Red Scarf Girl Summary and Study Guide

Ji-Li Jiang

Red Scarf Girl

  • 35-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 17 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a college English professor with 20 years of experience
Access Full Summary

Red Scarf Girl Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 35-page guide for “Red Scarf Girl” by Ji-Li Jiang includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 17 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 10 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Fate and Agency and Coming of Age (as an “Educable Child”).

Plot Summary

Red Scarf Girl is Ji-li Jiang’s “Memoir of the Cultural Revolution.”  The subtitle is a little misleading, as the book only covers two and a half years in the author’s life, from the spring of 1966 when she was twelve years old, to the fall of 1968 when she was fourteen, while the Cultural Revolution continued until Mao Ze-dong’s death in 1976.  It is also Jiang’s coming-of-age story, as it focuses on a key time in her adolescent development.

As the oldest child in her family, Ji-li is called upon to make crucial choices at a young age about whether to remain loyal to her family or bow to the ideological pressures of her community and country.  When the book opens, Ji-li is a naïve and enthusiastic “red scarf girl,” convinced that she would always be as happy and successful as her name— “meaning happy and beautiful” (1)—and her experiences up until that point suggest.  Then the Cultural Revolution begins, and Ji-li’s belief in herself and her family is slowly eroded.  As a result of her family’s “black” class status, she misses out on opportunities at school that once would have been available to her, such as auditioning for the Central Liberation Army Arts Academy and being elected as a Red Successor.  Her grandfather, long dead, comes from a family of landlords, and this fact casts a long shadow on the family, limiting Ji-li’s opportunities and ability to achieve political and academic success at school. 

These new challenges and obstacles, along with the unfairness Ji-li witnesses going on around her, such as the brutal way a neighbor, Old Qian, is treated and how it leads to the suicide of her best friend’s grandmother, make her question her fate and, eventually, hate her family history.  Then her family’s home is searched, many of their possessions seized, and Ji-li’s father is detained; this is a huge blow in an escalating series of pressures on Ji-li.  Despite her father’s situation and in some way because of it, Ji-li agrees to participate in a special event, the Class Education Exhibition, where she tells critical stories about landlords, the very thing her father is accused of being.  Her participation is used as a way to get her to testify against her father.  When she refuses to lie about his activities, she is kicked out of the Exhibition after months of hard work. 

The final and most dramatic incident of the book happens after Ji-li has returned from her summer labor assignment harvesting rice.  Her mother has written a letter criticizing the people who are imprisoning her husband that accurately details their abuses of power.  Before this anonymous letter can be sent to the appropriate committee, a search party from Ji-li’s father’s workplace comes to search the Jiang home.  Ji-li’s mother tells her to hide the letter, which she does—in the family cat’s litter box.  It is found, however, and Ji-li’s mother and grandmother are punished for it.

Though we learn in the books epilogue that Ji-li’s father is eventually released and, after many years, his name is cleared, the narrative ends shortly after this search, with Ji-li newly committed to a life spent taking care of her family.  In choosing not to testify against her father and to hide the letter for her mother, she has chosen loyalty to her family over loyalty to the state.  The final chapter describes how she comes to terms with that choice—both a sad and a happy ending.

This is just a preview. The entire section has 578 words. Click below to download the full study guide for Red Scarf Girl.