
was generally called a 'cowshed' (牛棚,niupeng). This did
not have to be a genuine stable; it could be a classroom,
storehouse, dark room or temple. In the absence of legal
procedures, the length of stay in the 'cowshed' could be ten
days or ten years.
Rules of Survival:
• During the Cultural
Revolution, China
printed an estimated 2.2
billion Mao Zedong
posters--three for every
citizen. Failing to display
Mao prominently could
brand you a
The Little Red Book
• Quotations from
Chairman Mao Zedong
was published in 1964.
• Every citizen was
(unofficially) required to
study and memorize
quotes from it to be
seen as a good citizen.
As you finish reading . . .
• What are the “rules of survival” depicted
in Red Scarf Girl?
• Why do you think Ji-li Jiang’s peers
behave the way they do?
• Why is she tempted to behave in similar
• What does the book tell us about
children as political agents?