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The Little Red Guard

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  311 ratings  ·  66 reviews
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 Chi
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published April 26th 2012 by Riverhead Hardcover (first published 2012)
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This was a very different kind of Chinese memoir than most I have read. It was more like a psychological portrait of a family. At the center of the book is the grandmother's wish to be buried in her ancestoral graveyard in her home town. This provides a touchstone for the book, as at first this goal is very unreachable due to the Cultural Revolution, but over time, it is more do-able and more poignant in how it affects the whole family. This book seems to me to be at its core a tragedy,very well ...more
I miss me family :'(

This book focused on the author's life, his parents and his grandmother, particularly around the time the grandmother was preparing for her death. No, she wasn't dying in the beginning; she just wanted to be prepared for the inevitable. All she wanted was to be buried next to her dead husband back in her hometown of Henan. But at the time, communist China banned burial and forced cremation.
Grandma was skeptical. Neighbors had told her how crematorium workers never completely
When I started reading The Little Red Guard, I thought I was in for just another run-of-the-mill memoir growing up oppressed by Communism. However, I was pleasantly surprised with Wenguang Huang’s fresh take on the subject; maybe the content was similar to other books covering the same time period of the 1970s, but the lens through which Huang views the era makes this a compelling and unique read.

Huang’s grandmother spends years fixated on her inevitable death and funeral. In an era where tradi
Catherine Woodman

This is a dysfunctional family tale, Chinese style.

In the 1970s, when the author was a little boy in the central Chinese city of Xi’an, his grandmother’s death loomed large over his family. The details of her funeral consumed her. A small woman with a domineering personality, she spent years milking her son and grandchildren’s loyalty to get what she wanted, causing PTSD in young Wenguang in the process.

In part, this the story of the family’s attempts to carry out their matriarch’s wishes, a tas
The theme of this book could be titled “Grandma’s coffin and her obsession with death”. This Chinese grandma, who raised the author Huang while his own mother was off working like a good Communist for the benefit of the Revolution, had her bound feet in the “old ways” of traditional China and would not be reconciled to the new way of handling death by cremation. Grandma put the entire household in strife for YEARS over this issue. Her insistence on a traditional burial in her place of birth beca ...more
Ariel Uppstrom
I very much enjoyed this book. I have always been fascinated with Chinese traditions and know only a bit about the Cultural Revolution that obliterated much of those practices. This book shed more light on the blight of the average person who was indoctrinated by Mao.

The book is an autobiography of Huang and follows him throughout his upbringing to discuss his own struggles with being a "good revolutionary" and his family's struggles to reconcile the new doctrine with their heritage. The book c
*I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway*

The Little Red Guard is a book about a family being pulled into a changing Chinese society while some members of the family are trying to stay firmly grounded in the old, pre-Communism, Chinese ways.

The author grows up with his father, mother, siblings and his paternal grandmother all in the same house. The Grandmother does on the author, and the only thing that she cares about more then him is her funeral. Though she wasn't in ill health she harps on her
I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

5 stars

I really enjoyed this book, and was surprised by how good it was. I say that because it started off a little slow, and I couldn't quite feel out where it was going. At first, I thought the coffin and Wenguang's grandmother's death was just an opening story--something to set the mood for the rest of the book. Those things, however, turn out to be at the heart of Wenguang's story, which is beautifully told with death, politics, and
I hadn't read anything set in Communist China since Dal Sijie's novel Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress & was delighted to win Wenguang Huang's The LittleRed Guard: A Family Memoir from First Reads. The author is only slightly older than I am so I found myself comparing his experiences in the 1970s to my own. During those years, my cultural/historical education was pretty much limited to reading about the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria--or, the American Bicentennial celebration. ...more

Still not quite sure what to make of this book. It is part tragicomic memoir, part homage to his father, and part documentary of the evolution of modern china. But I'm not always sure the author knew which one he was going for.

I finished the book although there were several times I put it down in relative frustration that it seemed that years would go by and there was no progression to the story other than detailing the ridiculous lengths that his grandmother would go to ensure a "pr
We sit right there at the dinner table of the Huang family, beginning in Xi'an in the early 1970s. The author's grandmother began thinking about her funeral when she turned 72. For roughly 15 years, those funeral plans dominate the family, and dominate the author's thoughts long after she's gone. This is a great story of family and political change.

Many times in this story, what at first seems unlucky turns out to be a life-saver as the family, miraculously, survives. They survive famine, invas
I eagerly anticipated reading this book and was encouraged by several glowing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I’m 107 pages in, and I just can’t do it anymore. The story is a series of memories, which jumps around between past and present with not infrequent commentary that seems totally irrelevant and out of place. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, check out this paragraph that demonstrates Huang’s writing style perfectly:

Grandma later saw Father’s inability to cook as her biggest
First, thumbs up to the author for his very unusual Cultural Revolution memoir. While many CR stories I've read have been written by those persecuted during that time and/or suffered hardships in the countryside, Huang's memoir lacks that bleakness. For one, he was lucky to have grown up in a city at the tail end of the CR. His family belonged to the "right" class (workers/peasants) and he was able to attend prestigious Fudan University, a huge opportunity and achievement. Although life wasn't a ...more
This is a memorable story by Wenguang Huang regarding his Chinese family and living through China's political turbulence in the late 20th century. Mr. Huang begins his memoir in 1973 when he was 10 years old an was living in a tiny house in Central China where he grew up with his mother, father, paternal grandmother, and his two younger sisters and brother. He chooses this moment in time to begin his tale because his grandmother, who was 72 that year. became obssessed with her death and the the ...more
The Little Red Guard chronicles the decision Huang’s father made to give his mother a traditional burial, and the fifteen years of planning and family friction this decision cost him. Wenguang Huang calls this a “family memoir,” because although he tells the story from his point of view, he writes about how the decision to give his grandmother a traditional burial affected the entire family. He describes the friction it caused between his mother and father; he writes about how his mother and gra ...more
Keilani Ludlow
I am so happy to have stumbled upon this book. Short version - author telling the story of his life - his grandma wants to be buried and it's against the law and the family's various responses and actions in regard to grandma's desire affects them all for their entire life.

Ok, why it's so good. The author is from China. He was born shortly after the Mao revolutionary take over of China. The story is about his family, but the extremely repressive communist government is so controlling of every li
Story Description:
Riverhead | May 1, 2012 | Hardcover |ISBN: 978-1-59448-829-0
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 tr
☔Diane S.
3.5 Wen is a very likable and easy to relate to narrator. Living with a grandmother, who is from a time when they still bound woman's feet, he and is family try to navigate between the old customs and the new ways after Mao's cultural revolution. Burial is no longer an option, as Mao only endorses cremation, a fact that his grandmother finds horrible. The old customs dictate that she must be buried next to her husband so that they may be reunited. At the age of nine, as the oldest grandson, Wen ...more
I won this book through a goodreads first-reads contest

This is a memoir about a boy and his family, and his childhood during the communist revolution in China. After his grandmother becomes obsessed with keeping to her religious convictions of how to be buried, which is outlawed, the family must make sacrifices to give her what she wants. This is a book on how it affects their lives, and the way times change time and time again in China. Honestly, I wanted to read this book because I wanted to k
I got a free copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads Giveaway Program.

I didn't know much about the Chinese culture nor it's history and I still don't, but I found that I could relate to this book in a way that I never expected to.

This is based on Huang's life at the time China was moved into communism and the toll it took on his family, being that traditions and the "old" ways, down to religion or even how one might "appear" to be became dangerous.
(view spoiler)
Interesting memoir about a time and place of which I know very little. Huang Wenguang (isn't that how his name should really read?) tells about growing up in China. Born in the Year of the Dragon 1964, the eldest male child, Wenguang bears the brunt of his familial expectations. He's caught between societal Communist indoctrinations and Confucian teachings in the home where he's expected to be a filial son and grandson.

His grandmother, worried about her impending death, insists on being buried w
Chad Post
This is a really excellent and fascinating book--and I'm not just saying that because I spent a week with Wen in a palace in Austria. Nor am I saying that because Wen may just well be the most genuine and kind person I've ever met in my life. No, his story of growing up in China in the 70s and 80s, and his relationships with his family--in particular his father, who tragically passed away, and his grandmother, whose impending death hangs over the entire book--is really illuminating, and written ...more
Michael Gold
To me this book was a beautifully written clash of cultures within the culture of emerging Communist China. The author's grandmother lives with his family during the end of Mao's reign, and she is their connection to pre-communist China, while Wenguang himself is growing up within the new China and participates in the youth program at school, where we get the book's title. His father is the bridge, stuck between the two. This generational dynamic is an endearing look into life for an average fam ...more
This memoir makes me want to read more about Chinese history. An interesting and touching memoir, but I wish I would've gotten a better feel for Huang's everyday experiences. He's very internal and family-oriented in his writing, but we don't learn much about the external, natural world he grows up in. What was it like walking to school? What sort of plants grew around your home? Things like that draw me into the time and place of a memoir, if I'm being honest.
Peggy Galle
Very entertaining and informative. His description of everyday life in China during the cultural revolution reveals some of the horrors, but because the author primarily focuses on the ordinary events of family life as seen by a child, it is also hysterically funny. Because of his father's position as a worker (factory manager) and party member, his family did not suffer as badly as the intellectuals and other targeted groups. This book is a great comparison to the same period described in Ping ...more
Bernadette Bender
While I thought this memoir started off slowly, I was fully engrossed about one third of the way through (could also have to do with the fact that I was traveling and had many interruptions). In fact, I would rate this last half of the book five stars. This story is about a boy/young man's coming of age in Communist China during the 1970's and 1980's revolving around the funeral plans for his elderly, traditional grandmother. This book had me in tears at the end regarding the frailty of life and ...more
Andrea Blythe
This was a compelling tale about a grandmother's request for a traditional burial. Seems simple enough, but at the time in China, the cultural revolution of the communist party was trying to eradicate old traditions considered bourgeois. Burials were outlawed and cremation without ceremony was mandated. Having a traditional burial could mean ruin for an entire family. But in the face of this risk, Huang's father attempts to appease his mother's wishes.

This book is fascinating and well written; t
Miss GP
I found this brief little book fascinating; it covered a lot of ground over just a few pages. The author was a child during the Cultural Revolution, and it was interesting to see how he first embraced and then later rejected the party viewpoint. He also did a wondeful job of contrasting his father's party-line views with his own, as well as with those of his grandmother's traditional outlook (and hence the conflict over her burial).

I do think, however, people without at least some familiarity wi
Fascinating look into history that I know very little about. It's hard to fathom how Huang's father and so many like him coped with so much hardship and extreme societal changes over the course of one lifetime.
E.L. Drayton
My Review: The author tells a pretty unbelievable story and I suppose that is what makes this true story all the more fascinating to me. Up until this book I knew very little of the Chinese culture during Mao’s reign and once he was gone. I’ve known that China was a communist country and that communism wasn’t a good thing. When it came to government structures I was aware of the distinct differences between our “Western” culture and that of China’s. But this book gave me a first hand account of ...more
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Huang was born in China in 1964 and is a writer, journalist and translator based in Chicago He has written for such publications as The Paris Review, Harper’s, the Christian Science Monitor, the Chicago Tribune and the Asia Literary Review. He also is the English translator of "The Corpse Walker" and "God is Red" by Liao Yiwu. He received a PEN translation award in 2007.
More about Wenguang Huang...
The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories, China from the Bottom Up God is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China For a Song and a Hundred Songs: A Poet's Journey Through a Chinese Prison A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel: Murder, Money, and an Epic Power Struggle in China

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