Study Guide

Red Scarf Girl Four Olds

By Ji Li Jiang

Four Olds

It's not long into the Revolution before we learn about the four olds. The first thing we hear is that everybody has to get rid of them—stat. Luckily these aren't four year olds, right? Phew. Instead the four olds are customs and traditions of the olden days. Ji-li tells us:

Every day since then on the radio we heard about the need to end the evil and pernicious influences of the 'Four Olds': old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits. Chairman Mao told us we would never succeed at building a strong socialist country until we destroyed the "Four Olds" and established the "Four News." (2.7)

It's only natural that part of the Cultural Revolution is to change the way people think about stuff. At the top of the list? Anything that could be labeled a four old. Some of these make a lot of sense. For instance, getting rid of someone's high social class status fits right in with communism's aim of treating everyone as equals. But then there are four olds like wearing loose pants—we're not sure how that shows off someone's political beliefs, but those are ditched all the same.

Ji-li tells us a lot about four olds because they are all over the place. To Mao, they represent an outdated way of thinking, but for Ji-li, many of the four olds confusing and don't make much sense. She and her friends get a slap on the wrist for using certain words, for instance, and Ji-li hears about people getting in big trouble for keeping photos of four olds. The whole idea of four olds definitely gets carried away. Instead of simply modifying cultural investments, the four olds become more about showing off the power of the Red Guards than anything else.