The Most Frightening Lesson: A Review of ‘Red Scarf Girl’

“Our leader had taken advantage of our trust and loyalty to manipulate the whole country. This is the most frightening lesson of the Cultural Revolution: Without a sound legal system, a small group or even a single person can take control of an entire country.”—Ji Li Jiang

Suggested Grade Levels:

Grades 6-8

Review and Thoughts

Ji-Li Jiang is a young girl growing up in China when the Cultural Revolution began.  She is a star pupil, popular and a dutiful daughter.  She is impressed and excited by the new leadership of Chairman Mao.  She worships him as so many others do.  This is what begins her struggle.  She feels so strongly that Chairman Mao is the leader that China has been waiting for, but then she sees the tragedy that happens to her family.

At first Ji-Li’s school life is damaged.  Because her grandfather was a landowner, her family is marked as a black family and must make reparation for their history.  Once the top of her class, she is unable to go to the school she wants and actually has to sit out of school for a year while teachers are re-taught what they are allowed to teach according to Chairman Mao.  When she returns to school she is upset to find that there are no more classical readings and no more learning of political history.  They must learn English phrases like, “Communism forever!” and “Long live Chairman Mao!” and “Drop your weapons and we won’t hurt you.”  She is only allowed to read Mao’s writing and Mao’s history.  She feels stunted in her education and is deeply troubled.

The revolution ruins the lives of her family and friends most overwhelmingly.  Her family must hide their family heirlooms since they are no longer allowed by Chairman Mao.  Her father is put in a labor camp until he confesses to crimes he never committed.  Her grandmother is forced to work outside because her husband once owned land.  Her mother becomes ill because of what has happened to her husband and is also threatened with a labor camp.  It becomes too much for Ji-Li and she begins to despise her family.  She wishes she had been born into a more fortunate family and curses her grandfather for being a selfish landowner and putting them in this situation.

Possibly one of the most difficult choices for Ji-Li is when the Revolutionary officers try several times to convince her to renounce her family.  This will, in turn, allow her to have a better class status and more privileges.  Ji-Li is almost convinced to do it, but then thinks of her father, mother, and grandmother and decides she can’t.  This solidifies her as a “black” family member and she remains at a lower status.

Ji-Li is eventually able to leave China and come to America.  She is amazed by the freedoms we have and the lack of fear in our country.  She and her family are able to make their own way in America and get jobs.  They become successful.

Ji-Li’s story is one that should serve as a reminder of what Communism can do.  History can always repeat itself, and we need reminders like this in our lives.

Possible Issues

  • Ann Yi’s grandmother jumps out a window to commit suicide. Someone asks if the “white stuff” is her brain that has splattered on the ground.
  • Ji Li’s apartment is searched and she finds her sanitary belt thrown on the floor after they leave. She feels very violated by those who have searched her home.

Further Discussion

  • In our current state of affairs, the topic of socialism comes up quite frequently. What is the difference between socialism and communism?  Use this as a reference.
  • Ji-Li is encouraged to denounce her family and start a new life of her own with a higher status.  Why was this so hard for her?  Why do you think the revolutionaries encouraged her to do so?  What do you think could’ve happened to her if she had done it?
  • The students are forced to do morning benediction for Chairman Mao.  How is this practice familiar to prayer?  Why is it more fearful?

Catholic Resources




  •  Listen to the homily below which discusses the underground church in China.


General Teaching Resources





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