Published in 1997, this book has justly received many awards. In 1966 Jiang Ji-Li is twelve years old and it is the time of Mao Ze-dong's Cultural Revolution in Communist China. His political methods were as dubious as his knowledge of entomology: 1966 was the year he ordered all the sparrows to be killed as they ate the rice crop. But they also ate large numbers of insects, so China then suffered plagues of bugs instead.
Jiang Ji-Li lives in Shanghai, a city of ten million people at the time of Mao's reforms against the 'Four Olds'. 'Old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits' were to be rooted out, destroyed, replaced. Unfortunately, this meant that almost anything and anyone could be declared 'fourolds', and that the disgruntled arbiters of this new regime were often talentless mediocrities who enjoyed their day in the sun with revengeful glee. The joke is grimly and latterly on these same unfortunates, as when the political tides turn some of them are denounced in their turn. The whole charade was the grass-roots outworking of power-plays in the Chinese leadership. As usual with a totalitarian state free-thinkers and individualists can expect life to be short, nasty, and brutish.
Ji-Li's family is deemed 'black'. Her dead grandfather is reviled for having been a capitalist landlord, who committed no crime other than being the wealthy head of a large and respectably influential family. The most socially acceptable are now the 'red' farmers and factory workers, who are proud to be humble. If the intellectuals, teachers, and office workers toe the party line they are deemed 'neutral' - weak and wishy-washy. They are allowed to exist, but looked down upon.
She writes as an adult but tells her story with the political simplicity of her age at the time of the events: her storytelling is passionate but coolly accurate, making the narration very effective. The book is aimed at the young teenage market and up, and the style bears some comparisons with Lu Xun's 'Classic Chinese Stories' of the 1920's. The Jiangs are in a way also prisoners in their own home, and Ji-Li often sounds like another Anne Frank. On a societal level the scenario is Orwell's 'Animal Farm' come to life. It elevates his satire into a prophecy come true, a more than prescient political metaphor.
We are largely allowed to draw our own morals from the story. The lesson I draw from it is that whenever cultural reform is carried out by those motivated by envy and hate, then whatever the rhetoric and putative goal, the whole society is inevitably the loser. The book is a fitting epitaph for communism, a failed philosophy, based on the false dictum that 'man shall live by bread alone'.
The review of this Book prepared by Michael JR Jose
This book is an autobiography by Ji Li Jiang, about her life and growing up and surviving the cultural revolution in China. She is faced with many difficult decicions to change her life.
The review of this Book prepared by Eugene
Ji-Li Jiang describes her experiences at the beginning of China's Cultural Revolution, which began when she was 12 years old. The book describes the events of the next two years, including the destruction and havoc wreaked in her family's life and the lives of those she knew - all from her perspective as a child of the "black class."
The review of this Book prepared by Ivy