The Little Red Guard

The Little Red Guard

A Family Memoir

Book - 2012
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A Washington Post Best of 2012 pick

Three generations of a family living under one roof reflect the dramatic transformations of an entire society in this memoir of life in 20th century China

When Wenguang Huang was nine years old, his grandmother became obsessed with her own death. Fearing cremation, she extracted from her family the promise to bury her after she died. This was in Xi'an, a city in central China, in the 1970s, when a national ban on all traditional Chinese practices, including burials, was strictly enforced. But Huang's grandmother was persistent, and two years later, his father built her a coffin. He also appointed his older son, Wenguang, as coffin keeper, a distinction that meant, among other things, sleeping next to the coffin at night.

Over the next fifteen years, the whole family was consumed with planning Grandma's burial, a regular source of friction and contention, with the constant risk of being caught by the authorities. Many years after her death, the family's memories of her coffin still loom large. Huang, now living and working in America, has come to realize how much the concern over the coffin has affected his upbringing and shaped the lives of everyone in the family. Lyrical and poignant, funny and heartrending, The Little Red Guard is the powerful tale of an ordinary family finding their way through turbulence and transition.
Publisher: New York : Riverhead Books, 2012.
ISBN: 9781594488290
Branch Call Number: 951.05 H86
Characteristics: 262 pages ; 22 cm


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Mar 01, 2019

I've read A LOT of books on China. A LOT. I've also lived there for several years over the past decade. That being said I really recommend this book. The author's experience really spans at least three very distinct different era's of life in China, and his perspective is really straight forward, down-to-earth and relatable. I think this book would be of interest to others with broad knowledge of Chinese history and culture, but also very informative on those topics for people with no previous exposure. The author is quite insightful; I was especially impressed with this observation on page 177 about arranged marriages and the cultural pressure to have children; "Marriage was just a work unit for taking care of the old and raising children." The book is indeed a bit sad and dark, without any Disney style happy ending; but those are unrealistic, and this book is also not nearly as tragic as many Chinese memoirs are. For insight and realism, I highly recommend this book.

Mar 03, 2018

A good mix of being a narrative of life in China from near the end of the Cultural Revolution on forward with political and social insights, along with a very personal family tale of life with an aging grandmother focused around her determination to be buried in her home town in a China that does not allow burials. An insightful and wonderful mix of personal and social.


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