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Author visits FMS

Seventh- and eighth-graders at Farragut Middle School recently were given a lesson on China’s Cultural Revolution from someone who experienced it first hand.

Ji-Li Jiang, author of the critically acclaimed memoir “Red Scarf Girl,” visited FMS and shared some of her memories of life in China during the Revolution.

Before the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, Jiang’s family was considered very fortunate in China.

“I grew up happy and healthy in China. I had a happy family. My grandmother was a teacher; my father was an actor and my mother worked at a sports equipment store. In school I was one of the best students. I participated in a lot of art groups and I won several speech contests. Also, since I was in second grade, I participated in martial arts and step-by-step, I was selected for one of the best martial arts teams for children in Shanghai.

“Everything was fine and I was quite happy and was quite confident that I would have a bright future, as long as I continued to follow our beloved leader Chairman Mao [Zedong].

Mao, the leader of China from 1949 until his death in 1976, demanded strict loyalty from the Chinese people.

“Chairman Mao was loved by everyone, and by the time the Cultural Revolution started, he was worshiped like a God. His name was mentioned in every song and his picture was displayed everywhere,” Jiang said.

Quotations from Mao were put together to make up what is translated as the “Red Precious Book,” and the Chinese people were forced to study the book every day.

“The first thing everyone had to do in the morning was stand up, face Chairman Mao’s picture and sing a song called ‘The East is Red,’” Jiang said.

The song proclaimed Mao as the savior of China.

“After the song, we had to hold our ‘Red Precious Book’ to our chest and chant ‘We wholeheartedly wish our great teacher, great leader, great commander, great consulate Chairman Mao long life, long life, long life.’ We called that morning greetings,” Jiang said.

“Everything was very disciplined, but we were quite content until the Cultural Revolution started,” she added.

During the Cultural Revolution Mao ordered the eradication of “old ideas,” radically changing the lives of the Chinese people.

“It was a crazy time in China. Some people were even thinking of changing the traffic lights so red would mean go and green would mean stop. To a revolutionary, red meant communism and meant moving forward, why should red mean stop?” Jiang said.

The rich and those who held high positions in government and society were the first to be targeted for persecution during the revolution.

Mao’s henchmen, called the “Red Guard,” held Struggle Meetings at which landowners, authors, athletes and anyone else who could be distinguished in any way from the masses were tortured and humiliated.

“When the Cultural Revolution started, at the beginning, I was very excited.

“But very soon I discovered the horrible truth. My grandfather was a landowner and even though he had already died, because a land owner was the enemy, our family background was tainted forever,” Jiang said.

At the age of 14, Jiang made a decision that would forever change her life … she defied the Red Guard.

“In 1968, two years after the Cultural Revolution started, my father was detained and not allowed to leave the theater grounds where he worked for months. We were not allowed to see him. Sometimes we did not know if he was alive or dead because a lot of the people who worked in the theatre were beaten to death,” Jiang said.

“One day the revolutionaries came to my school. In front of my teachers and the school leaders, they told me they wanted me to denounce my father in a struggle meeting. My father was supposed to stand on stage with a big sign around his neck saying he was a monster. I was supposed to stand on stage with him, facing him in front of thousands of people and condemn him for his crime.

“The revolutionaries made it very clear that if I refused, I would have to sacrifice my future in this country that I loved so much. I could not tell my mother and grandmother because they were both under interrogation. I could not tell my younger brother and sister, because I wanted to protect them,” she added.

Jiang refused to denounce her father.

“I was so scared, I didn’t know what to do,” she said.

Not wanting to give away her book to the students, Jiang ended her story with the reason she decided to write the book.

“I do not want people to forget this time in Chinese history. I strongly believe that only those who remember can prevent it from happening again,” she said.


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