Study Guide

Red Scarf Girl Plot Analysis

By Ji Li Jiang

Plot Analysis


Dancing Queen

Ji-li is over the moon when she's asked to try out for the prestigious Liberation Army troupe. Her joy quickly fades to frustration after her dad tells her that her family won't pass the required background check, though. Ji-li is upset and really confused. Why not? What's wrong with her family? We're calling this our initial situation because it's the first glimpse of what's to come for Ji-li. This is when she learns that there's more to her family than she realizes—and it isn't in sing with Chairman Mao's rules.

Rising Action

Out With the Olds

At school, Ji-li starts learning about the four olds and how everyone must get rid of them to support the Revolution. Sounds simple enough, right? Except when you think about the fact that almost anything can be considered a four old. Old photographs? Check. Loose pants? Check. Books? Check. It becomes harder and harder to understand why they need to get rid of this stuff for Ji-li. This is the first conflict that she faces. Sure, she wants to support the revolution, but she doesn't get why that means getting rid of half her stuff and bad-mouthing her teachers.


You Better Testify

Things go from bad to worse when Ji-li's dad is arrested on trumped up charges. Basically, the government is just mad that her grandpa was a landlord and filthy rich, so they take it out on Ji-li's dad. She knows her dad has done nothing wrong, but Ji-li feels torn between her loyalty to him and her commitment to the revolution.

This comes to a head when she's asked to testify against him at a trial. Testify to what, you ask? Anything she likes. Make it up for all they care. They just want witnesses to speak out against the guy. We can tell that this is a turning point for Ji-li because it's when she decides once and for all that she cares more about her family than Mao's new China. 

Falling Action

Family First

Ji-li gets sent to work in the fields, and when she gets back, she finds her family is worse than ever. Her dad is still locked up, her mom is sick, and her grandma is old and frail. When the Red Guards show up demanding information, they slap Ji-li's grandma and force her to work in the streets, even though she's over seventy years old. The whole family is ostracized simply because they were once wealthy. Ugh. Ji-li promises her mom that she'll always take care of her siblings if something bad happens. We're calling this our falling action because it's helping us wrap up Ji-li's story. Again we see her face harsh times and choose to stick it out with her family.


Down the Road

It's not until the epilogue that we get our resolution. Written thirty years later, we learn that Ji-li's dad was eventually released from jail and everyone was reunited; then the whole family moved to the United States. Some work still needs to be done to make things right, though. In fact, Ji-li confesses that part of the purpose of the book is to mend relationships between the U.S. and China. Hopefully sharing her story helps.