Study Guide

Red Scarf Girl Quotes

  • Fear

    "Wow. You really scared me, Dad." I laughed with relief. "I know that. Principal Long told us it would be very competitive. I know it's just an audition, but who knows?" (1.25)

    When Ji-li's dad says she shouldn't apply for the dance troupe, she's confused and scared. She figures her dad would only say this if he knew something serious that she doesn't—and it turns out that her fears aren't totally unjustified. Her family has more skeletons in the closet than she realizes.

    None of the other three students passed the audition, but this did not make me feel better. It had not been just an audition for me. I was afraid that the rest of my life would not be what I had imagined. (1.78)

    Check out how Ji-li describes the heartache she feels after not getting the dance troupe position. It's not just about becoming a performer, she's bummed she doesn't know what the rest of her life will look like now. Before you go calling Ji-li dramatic, consider this: She's worried that things won't turn out the way she's always planned.

    I was bored, but I never stopped being frightened. I worried about Dad, I worried about Grandma. I worried about An Yi's mother, too. (9.3)

    Poor Ji-li is scared pretty much all the time. Not only is she worried about what might happen at school, she also frets over her family. It's clear she cares a lot about her brood, which is why she's so frightened for them all the time.

    "I'm really afraid, Ji-li." An Yi looked straight into my eyes. "If Mom is a little late coming back from school, we're so worried. Dad paces up and down, and I just can't do anything. Sometimes Dad can't stand it anymore, and he goes to school to meet her. I'm so scared. I don't know what'll happen next. Ji-li, sometimes I'm really afraid to go home." The expression in her eyes made me want to cry. (9.78)

    An Yi has a lot to worry about. Since her mom is a teacher, she's getting the worst of the struggle meetings and Red Guards' special punishments. Ji-li can tell that her friend is shaken to the core. Even more scary? An Yi's mom was an award winning teacher—in other words, Ji-li is sure she's not out to hurt anybody. And yet she's still a target.

    I had wanted to give up. I had almost stopped trying to be brave, to be an educable child. I saw another part of myself, a part full of fear that I had to struggle against. I would not allow myself to stop trying to follow Chairman Mao. (12.45)

    Ji-li goes from telling us she's scared early on to describing herself through the fear. It's a big part of her now. She's so upset by everything that is happening during the Cultural Revolution that she thinks of herself as someone full of fear. This doesn't stop her from supporting the cause, though.

    I told myself again and again. I repeated Chairman Mao's quotation, "Be resolute, fear no sacrifice, and surmount every difficulty to win victory." (15.43)

    According to Mao, fear is a weakness to be promptly pushed through. Fear is directly targeted by his propaganda, and people are told to deny their fear in favor of supporting him.

    I heard Mom go to bed. Lying in the darkness with my eyes open, I could not stop imagining all the horrors that could result from this letter. I was scared, and I did not know what to do. (16.9)

    Even though she knows the letter is bad news, Ji-li isn't sure what to do about it—it's a tough pill to swallow, but it's clear that she's out of good options. If she does nothing, she lives in fear, but if she fesses up about the letter, she's worried what will happen to her family. Like we said, fear all around.

    The worry of tomorrow haunted me constantly. I worried that Grandma would be sent to the countryside, as other landlords had been, and would be punished by the farmers there. I worried that Mom would be detained for attempting to help Dad. I worried that Dad would be beaten to death for his stubbornness. I worried that Ji-yong's temper would get him in trouble, and that Ji-yun would be so frightened that she would never laugh again. Worst of all, I worried that by not hiding the letter well enough, I had ruined our lives forever. (17.7)

    Poor Ji-li can't catch a break. As she talks about her fears, it becomes clear that she's scared for everyone she loves. Check out the word "haunted." It's as though she's being followed around by her fear, ghost style. No matter what she does, Ji-li can't shake the looming fear that she feels.

    I had promised to take care of my family, and I would renew that promise every day. I could not give up or withdraw, no matter how hard life became. I would hide my tears and my fear for Mom and Grandma's sake. (17.17)

    Strong and forthright, Ji-li knows she can't be broken by fear. We love what she says about hiding away her fears for her family. It doesn't matter whether she's scared or not—all that matters is that she doesn't let her fears dictate how she acts. Otherwise, she's no longer in control.

    They had no fear of being criticized by their bosses or arrested by the government for expressing themselves, even if they criticized or mocked the president. (E.18)

    Talking about Americans, Ji-li tells us just how free and open they are about everything. It's a good comparison for consider alongside Ji-li's depiction of China during the Cultural Revolution.

  • Politics

    "Heaven and earth are great, but greater still is the kindness of the Communist Party; father and mother are dear, but dearer still is Chairman Mao." (P.2)

    Here's an example of the ideas that are told to kids from the time they are born. It's no wonder that Ji-li says everyone was brainwashed, right? Mao is supposedly even more important than family or heaven and earth. Whoa.

    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)

    Early on, Ji-li introduces us to the central idea of the Cultural Revolution. It's more about changing minds than anything else, and people have to get rid of anything from the olden days. It's a pretty radical shift.

    We were proud of our precious red scarves, which, like the national flag, were dyed red with the blood of our revolutionary martyrs. We had often been sorry that we were too young to have fought with Chairman Mao against the Japanese invaders, who tried to conquer China. (2.44)

    Ji-li wishes she were around during the previous revolution so she could help out with it. Thing is, the big moments that make history are really tough for the people living through them… as Ji-li soon learns first-hand.

    Who would have believed that our entire educational system was wrong after all? Seventeen years after Liberation, the newspapers told us, our schools were not bringing us up to be good red socialists and communists, as we had thought, but revisionists. (3.1)

    Ever heard the phrase "history is written by the victors"? Basically, it just means that whoever's in power gets to tell the story of how things went down. So when Mao's in power, well, history gets a bit of a rewrite.

    But I dared not ask to switch to the other group. I would certainly be criticized for letting my family relationships interfere with my political principles. I had no choice but to go. (3.27)

    As soon as her classmates start taking the revolution into their own hands, Ji-li gets a glimpse of what it's going to be like in the future. This is what we literary types like to call foreshadowing. Ji-li will later have to choose between family and politics. Here, she takes the political route.

    Red Guards were everywhere. Since the newspapers had praised them as the pioneers of the Cultural Revolution, every high school and college had organized Red Guards to rebel against the old system. (4.7)

    Imagine suddenly having guards all around your school and city. It would certainly be scary, right? Especially since it all happens so quickly. This is all about politics. The Guards are sent there to keep a watchful eye on everyone and make sure they are following the new rules.

    I felt tears welling out of my eyes. "Anyone who sees Chairman Mao is the happiest person in the world," the saying went. (5.33)

    When Ji-li learns about someone meeting Chairman Mao, she's instantly green with envy. That's her wish. This tells us a lot about her attitude toward politics: Even though she's not comfortable with bad-mouthing a teacher, and she doesn't really get all of the new rules, she still follows Mao and everything the guy preaches.

    Right at the entrance to our alley, where you could not help noticing it, stood the propaganda wall. It was tall and wide, covering the whole end of one building and looming over the street. Every time a new campaign started, a picture would be painted on it to promote the campaign's message. (7.1)

    The propaganda wall is the place to put up new info about Mao's plan for the country. It's also a place where people are publically humiliated with da-zi-baos. Both of those reveal that it's used more to control people than to provide new political information. It's public and everyone can see it, making it the perfect place to keep people in check.

    No matter what I did and where I went, the Cultural Revolution followed me. (9.5)

    Sounds creepy, right? Ji-li's description kind of sounds like she's being stalked, and in some ways, she is. The Cultural Revolution isn't just about political parties or voting in an election; it's a way of life. It's like a ghost following her around, everywhere she goes.

    It was full of red: red slogans, red posters, red armbands, and red flags. A huge poster of Chairman Mao in a green army uniform, waving to the Red Guards from the Tienanmen rostrum, covered almost an entire wall. There were posters of Chairman Mao's poems written in his own calligraphy. (15.5)

    Fittingly, the Red Guard Committee Office is full of red—red posters, pictures, plaques, red everything. We know that red is the color of communism, so this makes sense. It's also really overpowering and in your face, much the same way the politics of the Red Guards are to the people.

  • Family

    Until that spring I believed that my life and my family were nearly perfect. (1.56)

    With a statement like that, things are definitely about to get bad. A good rule of thumb in literature is that the more perfect things seem, the worse they are going to get. Ji-li's idea of her family shows us that she's a little naïve, but she's also very happy. There are no deep, dark secrets in her clan… that she knows about.

    Was it my fault that my family was a little better off than theirs? Many a time I had wished that my parents were workers in a textile mill and that we were poor. I had always begged Mom to let me wear patched pants. […] Suddenly I wished that I had been born into a different family. I hated Grandpa for being a landlord. (4.62)

    One of the biggest things Ji-li struggles with when it comes to Mao's ideals is what they say about her family. She doesn't get why it's her fault that she was born rich. She didn't exploit anybody; she wasn't a landlord. So why should she have to pay for her grandpa's choices?

    At Dad's side was a stack of old photo albums, their black covers stained and faded with age. Dad was looking through the albums, page by page, tearing out any pictures that might be four olds. He put them in a pile next to Mom, who put them into the fire. (8.32)

    Even something that might be a four old is condemned. This is one of the ways that politics come before family. Most people value family albums because they remind us of good times in the past, but with the new rules, family memories don't matter much.

    Home, I thought. Wasn't a home a private place? A place where the family could feel secure? How could strangers come and search through our secrets? If Grandpa was a landlord, they could confiscate all his things. But I was not a landlord. Why did they have to search through all my things? (8.123)

    We guess not. It turns out there's no privacy when it comes to the Cultural Revolution, and everyone's business is public knowledge. Ji-li struggles with this because she doesn't want everyone and their mom knowing about her family's class status.

    It was not easy to break with your mother. I could not imagine actually doing it. They had to live in the same room. Would he eat the food she had cooked? Would he speak to her at all? (9.14)

    Aunt Xi-wen's son stops talking to her because he doesn't want to be associated with her class status any more. Ouch. The Cultural Revolution is ripping families apart, and the Red Guards aren't necessarily against this. They value the cause more than anything else.

    I suddenly wished I could live at school. Then I could forget what was happening, and I could laugh again. I wished that I had been born into a trouble-free family. (11.34)

    Oh snap. Ji-li is going through the ringer, but this is still a little harsh—her family has never done anything to hurt her. Thing is, she realizes she doesn't want to have a family weighing her down anymore. She even thinks about changing her name. What makes her stick around?

    "We cannot choose our families or our class sums. But we can choose our own futures." He spoke very slowly and clearly. "No, you are not a leader, but you are still an 'educable child.' You can overcome your family background." (12.41)

    Ji-li feels torn between her family and the Revolution. Maybe this is because she's constantly pressured to ditch her family and join the cause. She really thinks about it a couple different times. We don't blame her—it's tough to figure out what to believe when everything is changing around you.

    We clung to each other as we watched him go. We all dashed up to the roof to watch him walk down the alley. He walked a little in front of his escorts. The triangle made by the three heads grew smaller and smaller. (13.19)

    As the guards take her dad away, Ji-li feels so alone. She's not sure she'll ever see him again, and this worries her. She was doubting whether he was a liar before, but now she gets how much she wants him around. It dawns on her how unfair this is to him.

    The article had been like a bomb blowing holes in my life. In our alley, at school, and at Mom's office people gossiped about our family. I had thought I was going to be kicked out of the exhibition. (14.3)

    The big article about Ji-li's family causes a major shake up. Everybody in town knows about her family's class status now, and that's not good news. Yet again, Ji-li finds herself wishing she were in another family, which hurts her mom big time.

    I realized that I had made my promise to them— to everyone in my family— long ago. I had promised during the days that Grandma and I had hidden in the park; I had promised when I had not testified against Dad; I had promised when I had hidden the letter. I would never do anything to hurt my family, and I would do everything I could to take care of them. My family was too precious to forget, and too rare to replace. (17.16)

    Aw. Despite all the times she's doubted them, Ji-li obviously she cares a whole lot about her family. Family might not be as important to Mao, but it turns out, it is to Ji-li. You do you, girl.

  • Society and Class

    "Ji-li, the fact is that our family will not be able to pass these investigations," he said slowly. "And you will not be allowed to be a member of a Liberation Army performing troupe." (1.32)

    Huh? Ji-li isn't sure what her dad is talking about. They've never had any trouble before, so why would that start now? When her dad tells her not to try out, we catch some foreshadowing of what's about to happen. We know that social class will be really important in the book; we're just not sure how yet.

    "Tight pants and pointed shoes are what the Western bourgeoisie admire. For us proletarians they are neither good-looking nor comfortable. What's more, they are detrimental to the revolution, so we must oppose them resolutely." (2.49)

    As she watches the student inspector reprimand someone for wearing the wrong pants, Ji-li rushes home—she doesn't want to get publically humiliated for accidentally wearing the wrong thing. Here's the cherry on top of a not-so-delicious sundae: The guy bought the clothes at the government store. He's getting punished for shopping exactly where he's supposed to because people are just acting all revolution-happy at the moment. Gulp.

    "Right! Those who don't have good class backgrounds shouldn't be elected," somebody else agreed. My heart fell. Class status. There was that phrase again. (4.18)

    Check out the way Ji-li describes class status. The fact that she says "that phrase" shows us how much weight it carries for her. She dreads sharing her class status with everyone because she knows it will land her in the doghouse. It's a huge burden for her to carry, even at school.

    He had been born into a large, wealthy family, he told us, with five generations, more than a hundred people, living together in one big compound. The family had once owned vast amounts of land, many businesses, and other kinds of property. (4.36)

    When Ji-li's dad finally explains their family history to Ji-li, she's disappointed. She wishes her grandpa wasn't a landlord (read: exploiter) or rich dude. Again we're confronted with the unfairness of it all. Ji-li isn't punished for her own choices or actions; instead she's considered bad news for something her grandpa did before she was born.

    "Your problems are very serious, you know. For instance…" He looked at the paper in his hand. "You and your grandmother often take a pedicab, which reveals your extravagant bourgeois lifestyle. And your family has a housekeeper. That's definitely exploitation." (4.73)

    We like to think of this as a roast… only with much higher stakes. Ji-li is called out for taking a cab and having a housekeeper, two big no-nos under the new government. Her family hasn't committed some huge crime, yet they are still treated like dirt.

    We had a bad class status. That was why An Yi was not allowed to wear mourning bands or even cry aloud for her grandmother. That was why my house was searched, and strangers could come in and do whatever they wanted. It was just a simple fact. Why should I ask why? There was absolutely nothing I could do to change it. (8.133)

    As Ji-li tries to come to terms with her poor class status, she feels for her friend. All An Yi wants to do is mourn her grandma, but she's not allowed to because of their bad class status. It hardly seems fair. Yet Ji-li doesn't see the point in getting upset about it… or so she claims. She still gets pretty worked up about her class status sometimes.

    "If you had to do it, you'd learn." I meant what I said. If Lin-lin's family had to live on just sixty yuan a month, and half of their clothes had been confiscated, she would learn to sew too. (12.12)

    Oh, snap. Ji-li boldly tells her friend that sewing isn't a choice for her—she doesn't have enough clothes since the Red Guards took them away, so she has no other option. Ji-li isn't trying to be harsh or cruel; she's just pointing out that her social status has determined her actions.

    "We cannot choose our families or our class sums. But we can choose our own futures." He spoke very slowly and clearly. "No, you are not a leader, but you are still an 'educable child.' You can overcome your family background." (12.41)

    Wise words. Of course, these are meant to encourage Ji-li to separate from her family and join the party. Actually, though, they make her realize just how much hog-wash all this talk of class status really is. If you can't choose it, why should it matter? If it's pre-determined, why bother getting upset about it?

    "The key is your class stance. The daughter of our former Party Secretary resolved to make a clean break with her mother. When she went onstage to condemn her mother, she actually slapped her face. […] The point is that as long as you have the correct class stance, it will be easy to testify." (14.34)

    Translation? Testify against your dad, or we'll make life very difficult for you. What did her dad do, you ask? He was born to a wealthy landlord. Yep, that's it. Essentially, the Red Guards want to ship Ji-li's dad off to jail because he's of a better social class than they want him to be.

    Our class status continued to hold us back. Because of our political background I was denied another opportunity to become a stage actress, just as Ji-yong was not allowed to become a trumpeter nor Ji-yun a singer. But we never gave up. (E.8)

    Even after the Revolution is over, Ji-li and her family struggle because of their social class. There's no escaping it, which shows how ingrained these ideas about class status became in China.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    I had many beautiful dreams. I dreamed of being an actress, holding bunches of flowers, bowing again and again to answer curtain calls. Until now I had never doubted that I could achieve anything I wanted. The future had been full of infinite possibilities. Now I was no longer sure that was still true. (1.79)

    Poor Ji-li. She used to be full of hope and promise, but now she doesn't know what to hope for. It might seem a little dramatic for not getting into a dance troupe, but it's more about what it represents to her: She's worried that everything she's worked hard for in her life will be taken away.

    I thought about my beautiful dreams and wondered if they would drift away just like those lovely soap bubbles. (1.81)

    We love the idea of bubbles. First of all, bubbles are something little kids like to play with, which suggests that Ji-li's dreams were all a little kid-like or naïve. Then we think about the transient nature of bubbles. They pop and fade very quickly, just like all of Ji-li's dreams.

    "Shi-yi…?" My dream! In spite of everything it was coming true! "That's right," she said. "You looked like you needed some good news to cheer you up." She patted me on the head and turned toward the office building. (5.16)

    Phew. Here Ji-li was worried about her life being over, but her dreams can still come true. Yay. Of course, sometimes dreams are too good to be true… We'd like to now draw your attention to the next quote.

    Another beautiful dream gone. I had been counting the days before the new term began. Now I saw the Shi-yi badge flash before my eyes and disappear. So did the new lunch box. They were gone in an instant, like soap bubbles. (5.33)

    Just after getting her hopes up, they are dashed again. Ji-li is bummed about not getting to go to school where she'd always hoped. Plus, if this dream can be taken away, others can be, too. That's the part that really worries her.

    That was my secret dream. And here was someone who had done it! I could not help feeling jealous. (7.22)

    Meeting Mao, she means. Apparently, everybody wants to get some face time with Mao—he's the man behind the curtain, after all—and Ji-li is no different. She wants to meet Mao because she thinks of him as a god. She worships his ideals and thinks he's brilliant.

    Wiping my eyes, I slowly walked home. With every step I hoped that Chairman Mao would forgive my black class status and let me be a Red Guard too. (7.27)

    It's not just that Ji-li wants to shake Mao's hand. In fact, she worried he will judge her too harshly, even though he's the one putting her family (indirectly) through such hard times.

    Whatever my family background was, I would overcome all difficulties. My future would be bright. (12.45)

    Ji-li is so resilient. At first she's bummed that her dreams are being popped like soap bubbles, but then she decides she's going to make new plans and new dreams. We get to see her can-do attitude and tough approach first hand when she confides in us that she still wants a positive future.

    "We urgently hope," the letter concluded, "that the Municipal Party Committee will investigate this situation and correct it before it is too late." The letter was signed, "The Revolutionary Masses." (16.9)

    The incriminating letter begs the Communist Party to change their ways. Check out that phrase "urgently hope"—sometimes hope can feel pretty life-or-death.

    Once my life had been defined by my goals: to be a da-dui-zhang, to participate in the exhibition, to be a Red Guard. They seemed unimportant to me now. Now my life was defined by my responsibilities. (17.17)

    Over the course of the book, Ji-li grows up a lot. She changes from defining herself through her life goals and ability to achieve them into someone who knows the big role she plays in her family. It's not that she no longer has dreams and plans for the future; it's just that she realizes they aren't the only things that make her who she is.

    If I can help Americans to understand China, and the Chinese to learn about the United States, even a little, I will feel very rewarded. I will have contributed something to my country, China, and my home, America. I hope this book will be part of that mission. (E.19)

    As goals go, this is a big one. Bringing about real change in the way people from not one—but two—countries interact? That's a big deal. Ji-li reaches high and dares to dream big.

  • Duty

    Once Mom told me that she had her three children in three years because she wanted to finish the duty of having babies sooner, so she could devote herself wholeheartedly to the revolution. (1.54)

    Color us impressed—that's some serious sense of duty. Clearly Ji-li's family cares a lot about China and the direction the country is going in since her parents are willing to dedicate themselves to the cause on a number of levels.

    We knew they must be student inspectors. The newspapers had pointed out that the four olds were also reflected in clothing, and now high school students had taken responsibility for eliminating such dress. (2.48)

    Narrow pants, certain shoes, and other clothes aren't just a fashion statement; they become a political one, too. Everyone is big on policing what other people are wearing, reading, saying, and doing. It's not about being a tattletale; it's about duty to their country. Or, that's what they tell themselves at least.

    All students were directed instead to participate in the movement by writing big posters, da-zi-bao, criticizing the educational system. Rolls of white paper, dozens of brushes, and many bottles of red and black ink were brought into the classrooms. (3.2)

    Ji-li describes how the school looks now that it's littered with da-zi-bao. Even though the students are told that it's their duty to support Mao and the cause, Ji-li can't wrap her head around it. She doesn't think teachers should be punished for flunking students who don't turn in work. Amen, sister.

    To fulfill my responsibility as a revolutionary, I listed all my teachers. One by one, I considered them carefully. Unfortunately, none of them seemed to hate the Party or oppose Chairman Mao. I could not write a da-zi-bao about any of them. (3.21)

    When everyone is writing da-zi-baos, Ji-li has nothing to write about her teachers. She doesn't want any of them to get in trouble for things they haven't even done, yet she's told (by her classmates) that this is her duty—she must do it. Ji-li is torn between what she knows is right and what she's told her duty is to her country.

    "Now listen. What I want you to know is, whether or not your Grandpa was a landlord or an exploiter, it isn't your responsibility. Even I don't have a clear memory of him, so it doesn't have to matter to you at all. You can still hold your heads up. Understand?" (4.42)

    Ji-li's dad tries to comfort her about her family's past, but it's not of much use. He might claim it's not her responsibility, but everyone blames her all the same for where she comes from. It soon becomes her duty to denounce her family and their so-called wicked ways, according to the Red Guards.

    There was a tension in the air that even we children felt. The newspapers and radio were full of the campaign to "Destroy the Four Olds." The campaign had been expanded to eliminate personal possessions. "If we do not completely eliminate the roots, the plant will grow back," we heard. (6.2)

    This is what Ji-li is talking about later on when she says they were brainwashed. Everywhere they turn, the people are bombarded with propaganda about their duty to the country. On the list? Getting rid of old stuff, reporting their friends' actions to the Red Guards, and changing their speech and behavior.

    I volunteered to buy meat and vegetables at the market. This was the hardest job, but considering Grandma's age— she was over seventy— and Mom's and Dad's busy schedules, I felt it was my duty. It was also a good chance to get rid of my remaining bourgeois habits. (6.35)

    Not only does Ji-li have a sense of duty to her country, she also feels an extra dose of responsibility when it comes to her family. Why? She's the oldest child and takes that seriously. She doesn't want her grandma or younger siblings to pick up the slack, so she feels obligated to do more around the house.

    Immediately I scolded myself. How could I feel sorry for a counterrevolutionary's family member who refused to support the Red Guards? Still, I could not help going back out to look at him. (7.36)

    Ji-li thinks it's her duty to despise all counterrevolutionary people and actions. After all, that's exactly what she and everyone else is taught. Here's the trouble with that, though: Ji-li feels the duty to act this way but it isn't how she genuinely feels. Instead she questions whether the punishments people are getting is fair.

    "You are different from your parents. You were born and raised in New China. You are a child of Chairman Mao. You can choose your own destiny: You can make a clean break with your parents and follow Chairman Mao, and have a bright future; or you can follow your parents, and then… you will not come to a good end." (11.97)

    Mao first, family second—or that's what everyone claims at least. Ji-li tries hard to believe this, and she feels compelled to do what's best for the Cultural Revolution. But she also has a sense of duty to her family, and she can't shake that feeling either.

    "Now you can show your revolutionary determination." He paused. "We want you to testify against your father at the struggle meeting." (14.31)

    Chairman Jin uses duty to help convince Ji-li to testify against her dad—it's the right thing to do for the country, after all. Now seems like a good time to remind you that Ji-li's basically just a kid at this point. Ugh.

  • Identity

    Carefully, my parents chose my name: Ji-li, meaning lucky and beautiful. They hoped that I would be the happiest girl in the world. And I was. (pro.2)

    This is the first thing Ji-li tells us about herself, so clearly it's important to who she is. It's really telling that this is from her parents' perspective, though—at this point, she's still acting out exactly what everyone else planned for her.

    Her head was bowed down by a sign that read, REACTIONARY MONSTER WEI DONG-LI. She beat a gong and shouted, "I am a reactionary teacher. I am a reactionary monster." (9.4)

    An Yi's mom is publically humiliated for being a teacher. As outraged as that makes us (since Shmoop loves education and all), we can't help but notice the work that's being done here. The Red Guards want to change her identity—she was a respected teacher with a bunch of awards, but now she's a traitor and a monster.

    I lowered my head and pretended to check my nails. I wanted everyone to see that I did not care if I was not chosen. My parents and Grandma had warned me against disappointment, so I was prepared. And anyway, the Red Successors were not nearly as glorious as the Red Guards. (4.14)

    Ji-li wants people to believe that she's indifferent to what they think of her, but of course she isn't; she still cares a lot about what they think of her. Again we see her struggle with who she is. Ji-li lets other people's opinions of her define who she is, rather than the other way around.

    His brilliant eyes were looking into the distance as if he were already thinking about the great revolutionary task that lay ahead of him. I could not look at the painting without feeling inspired. I was ready to follow him anywhere. (7.3)

    Describing Mao, Ji-li reveals how persuasive and dynamic he is as a leader. Ji-li idolizes Mao, despite the ways in which he makes her life harder. She definitely doesn't have a clear picture of who the guy really is.

    She was nice enough— frank, sincere, and sympathetic. But as a child from a black family— a black whelp— I felt awkward around a Red Guard leader. (10.52)

    When Ji-li meets up with Chang Hong, she's worried about what might happen—she thinks her family's dark past will alter her friendships. For Chang Hong, though, this isn't a problem. Ji-li worries about it so much that it does impact who she is, however.

    "You have self-esteem, and you always try to excel. That's why I believe you are brave enough to face and eventually overcome the difficulties of life." (12.41)

    These are powerful words, and Ji-li certainly needs to hear them, too. She's gotten to a point where she only thinks of herself as her class status. It's important for her to realize that she's much more than a landlord's granddaughter, though, regardless of what anyone else tells her.

    </em>I remembered primary school, the praises and the honors. But what had I gotten in the end? People were jealous because I was favored. I remembered the humiliating talk with the Red Successors, the terrible accusations of the da-zi-bao. Why should I go through that again? (13.91)

    Ji-li learned the hard way how fickle friendships can be, and she worries this will happen again at her new school when people find out about her family history. This is all part of her struggle to figure out who she is. At first she tries to hide her class status from new people, but then she gradually learns to accept it.

    "Now, you have to choose between two roads." Thin-Face looked straight into my eyes. "You can break with your family and follow Chairman Mao, or you can follow your father and become an enemy of the people." (14.38)

    Sounds easy, right? Ji-li desperately wants to follow Mao, but that would make her a liar and a coward, and she just can't sleep at night being that kind of person. When she's asked to choose between her family and Mao, she knows it'll be a big decision, and it's one that will define who she is.

    "You've got some nerve for a little black bastard. How dare you plead for this damned revisionist book?" He held the book in front of Ji-yong's face and very slowly began tearing the cover off. (16.34)

    Ji-li's little brother argues with the Red Guard to be able to keep his book. It's not really about the book so much as it is about who he is. It gets him into trouble, but he can take it—he's not interested in giving up his book or being a pushover.

    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. (Ep.1)

    Clearly the Cultural Revolution greatly changed who Ji-li is. Now she appreciates freedom and doesn't take it for granted, plus she's also more discerning about what people tell her.

  • Truth

    I was happy because I was always loved and respected. I was proud because I was able to excel and always expected to succeed. I was trusting, too. (P.4)

    Ji-li isn't jaded because she's never really been lied to (that she knows of), so she readily accepts whatever people tell her because she automatically assumes it's the truth. This gets her into trouble when it comes to the four olds because she too easily buys everything the Red Guards preach.

    Until now I had never doubted that I could achieve anything I wanted. The future had been full of infinite possibilities. Now I was no longer sure that was still true. (1.79)

    Nothing makes sense to Ji-li after she has to ditch the Liberation dance troupe try-outs. She's devastated and worries that her whole future is down the toilet, plus she questions whether her family has been lying to her all these years. For the first time, she's not sure if she can trust them any more.

    How could they say these things? How could they say them? A relationship between Teacher Ke and me? It's all lies." My voice was hoarse. "It… it… it's so unfair. (3.53)

    Just because Ji-li wouldn't lie in a da-zi-bao doesn't mean other people won't. She's shocked when one is written about her and a teacher, not only because it's not true, but also because she expects people to tell the truth. Is that too much to ask? She hates that the Revolution brings out the liar in people.

    "This is the true family background," Dad said. "I am not a rightist, and anyone who says I am can go to my work unit and confirm it. As for your Grandpa, he was a businessman and a landlord." (4.37)

    As Ji-li's dad explains their family history to her, he emphasizes the fact that this is the truth. Um, okay. That's easy to say when you've been covering up the truth all these years. It's no wonder Ji-li isn't really sure what to believe—she wants to buy it, but at the same time she doesn't want to be gullible.

    The Red Guards at her school held struggle meetings to criticize her almost every day. During those struggle meetings they beat her and whipped her with their belts. (9.3)

    An Yi's mom (who was a model teacher) gets in big trouble with the government. People say horrible things about her, and while Ji-li knows this isn't the truth, she still feels conflicted. If people are lying about the teachers being bad, what else are they lying about? Ji-li isn't sure whom she can trust anymore.

    "Maybe it's really true." It seemed clear to me all of a sudden. "It's just because of fate that we're being hurt. It's just fate that made us be born into black families. And now the wheel of fate is turning. Maybe our families will be free of trouble soon." (9.28)

    Even the way Ji-li comes to this realization seems skeptical. She needs answers; she's sick and tired of trying to come up with an explanation for all the bad stuff that's happening in her life. As she clings to the idea of fate, she's not sure if it's just another lie or not.

    "So what if I never listened to foreign radio broadcasts? They'll stop beating me if I confess to it, won't they? 'Leniency to those who confess, and severity to those who resist.' Look at my face, Lao Jiang. I can't stand it anymore." (11.21)

    Uncle Fan considers just making up some stuff that he did wrong. Even though Ji-li's dad dismisses the idea, Uncle Fan is definitely serious, which shows just how bad things have gotten: He's actually considering fessing up to stuff he didn't do so the pressure is off.

    What a terrible man, I thought, worse than a traitor. At least a traitor betrays people by telling the truth. Uncle Zhu tried to save himself by telling lies. (13.3).

    Uncle Zhu is bad news in Ji-li's book. He lied. Notice how she calls him much worse than a traitor because he didn't tell the truth? This shows how valuable the truth has become to Ji-li, especially during the Cultural Revolution. There's so much change happening around her and she clings to the notion of truth.

    "I am sure you can remember something if you think about it," Thin-Face said. "A man like him could not hide his true beliefs from a child as smart as you. He must have made comments critical of Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution. (14.36)

    Ji-li is asked to lie about her dad. It doesn't matter whether she saw him do something bad or not—so long as she testifies that she saw something, it'll be good enough. It seems this sort of thing is happening often since no one is shocked or outraged by it. Well, no one except Ji-li, that is. She still yearns for the truth, even when no one else around her seems to care about it.

    In 1980 my father was finally cleared. Not only was the charge that he was an "escaped landlord" dropped, but an old decision made during the Antirightist Movement was reversed as well. Only then did I learn the whole story. (E.10)

    When the truth about her dad finally comes out, Ji-li is relieved. She also seems resigned to the fact that the truth doesn't matter all that much—even though her dad did nothing wrong, he was still sent to prison. It makes her question the value of truth.