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The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir (2012)

by Wenguang Huang

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My Review: The author tells a pretty unbelievable story and I suppose that is what makes this true story all the more fascinating to me. Up until this book I knew very little of the Chinese culture during Mao’s reign and once he was gone. I’ve known that China was a communist country and that communism wasn’t a good thing. When it came to government structures I was aware of the distinct differences between our “Western” culture and that of China’s. But this book gave me a first hand account of it through the lives of what many might consider to represent a typical Chinese family.

Read the rest of my review here. ( )
  ericadrayton | Jan 8, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This was a compelling tale about a grandmother's request for a traditional burial. Seems simple enough, but at the time in China, the cultural revolution of the communist party was trying to eradicate old traditions considered bourgeois. Burials were outlawed and cremation without ceremony was mandated. Having a traditional burial could mean ruin for an entire family. But in the face of this risk, Huang's father attempts to appease his mother's wishes.

This book is fascinating and well written; the complex issues of tradition and family and devotion to politics are expressed brilliantly. Huang reveals the contradictory nature of people, revealing the humanity (capable of making mistakes) of his family in a spectacular way. Great book. ( )
  andreablythe | Aug 11, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
In The Little Red Guard Wenguang Huang tells about his life growing up in China as the child of model Communists, except model Communists shouldn’t consider burial after death, at least not according to the party. However, Huang’s grandmother, born in the early 1900s is from an era of bound feet for women and a progeny of pre-communist China. She still believes in the old ways and wants to be buried in the home village next to the husband to whom she has remained faithful since his death decades earlier. So, Huang’s father, much to the chagrin of his wife, promises to bury his mother next to her husband. The only problem is how to arrange the whole thing when the practice is banned and following it is the exact opposite of the expectations of a model Communist.

Huang uses the promise made by his father to his grandmother to tell his family’s story about living and working in Xi’an and, more importantly, to illustrate the clash of generations living under one roof during times of great upheaval in China’s history: the Cultural Revolution, opening and the aftermath of Tiananmen Square. Through the disagreement over this burial versus cremation issue, he illustrates, within a family, the same changes occurring throughout China—his grandmother’s embrace of the old ways and superstitions, his parents unwavering belief in the Communist party and finally his and his siblings idealism and cynicism during opening and the emergence of capitalism. Throughout the book, he indicates the impact of the promise on his family, the relationship between his father and mother, and that with his father. I thought The Little Red Guard was an interesting and easily-readable book. ( )
1 vote xuesheng | Jun 12, 2012 |
Wen is a very likable and easy to relate to narrator. Living with a grandmother, who is from a time when they still bound woman's feet, he and is family try to navigate between the old customs and the new ways after Mao's cultural revolution. Burial is no longer an option, as Mao only endorses cremation, a fact that his grandmother finds horrible. The old customs dictate that she must be buried next to her husband so that they may be reunited. At the age of nine, as the oldest grandson, Wen is designated the coffin keeper and this coffin and the money needed to be saved for his grandmother's funeral plays an adverse effect on their lives. His writing style is very easy to follow and life under Mao is conveyed in ways that affected his family. When Mao dies, things change again and it is really difficult to imagine what the Chinese people have gone through in a relatively short period of time. Really found this book very interesting and showing the impact on one family made it all the more striking. ( )
  Beamis12 | May 22, 2012 |
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. . .The memoir is a fascinating look at unhealthy family dynamics: a wife who resents her husband’s blind devotion to his mother, grandchildren who begrudge their grandmother the sacrifices she forced on them, and a grandmother who blatantly favors her son and eldest grandson. But this tale isn’t just about Huang’s family. Vignettes of scrounging for food when rations were scarce and forcing tears at school when Mao died so no one would question Huang’s allegiance to communism provide insight into the cultural landscape of China in the tumultuous 1970s.
 
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Traces a Communist Chinese family's fifteen-year struggle to honour a grandmother's dying wish to be buried in spite of a national ban on traditional Chinese practices, an effort that pitted family members against one another and risked their capture by authorities.… (more)

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