Getting Started with Red Scarf Girl

posted Jan 8, 2018, 1:42 AM by Jason Brunken   [ updated Jan 8, 2018, 1:47 AM ]
This week we began a new unit in the Middle School Program. The unit will be on the themes of identity, bullying, and authoritarian power using the book Red Scarf Girl. Red Scarf Girl is a memoir of the Chinese Cultural Revolution written by a woman named Ji-li Jiang who was in 6th grade when the Cultural Revolution started. The book follows her family's experiences through the first couple (most volatile) years of this moment in history. 

It is important to study the Chinese Cultural Revolution because it holds a about the dangers of unchecked authoritarian power for all nations. What was the Cultural Revolution? Following the failure of his "grand ideas" of reforming China's agriculture and industry which resulted in the deaths of more than 80 million Chinese people due to famine and violent persecution, Chinese leader Mao Zedong sought to rekindle the flame of his popularity in a campaign to boost his image as a god-like figure for the Chinese. From this purely selfish motive alone was born one of the most tumultuous chapters of China's history. The sad part is that China was on the road to reform and people's lives were improving. Nonetheless, in 1966 Mao begins speaking about the dangers of the "Four Olds" and the need for a new revolution to keep China on track to be a socialist paradise. He called on young people in particular to take it upon themselves to seek out and destroy "Four Olds" wherever they saw them, even to the point of open violence. The result was years of state-sanctioned vandalism, violence, and persecution where innocent people were put at the mercy of anyone who accused them. Thousands, possibly millions died, and priceless pieces of Chinese history were lost forever.

We will not be focusing too much on the history though. Instead, we will be focusing on Ji-li's story. Ji-li's experiences during the Cultural Revolution rocked the very foundation of her being, just like they did for almost everyone who lived through the time. Her identity was forever changed by the powers at work in her life. Identity is a key theme that we will be focusing on by exploring how we form our identity and the effects outside forces have on how we see ourselves. To prepare for that, we worked on identity charts this week for ourselves and Ji-li with this assignment. You can also view these below. 

Also assigned this week was a couple history assignments looking at Mao's Four Olds and primary sources reading assignment using documents from that time. I also posted a vocabulary list that will be used for extra credit. I encourage all my students to practice it. More assignments will be posted as we go through the unit.


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