Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution

by Jiang Ji-Li

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Why did Jiang wear the red scarf?

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For Jiang, wearing the red scarf embodied the social and political representations that she coveted.  As a child who knew nothing other than the precepts of revolution that Mao Ze- Dong had preached, the red scarf was a way to move closer to the ideal that Mao had occupied.  Jiang makes clear that her schooling revolved around a worship of Chairman Mao and what he advocated. The "red scarf, emblem of the Young Pioneers," reflected an ideal that Jiang could achieve. In wearing the red scarf, Jiang moved closer to the idealized version of Mao that Chinese children were taught to worship in their schooling. To please Chairman Mao and what he advocated became the primary purpose of Jiang and many other "Young Pioneers" who recognized that pleasing authority that spoke for "the common good" was the most important element in their lives.  

In wearing the red scarf, Jiang makes clear what she wants out of her sense of being in the world.  She only recognizes the implications of such political devotion and fervor when it collides with the loyalty to her family. It is at this point that the red scarf becomes a symbol.  It represents the fundamental crash between political and private. In wearing the red scarf, Jiang recognizes that the cost is submission of her private life and her personal loyalties upon the altar of the political public.  Appeasing Chairman Mao and his subordinates represented a rejection of her family.  At a point in her life where identity in donning the red scarf seemed simplistic and reductive, Jiang recognizes the complex implications that results from her actions.  It is in this where the narrative develops into an intricate delving into the competition between personal and political notions of the good in a repressive setting where millions of children were forced, on some level, to make similar decisions.  The memoirs of a "red scarf" girl reflect the choice that Jiang made in how the personal triumphed, something not as evident in the narrative of the Cultural Revolution as a whole.

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