Cover image for The little red guard : a family memoir
Title:
The little red guard : a family memoir
Author:
Huang, Wenguang, 1964-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Riverhead Books, [2012]

©2012
Physical Description:
262 pages ; 22 cm
Summary:
Traces a Communist Chinese family's fifteen-year struggle to honor a grandmother's dying wish to be buried in spite of a national ban of traditional Chinese practices, an effort that pitted family members against one another and risked their capture by authorities.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9781594488290
Format :
Book

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DS797.68.X536 H83 2012 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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DS797.68.X536 H83 2012 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
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DS797.68.X536 H83 2012 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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DS797.68.X536 H83 2012 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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DS797.68.X536 H83 2012 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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DS797.68.X536 H83 2012 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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DS797.68.X536 H83 2012 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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DS797.68.X536 H83 2012 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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DS797.68.X536 H83 2012 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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Summary

Summary

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.


Author Notes

Wenguang Huang, who grew up in northern China, is a Chicago-based writer and translator. His writing has appeared in The Paris Review, Harper's, The Christian Science Monitor,  the Chicago Tribune, and the Asia Literary Review.  Heis the English translator of Liao Yiwu's The Corpse Walker and God Is Red and Yang Xianhui's Woman from Shanghai .


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

There's a funny and telling scene in Huang's memoir in which the author, raised in central China in the 1970s, recalls his first trip to London on a student visa, and recounts his wonder at seeing grass grown just to be mowed. Yet as mysterious and misunderstood as the West is to Huang, so his description of life under Mao will come as a revelation to readers. The food rationing, party politics, and Cultural Revolution that Westerners have a vague knowledge of are all viewed through the highly personal lens of Huang's family. Using his grandmother's stubborn insistence on a traditional burial, banned under Mao, as a set piece, Huang demonstrates the tightrope many Chinese walked between their personal belief in ancient Confucian teachings and the public demands of the Communist government. Restrictions are relaxed, only to be renewed, and Huang struggles to come to terms with where his true allegiances lie. Today, as China continues to rapidly evolve, Huang, who now resides in the U.S., is firmly on the side of family and freedom.--Wetli, Patty Copyright 2010 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

In his illuminating memoir, translator and freelance writer Huang chronicles growing up in central China during the 1970s. Weaving Chinese history and culture into his recollections, Huang reveals a family striving to fulfill a grandmother's last wish during a period of rapid societal change. At 72, Huang's grandmother became obsessed with her own death. She cajoled her family into promising they would bury rather than cremate her, a troublesome prospect for the family. The Communists, who insisted on cremation, had outlawed traditional Chinese burials. "Grandma's request presented a dilemma for Father, who felt obligated to give grandma the burial she wanted but feared for his political future." For the next 15 years, the family strained under the burden of the personal and financial issues involved while keeping their plans from curious authorities. Huang's story intersects with the country's sweeping political changes. The food rationing system was relaxed; cultural life blossomed; TV replaced radio as the main form of information and entertainment; and transportation improved. Huang studied English at a foreign language school, followed by studies in London. "Years of Communist education became like the ancient artifacts," Huang writes. Huang's coming-of-age story eloquently describes his family coping with change and how, in a turbulent time, he made sense of the world. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.