Study Guide

Red Scarf Girl

Red Scarf Girl Summary

Ji-li is just like any other teenage girl. She goes to school, gets annoyed at her siblings, and dreams of becoming an actress one day, just like her mom. The only difference between her and you? She's growing up in China in 1966 (okay, your mom probably isn't an actress, too). This doesn't impact her life all that much until she's chosen to audition for the super-competitive Liberation Army dance troupe. She's always wanted to be a performer, and she rushes home to tell her parents—but they aren't thrilled (to say the least). Her dad explains that she won't pass the background check, so she better drop it.

Huh? Ji-li thought she had the perfect family life. She tells her teacher the news the next day, but she remains confused by the whole thing. Ji-li can't spend too much time worrying, though, because the Cultural Revolution is at hand. Chairman Mao tells everyone to get rid of the "four olds," a.k.a. old customs, ideas, culture, and habits. Sounds easy enough, right?

Not so fast. All of her classmates write mean notes (da-zi-bao) about their teachers; people shut down Ji-li's favorite bookshop; everyone has to get rid of their old school stuff. Suddenly things are way different in Ji-li's life. When word gets out that her grandpa was a landlord, everyone shuns her family—it's a big no-no to be related to someone who was rich, even if he is long dead. People come to search Ji-li's home and take a bunch of her family's stuff away to teach them a lesson. Her dad is arrested and put in jail for no reason.

Ji-li tries to support Mao and the new beliefs, despite the trouble it's caused her family. When she's asked to make a presentation about Mao at a big exhibition, she's thrilled—at least she's still good at school stuff. She gets everything ready for the big day, and she nails it at the rehearsal. Afterward, though, government officials ask her to testify against her dad. For what? They don't really care, as long as she does it.

Even though Ji-li believes in the revolution, she can't lie about her dad. It just isn't right. When she refuses to testify, they drop her from the exhibition, and before long, she's sent to the fields to work long days picking wheat. It's back-breaking work, and she even faints from the heat.

When Ji-li gets to go back home, she finds out that her mom has written a letter to the government, complaining. Ji-li knows this isn't good news. Red Guards come to the door, find the letter, and slap her grandma around a bit. She now has to sweep the streets as punishment, and more of their stuff is taken. Ji-li is so depressed, but she knows she has to keep her head up for her family; without each other, they have nothing.

In the epilogue, Ji-li tells us that things were bad for a while. It's thirty years later at this point, though, and her family is finally happy; they live in America now. Her dad got released from prison, but not for a while, and nothing can bring those years back. She tells us that she wrote the book to explain what it was like for her family during the Cultural Revolution. She also wants to bridge the gap between China and the U.S.

  • Chapter 1

    The Liberation Army Dancer

    • Ji-li is in music class when she's summoned to the principal's office. That's every kid's worst nightmare.
    • It's not what you think, though: There's a People's Liberation Army officer there who asks her to show off her bends. Um, okay.
    • Ji-li is a little confused. Why would the Liberation Army care about how well she does her martial arts?
    • Still, she struts her stuff and nails it.
    • Later that day, the principal calls her out of class again. Uh-oh…
    • This time, Principal Long announces that Ji-li and three other students have been chosen to audition for the Liberation Army's dance class. Boom.
    • Ji-li is thrilled—she's always wanted to be a performer, just like her mom. She must have passed the test.
    • Rushing home, Ji-li can barely contain herself. She can't wait to spill the beans to her family about this big honor.
    • When she gets there, though, her dad doesn't think it's such a good idea.
    • Her mom explains that the dance troupe is super-competitive. They make Dance Moms look like a spa day.
    • That's not why Ji-li's dad isn't stoked, though. Sure, the dance troupe is bloodthirsty, but Ji-li's dad is more worried about what the Liberation Army will find out about the family if she joins.
    • See, before people can call themselves part of the renowned dance troupe, they have to go through a background check. We're talking black-ops, James Bond level of rigorous check.
    • Ji-li's dad knows their family won't pass that level of scrutiny, and he'd rather not have their dirty laundry aired in public.
    • Wait, what? Ji-li is shocked. She always thought she had a perfect life; she never knew her family had skeletons in the closet.
    • Even more frustrating, her dad won't fill her in on the deets, instead busting out the age-old parent line "you're too young to understand." Ugh.
    • Bummed out, Ji-li sulks a little in her room. She tells us a little bit about her family.
    • Her dad is an actor who mainly plays the villain in children's theater but is always loving and kind at home. Even though her mom doesn't work anymore, she was an amazing performer, too.
    • Then there's her grandma. She helped start Xin Er Primary School (where Ji-li now goes) back in the day when it was a lot tougher for women to have careers in China. (Remember, the book takes place in 1966, so this is way back in the day.)
    • Ji-li also has two younger siblings: Ji-yong (who is 11) and Ji-yun (who is 10). Everyone lives together, along with the housekeeper, Song Po-po.
    • Sometimes her dad's buddies come over for a salon. Ji-li's not exactly sure what that is, but they all have interesting stories and are nice to her.
    • The next day at school, Ji-li delivers the bad news that she won't be auditioning for the troupe.
    • She's too chicken to tell anyone, though, so she hands Principal Long a note from her dad and runs away.
    • Later, her bestie, An Yi says Ji-li's acting like a different person now; she's all quiet and hiding in the shadows instead of talking to anyone.
    • Ji-li tells us that's because she doesn't want people to question her about the troupe. She's not sure what she would say.
    • Even though her other classmates don't make it past the audition, Ji-li is still really bummed out. It's not just about the troupe, though—she doesn't know what her future will be like in general now. It's as though everything's different than she planned.
  • Chapter 2

    Destroy the Four Olds!

    • It's Saturday, and for Ji-li that means heading to the bookstore to read books. Her faves? Fairy tales.
    • While Ji-li's there with her brother and sister, An Yi comes in and tells them to come to Great Prosperity Market—people are rallying to destroy the four olds.
    • What are the four olds, you ask? Old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits.
    • Ji-li and her siblings drop their books and rush off. When they get to Great Prosperity Market, they help trash a sign written in big gold letters. Let's face it: It's totally fun.
    • But more than that, Ji-li has a good time knowing she is finally part of the revolution. She grew up on stories about her parents helping out with the revolution, and she wants to be a part of it, too.
    • That's why she wears a red scarf all the time. It's a symbol of the blood of revolutionary martyrs, a.k.a. a sign of pride.
    • When Ji-li gets home, she tells her family about what they did that day.
    • She expects them to be proud of her and want to join in, but instead Grandma points out how expensive that sign must have been. Plus, the storeowners waited for the right date (one that was lucky) so their business was boom. It's too bad the sign was ruined.
    • Huh? Ji-li is really confused. At school, she's been hearing about how stuff like believing a certain date is auspicious is part of the "four olds." Why would her grandma care about something they are trying to get rid of?
    • The next day, Ji-li notices some high-school students have taken it upon themselves to become the fashion police.
    • Except they don't care about the latest fall trends—they are after people whose clothing represents the four olds.
    • During class, Ji-li rushes to An Yi's defense when someone mocks her for calling an umbrella a yang-san, which is clearly something only a person who cared about the four olds would do.
    • This starts a big argument, complete with hair pulling and name calling. It's clear that there's a lot of debate as to what exactly fits into the four olds and what doesn't.
    • Du Hai points out that Ji-li's family has a housekeeper, which isn't part of the new ideas for China. Ji-li figures she should tell her mom about this before it causes any problems.
  • Chapter 3

    Writing Da-zi-bao

    • It turns out that one of the ways you can get rid of the four olds is to criticize your teachers.
    • Don't like an assignment you're given in class? Just say that teacher is picking on you and expecting respect like in the olden days.
    • Pretty quickly, students are writing nasty notes about teachers all over school. They call them da-zi-bao, but it's essentially just the burn book from Mean Girls.
    • Thing is, Ji-li and An Yi can't think of anything to write. They don't know any crimes their teachers have committed.
    • At the same time, they're worried what will happen if they don't write a da-zi-boa—people won't think they are revolutionaries.
    • Du Hai makes fun of Ji-li for not having anything to say.
    • Ji-li thinks through each of her teacher's carefully and eventually she decides to copy a story she saw in the newspaper. She doesn't think any of her teachers are against Mao.
    • A couple days later, the students head to people's houses to taunt them with a da-zi-bao. On the list? Ji-li's Aunt Xi-wen.
    • Ji-li doesn't want to go, but she knows she'll be accused of favoritism if she doesn't, so she heads off to her aunt's house and keeps her head down.
    • Everyone mocks Aunt Xi-wen outside her door. Why? She wears make-up and thinks she's better than everyone else. Um, okay.
    • Things get worse a couple days later when someone writes a da-zi-bao about Ji-li. In it, she's accused of being too friendly with a male teacher—it must be the reason she gets straight A's all the time. Wink, wink.
    • Ji-li knows it's not true—she gets good grades because she works her butt off—but that doesn't make it sting any less.
    • An Yi tries to comfort Ji-li, but it doesn't do much good. People have been writing mean stuff about her mom in da-zi-boas, but none of it's true. She's a schoolteacher and just wants to help kids learn.
    • Ji-li is really confused. Why would people be against for her the sake of the revolution? She's a revolutionary. It doesn't make sense.
  • Chapter 4

    The Red Successors

    • Over the next couple days, Ji-li stays home from school.
    • At first, it's because of the mean da-zi-bao, but then she comes down with a fever.
    • Luckily, An Yi comes by with news that not many people saw the da-zi-bao. There are so many posted at school now that you can't even read the ones underneath. Phew.
    • When Ji-li finally returns to school, there is a thunderstorm, and the students are sent home early.
    • By the time they come back the next day, all of the da-zi-boas have been removed. In their place? A big poster of Mao and the Cultural Revolution.
    • Teacher Gu announces in class that students have been chosen to be Red Successors. Basically, these are students who will help out the Red Guards to make sure the revolution is underway on campus.
    • Ji-li is chosen. Yippee.
    • Before she can party, one of her classmates asks each of the candidates to declare their class status. This is a big deal in a revolution that is trying to make everyone the same.
    • At first, Ji-li doesn't really know what to say. When she tells everyone her dad is an actor, Du Hai interrupts her and reports that her grandpa was a landlord.
    • Oh, snap. That's no good for her because everyone thinks landlords are bad news. And then someone proclaims that her dad is a Rightist.
    • Ji-li is down in the dumps again. She wanted to be a Red Successor but now she can't because of some silly old class status.
    • When she gets home, she asks her grandma whether her grandpa was a landlord or not. Her grandma gets annoyed at the question. What does it even matter? He died over thirty years ago, plus Ji-li never even met the guy.
    • The next morning, Ji-li's dad wakes her up. He takes her for a walk and explains a few things to her.
    • Basically, her grandpa was a landlord, but she shouldn't worry about it—just because he exploited people, doesn't mean she's a rotten apple. Besides, their family has done nothing wrong.
    • Ji-li feels a little better, but she also realizes that won't stop people from saying mean things about them.
    • At school, things are getting worse. People keep telling her she needs to remold herself because of her grandpa.
    • Ji-li believes in the revolution but she doesn't understand this beef. She never met her grandpa, so why is it her fault that he was a landlord?
    • She gets called out by the Red Successors. They know her family takes a cab sometimes and has a housekeeper, both big no-nos in a communist society.
    • Fighting back tears, Ji-li heads home, distraught. She wants to be strong, but she doesn't think it's fair to attack her for her family's problems.
  • Chapter 5

    Graduation

    • The next day in class, Teacher Gu announces that there is no more entrance exam for junior high. Huh?
    • Pass around the cake because it's time to party. Everyone is super excited that they don't have to spend all summer studying for this big text.
    • Wait a minute… Ji-li realizes that this means anyone can go to any school. It used to be that the entrance exam determined which school you'd get into, and some were better than others.
    • Since she was little, Ji-li has dreamed of going to Shi-yi, the best school around.
    • Suddenly, Ji-li is bummed again.
    • Teacher Gu notices and fills her in on a secret after class: Ji-li is going to Shi-yi. Hooray.
    • With no entrance exam, the teachers get to choose who goes where, and everyone agrees that Ji-li is at the top of her class. Phew.
    • It's graduation time, but no one is allowed to have a party or celebrate—they wouldn't want to be accused of trying to be better than someone else.
    • One day, Ji-li hears some other students gossiping about junior high placements, so she asks Teacher Gu about it.
    • It turns out the teachers' choices have changed; now people are just randomly assigned. Ji-li got… Xin-zha Junior High. Darn.
    • Ji-li finds herself wondering what she's been working hard for all these years. She studied in the library and put so much effort into her classes. And for what? It doesn't matter in the long run.
    • She and An Yi leave their school feeling bummed out about what's next.
  • Chapter 6

    The Sound of Drums and Gongs

    • It's summertime, but Ji-li isn't enjoying it very much.
    • For one thing, there are posters everywhere to destroy your four olds; Red Guards are at the ready to search your house for these relics of a different era, too.
    • One store gets a da-zi-bao on the front, and the next thing everyone knows, it's shut down because the owners had four olds there.
    • There are a few searches on Ji-li's street. They find jewelry at their neighbor's house.
    • Ji-li's parents let Song Po-po go. She likes working as a housekeeper, but times are too tough to keep her. People are jumping down their throats for keeping a housekeeper when it's supposed to be a class-less society.
    • Even though she doesn't work for them anymore, Song Po-po still lives downstairs and wants to stay in touch with the family.
    • With Song Po-po gone, Ji-li has a lot more to do. She's in charge of going to the market and getting the food for their meals.
    • At first she doesn't know what to get, and when she tries cooking, Ji-li messes up.
    • She figures she'll get better with more practice.
    • One day, Ji-li's grandma needs to go to the acupuncturist for her arthritis. Before they would have called a cab, but now that's not allowed.
    • Ji-yong says they can borrow a pedicab (translation: bike with a chariot) if your family is sick, so he runs around the corner and fetches one.
    • Before they know it, all three kids are helping take their grandma to the doc. It's hard work, but they manage to get her there and home without getting in an accident (barely).
    • Since four olds aren't allowed anymore, Ji-li's family burns or paints over all of theirs. Her grandma's old leather trunks with brass locks? Painted black. The old expensive clothes? Burned.
    • Ji-li starts to worry: If they have to burn all this stuff, what would the Red Guards do if they searched the place?
  • Chapter 7

    The Propaganda Wall

    • At the end of the alley, Ji-li notices a propaganda wall.
    • It's the place to hang your latest da-zi-bao or poster of Mao.
    • One night, a counterrevolutionary is caught trying to scrape a da-zi-bao off the propaganda wall.
    • Six-Fingers (the Red Guard in charge) and his buddies get more meticulous after that. They don't let anyone off the hook—even for the smallest so-called offense.
    • The latest on the propaganda wall? A poster announcing that Jia Hong-yu is coming to town. She's a famous Red Guard leader who will give them all a big report.
    • At the meeting, Jia Hong-yu tells a story about meeting Chairman Mao: Everybody lined up for hours just to catch a glimpse of the guy, but it was worth it. Legend has it that seeing Mao makes you happy.
    • When she's done with the story, there's not a dry eye in the house, and everyone chants, "Long live Chairman Mao!"
    • Later, Ji-li watches from her window as Old Qian is forced to kneel on a sharp washboard for hours while the Red Guards empty out his house.
    • Sure, Old Qian is an old grump, but he didn't do anything wrong—his biggest crime was not lending a Red Guard his bike.
    • Ji-li feels really conflicted about Old Qian. On the one hand, he's a counterrevolutionary who deserves what's coming to him; on the other hand, though, he's just an old guy with a bike.
    • Eventually, Old Qian faints from heatstroke and has to be carried back into the house.
    • The next day, they find out An Yi's grandma jumped out the window and killed herself.
    • Ji-li remembers her being a really nice old lady, but she was being harassed about her class status.
    • To make matters worse, suicide is a crime in revolutionary China, so An Yi's family isn't even allowed to have a proper funeral to say goodbye.
  • Chapter 8

    A Search in Passing

    • One night, Ji-li's dad's friends Uncle Tian and Aunt Wu stop by. The kids are never allowed to stick around to listen to the grown-ups, but Ji-li knows something is wrong.
    • After the guests leave, her dad tells her that she'll go to the park tomorrow with her grandma for a picnic, where she'll have fun. Um, okay… Demanding she enjoy herself kind of takes some of the fun away.
    • At the park, Ji-li's younger siblings run around chasing each other while she talks to her grandma.
    • She confides in her grandma that she's scared. She doesn't want the Red Guards to search their house. What if they are searching when they get home?
    • Ji-li's grandma tells her not to worry. Her dad has come up with a signal. A mop outside on the balcony will mean not to come back.
    • A couple days later, Ji-li is told to go play outside while her parents burn pictures.
    • Simply having photos of four olds can get you in trouble now, so her parents are burning anything that might be incriminating. A picture of her dad as a kid on a camel and her grandma wearing a fur coat has to go. The kids don't see why.
    • A week later, Ji-yong comes home with his clothes ripped and dirty.
    • He threw a couple punches at a guy who made fun of his class status and stole his army cap. Ouch.
    • The next day, he doesn't make it to dinner. Understandably, everyone starts getting worried.
    • Eventually, he comes home with his cap… and a black eye to boot.
    • Ji-li is annoyed at her brother for being so immature. People are getting hurt and he's worried about some stupid cap? Ugh.
    • The next day, someone finds a knife in the trash. No, not that kind of knife. Just your regular dinner knife.
    • Since they aren't allowed in Mao China, it's a big deal, and the Red Guards decide to comb through the rest of the dumpster.
    • In it, they find an old burned photo and decide to toss Ji-li's place for good measure.
    • The Guards search high and low, messing everything up along the way.
    • They take Ji-li's stamp collection, half her clothes, and a bunch of other stuff from the house, whether it's a four old or not.
    • Ji-li fights back tears. It's not right for people to trash their house when they haven't done anything wrong.
    • Besides, someone went through her sanitary belt (read: tampon drawer), which embarrasses her. That's private.
    • An Yi helps her clean up her stuff, but Ji-li's too embarrassed to look her friend in the eye.
  • Chapter 9

    Fate

    • Since junior high teachers are off helping out with the revolution, classes are cancelled.
    • Most students would celebrate, but Ji-li isn't interested; she wants to be in school and learn.
    • Besides, it's boring not going to school. There's nothing to do.
    • One day, she sees Aunt Xi-wen trip and fall. In the scuffle, Ji-li's cousin Shan-shan (a.k.a. Aunt Xi-wen's son) just passes by his mom without helping her.
    • Ji-li is shocked. That's no way to treat your mom. That's when Ji-li remembers that Shan-shan wrote a da-zi-bao against his mom. Ouch.
    • Before she can react, she wonders whether she should help her aunt—she doesn't want to be labeled a counterrevolutionary.
    • Luckily, Old Mrs. Wang gets to her aunt first and helps her up.
    • Later, An Yi and Ji-li see people chanting in the street. They are standing up to Du Hai's mom and calling her out for some bad stuff she did.
    • We don't get all the details, but An Yi breathes a huge sigh of relief; she thought it might be people against her mom (since she's a schoolteacher). Phew.
    • A couple days later, Ji-yun cries about some kids stealing her backpack at school. They called her a bad name because of her family history.
    • Ji-li feels bad for her little sister and doesn't think this treatment is fair. Hopefully their fate changes soon.
    • It's Chinese New Year, but no one celebrates. It's also Ji-li's thirteenth birthday, but that doesn't mean much anymore.
    • A few days later, one of their friend's dad's is arrested and taken away. Ji-li worries for her own family.
    • When Ji-li gets home, she finds An Yi there, crying over her mom. At the factory, all the teachers were forced to climb the chimney.
    • The girls cling together, neither really knowing what to say.
    • Suddenly Ji-li announces that she hates her grandpa. If he hadn't been a landlord, none of this wouldn't have happened. She's not even sure she believes that anymore, though.
  • Chapter 10

    Junior High School at Last

    • Ji-li has been waiting for more than a year, but she finally gets to go to junior high. Yippee.
    • She and An Yi walk to school together, promising to meet up after class.
    • When Ji-li sees her class for the first time, she breathes a huge sigh of relief. No one from her old school is in her class. Phew.
    • Translation? No one knows about her class status.
    • Teacher Zhang explains to them that they will learn about Chairman Mao's politics in their classes now.
    • Ji-li can tell that the lessons are a little last-minute. Pamphlets have been printed out for the teachers on the new curriculum, but none of them include stuff they actually need to learn (grammar, history, math, that sort of stuff)—it's all about Mao.
    • They don't even have textbooks.
    • Half the time, the class isn't even paying attention, but since the teachers can't seem better than anyone else and will get in trouble if they demand respect, they let it slide.
    • Ji-li is conflicted: She wants to help with the revolution, but she also wants to learn.
    • At home, things are getting tenser. Her dad gets home late every night from a political study class he's forced to take.
    • It's similar to Ji-li's class, except it's designed to get people to confess stuff. The people who are forced to take it are already suspected of being guilty of crimes against Mao.
    • One day at school, everyone is chanting about how great Mao is when Chairman Jin shows up.
    • Ji-li forgot her book and gets scared she'll be embarrassed in front of the whole school.
    • Luckily, a girl in her class, Lin-lin saves the day by letting Ji-li look on with her. What a lifesaver.
    • Right away, Ji-li thanks her new friend.
    • In math class, Teacher Li tells everyone the latest test results. Naturally, Ji-li got a perfect score… again.
    • Chang Hong tells Ji-li good job, and for the first time in a while, Ji-li knows it's sincere. Her new classmates are awesome—they don't make fun of her for doing well or write nasty da-zi-baos about her.
    • After class, Ji-li is asked to stay behind and talk about writing for the propaganda group.
    • At first, she's thrilled. This quickly turns sour when she thinks back to how things were before. She got good grades, was picked for committees or special groups—and it ended up giving her classmates material to use against her later on.
    • When everyone found out her class status, Ji-li was ridiculed for doing well. Everyone assumed it was because she was rich.
    • Ji-li decides to turn down the propaganda offer and head home before she can get hurt again.
  • Chapter 11

    Locked Up

    • Knock, knock. There's someone at the door late at night, which makes everybody tense.
    • It's Uncle Fan, and his face is all beat up. Uh-oh… Ji-li knows this isn't good news.
    • Her parents usher Uncle Fan into the bathroom to help the guy out. Meanwhile, her grandma tells them that they saw nothing. Got it?
    • Everyone agrees not to say anything, but Ji-li feels sad nonetheless. Why is this happening?
    • A couple days later, they hear that Uncle Fan has been arrested. He's accused of—get this—listening to a radio. Dun dun dun…
    • Ji-li's parents know the Red Guards will be coming for her dad next, and there's some discussion about what to do. He could confess to something—anything to get the Red Guards off his back; he could carry on with normal life since he's done nothing wrong; or he could report that Uncle Fan was here the other night. That last options would be turning on a friend, though, which is no good. They decide he'll just keep on keeping on instead.
    • A couple days later, Grandma tells Ji-li that her dad has been arrested. What for?
    • No one knows at this point, though everyone agrees he hasn't done anything wrong.
    • Ji-li thinks it would be a good idea to call Uncle Tian and see if he knows anything. He doesn't. Besides, he wouldn't tell her over the phone anyway.
    • Since her dad's arrest, her mom has been really frail and even fainted a couple times. (Ji-li mentions that her mom has a disease called Meniere's syndrome that makes her have vertigo a lot.)
    • Plus, the government has taken away their wages until they confess. Confess to what? Ji-li wonders how this is fair.
    • A week goes by without news about her dad. Ji-li decides to take some clothes over to where they are holding him. Her mom wants to go, but they won't let her in.
    • When Ji-li gets there, the guard snaps at her, but another guard lets her in. She only gets to see her dad for a second, but at least he's alive.
    • The guard explains to her that she's part of the New China and will have to let go of her family if she's to fulfill her destiny in Mao's China.
    • Ji-li doesn't really know what to say to that, and luckily, the guy doesn't require an answer. Phew. We're betting we'll see him again, though.
  • Chapter 12

    An Educable Child

    • After the news of Ji-li's dad's imprisonment, her grandma gets worse. She's weaker and Ji-li starts to worry about her.
    • Instead of going to school, Ji-li stays at home to do more chores. She cooks, cleans, sews, and worries. Then she repeats the cycle once more.
    • One day Lin-lin shows up from school. Ji-li has been missing a lot lately, and her friend wanted to check in on her.
    • She also has a message from Teacher Zhang: There's a big meeting tomorrow at 4:00PM in the auditorium—be there, or be square.
    • Ji-li thanks her for coming by. At first it's awkward having her friend see her sewing and doing chores, but then they share a smile over it.
    • It turns out Lin-lin's house was searched, too.
    • The next day at the meeting, Ji-li is surprised to learn that she's been selected by her teacher to represent her class at a big exhibition.
    • Ji-li knows there must be some big mistake. What about her class background?
    • She corners Teacher Zhang about it afterward, and there's been no mistake at all.
    • He explains that he thinks Ji-li would make a great representative at the exhibition. He tells her that people can't choose their families but they can choose who they become.
    • That settles it: Ji-li agrees to participate. After a speech like that, who wouldn't?
    • Her dad is still in prison; he won't confess to anything because hasn't done anything wrong.
    • One day after class, Ji-li and Chang Hong paint posters of Mao.
    • Chang Hong blurts out that she's green with envy at Ji-li's whip-smart brain and school skills.
    • Ji-li never thought about it like that. She's been jealous this whole time of Chang Hong and her good family background.
    • Chang Hong tells Ji-li a secret: Her brother has epilepsy and won't live to be an adult. Sometimes she wants to stay at home with him, but she knows she should work for the revolution, too. She can't be selfish.
  • Chapter 13

    Half-City Jiangs

    • By the time they get news of Ji-li's dad, it's already May. He's cleared of the trumped-up charge of listening to foreign radio.
    • It turns out Uncle Zhu made up the story about listening to radio when he was detained, so they held Ji-li's dad.
    • Ji-li is angry with Uncle Zhu. That guy is bad news.
    • Unfortunately, none of this means that Ji-li's dad gets to come home. The Guards let him go home to grab some extra clothes, but then he has to go right back.
    • Ji-li doesn't get it. The guy didn't do anything wrong, so why is he still locked up?
    • A week later, everyone is buzzing about a big story in the local newspaper.
    • It's about Ji-li's family history. The Jiangs were so rich, that people called them half-city Jiangs since they owned half the city.
    • Reading the story makes Ji-li angry at her parents. Her grandpa was a landlord, and a super-rich one at that.
    • She blurts out that she hates her family and storms off to her room.
    • Cue the dramatic silence as Ji-li doesn't talk to her mom for two whole days. She can't even stand to look at her mother since she feels betrayed by her family.
    • Ji-li figures things would be better if she changed her name, so she heads down to the city office and asks for the paperwork to start the process.
    • The guard tells her that they fully support her decision to ditch her loser family. In fact, they can arrange some arrests and stern lectures for her parents if they give her any trouble.
    • When the guy goes into the next room to get the forms, Ji-li makes a beeline for the door.
    • Ji-li gets home to see her grandma arguing with Song Po-po. She wants to do chores, but Grandma doesn't want it to cause any trouble. Song Po-po just wants to help.
    • Ji-li suddenly feels bad for being a brat to her mom, so she takes her a bowl of soup in her room.
  • Chapter 14

    The Class Education Exhibition

    • It's time for the exhibition at school, and Ji-li is excited.
    • There's a big rehearsal, and Ji-li gives her presentation. She nails it. Everyone loves it.
    • Afterwards, Chairman Jin calls Ji-li to a serious meeting.
    • There, he explains that it would be great (hint, hint) if she could testify against her dad.
    • Surely she remembers him doing or saying something against Chairman Mao. Or even just any four olds that he keeps around, perhaps?
    • It would go a long way with the revolution if she testified. Is she in?
    • Ji-li honestly can't think of anything she would testify about. She explains this, but it doesn't seem to matter much; they still want her to take the stand.
    • That night, she doesn't sleep much. How could she tell lies about her dad?
    • The next day, when she gets to school, Ji-li is told that she's off the exhibition committee now. Since everyone loved her presentation during the rehearsal yesterday, though, it's clear that Ji-li is pulled because she won't testify against her father.
    • Ji-li runs away crying.
    • One of her classmates, Bai Shan, follows her outside with one of her books, but she's not interested. Ji-li keeps on running.
  • Chapter 15

    The Rice Harvest

    • Three days after Ji-li was forced to drop out of the exhibition, she gets a note from Chang Hong saying they need to talk as soon as possible.
    • They meet in the Red Guard Committee office alone.
    • There, Chang explains that they want Ji-li to head to the summer fields for labor instead of the factory.
    • Ji-li's disappointed to hear this because her mom is getting sicker. She wants to stay closer to home and work in the factory instead so she can help out at home.
    • Chang tells her that her family's class isn't her fault, but she can remold herself by heading to the fields and working hard.
    • Ji-li doesn't want to disappoint Chang, so she agrees to go.
    • When she gets there, Ji-li is overwhelmed with work.
    • They have to cut rows of leaves down to harvest rice, and they can't leave until it's done. Ji-li is slower than some of the other workers, but she doesn't give up, working late into the night even though she's up before dawn.
    • One night Bai Shan offers to help her, but Ji-li refuses. She doesn't want to seem weak.
    • Ji-li works so hard she forgets to take care of herself. She gets a bad cut and keeps working, despite the pain.
    • And then Ji-li faints. When she comes to, J-li wakes sees Chang.
    • She's come in from the city to work out in the fields—oh, and she has a message for Ji-li.
    • Her dad's theater company wants her to work for the Revolutionary Committee, so Ji-li will be heading back there tonight.
    • This isn't the best news to Ji-li, but what choice does she have?

  • Chapter 16

    The Incriminating Letter

    • Back at home, Ji-li breathes a sigh of relief; she's glad to be back and help her mom and grandma out.
    • Uncle Tian rushes inside the house one night with an incriminating letter.
    • It asks the Central Committee to investigate the people in power in their neck of woods.
    • People have been beaten to death, and others (like Aunt Wu) have had their heads shaved. It's not right.
    • Ji-li knows this letter is a big deal, but she also realizes that it needs to be written because of all the bad stuff going down around them.
    • Suddenly, Grandma tells everyone to scram and to hide the letter—stat.
    • Ji-li's mom tells her to hide the letter somewhere the guards won't find it, so she rushes up to the roof and puts it in the cat's litter box.
    • As soon as she makes it back downstairs, the guards are there.
    • They've heard there's a letter in the house and they need it—now.
    • The guards turn the place upside-down and go through everything.
    • When they don't find the letter, they slap Grandma and force her to kneel on the ground. She has to stay there until they get the letter.
    • Ji-li can tell that her grandma is old and frail; she won't last long kneeling like that on the ground.
    • She considers blurting out where the letter is to help her grandma.
    • Just then, a guard comes in with it. Ta-da.
    • They announce that everyone has to register as being landlord's wives (a big no-no) or enemies now. Even Ji-li's school will be informed.
    • Ji-li's mom says they have to warn Uncle Tian about the guards. They know about the letter now, so they'll probably toss his place next.
    • Song Po-po tries to go to Uncle Tian's, but guards are standing firm at the end of the alley, not allowing anyone to leave.
    • Ji-yong climbs the fence and rushes off to tell him, but when he gets there, Uncle Tian isn't home.
    • Ji-li doesn't know if she even wants to keep on living, life has gotten so bad.
  • Chapter 17

    Sweeping

    • A couple weeks later, Ji-li watches her grandma sweep the alley. It's her punishment for being a landlord's wife, and Ji-li worries she'll fall or hurt herself someday doing it.
    • Ji-li's mom faints a lot now, which is just another thing on Ji-li's long list of worries.
    • She constantly worries about what's happening to her dad or if they guards will come back and take more stuff or hurt her family.
    • One day, her mom makes her promise that Ji-li will take care of her siblings if anything happens to her.
    • At first Ji-li doesn't even want to talk about it, but her mom insists. Who knows what will happen? Things have gotten crazy up in here.
    • Ji-li promises—and she means it.
    • She realizes that she's been taking care of her family for a long time. That's why she didn't testify against her dad or fess up where the letter was. She could never hurt her family.
    • It occurs to her how much her life has changed.
    • She used to have nice stuff and dream about being a Red Guard, but now they sleep on straw mats since all their furniture was confiscated. She doesn't have any life goals anymore—she just wants her family to be safe.
  • Epilogue

    • The epilogue takes place many years later, when Ji-li lives in America and can tell us where everybody ended up.
    • Her family kept on working. Her grandma swept the alley twice a day, while her dad remained in prison for a while longer. His name wasn't cleared until 1980, fourteen years after this whole debacle started.
    • Ji-yong lives in Seattle and works for a tourism company.
    • Ji-li's parents live with Ji-yun and her family nearby, where Ji-yun teaches at a community college.
    • Their grandma died at the ripe old age of ninety-eight; Song Po-po died of a stroke.
    • Chang Hong and An Yi work in factories in China.
    • As for Ji-li, she got a university degree in Hawaii and teaches now. When people ask her why she didn't hate Mao, she knows it's because she was brainwashed.
    • The Communist Party told them what to wear, read, think, and how to act. It's no wonder everyone fell in line.
    • It wasn't until Mao's death that Ji-li began questioning what they were told.
    • Now, Ji-li tries to bridge the gap between China and America. She loves the freedom she enjoys in America, especially that she doesn't have to worry about what she says or thinks—but she doesn't hate China. It will always be a part of her, no matter where she goes.