This book is about growing up during the Cultural Revolution in China (the book covers 1966-1968). It’s – wow – crazy how manipulation, brainwashing, and fear can make people treat other people as sub-human. The worst, to me, was the way the schoolchildren treated each other. Children don’t just treat each other that way without horrendous brainwashing. It’s just so… awful.
At one point, thirteen-year-old Ji-Li goes to the police office and asks to change her last name, so she can get rid of her “bad class status” (her grandfather had been a landlord, and therefore the name was tainted). She didn’t realize she’d have to denounce her father and mother to do so, and ends up changing her mind. Anytime a government wants you to turn against your family (and be willing to turn them in to the government for parts of conversations you hear), there’s a problem. I was so glad Ji-Li stuck with her family.
My favorite quote of the book:
“I felt like a small animal that had fallen into a trap, alone and helpless, and sure that the hunter was coming.” (227) I’ve heard so many stories of people who’ve felt this way – people going through crazy revolutions, or people just trying to survive abusive home situations… you name it. I wish no one ever had to feel this way.
Also, from the epilogue: “Many friends have asked me why, after all I went through, I did not hate Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution in those years. The answer is simple: we were all brainwashed.” (265)
This really floored me. There were characters I hated, just reading about them! And she lived through it and doesn’t hate them.
This is another one of those hard-but-really-good reads. I definitely recommend it, especially if you’re interested in the Cultural Revolution (I’d never read much about it before this).
Oh, and P.S.: I don’t recommend it for hospital-room reading. It’s not the most lighthearted of stories!