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The Little Red Guard

3.8  ·  Rating details ·  493 Ratings  ·  93 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 Books
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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
Jun 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An intimidate portrait of life in 20th century china, capturing three generations perspectives through one family.
Aug 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction, china
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
Feb 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
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
Catherine Woodman
Apr 14, 2014 rated it really liked it

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
Apr 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, chinese, reviewed
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
Mar 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All'inizio sembra "solo" un racconto, attraverso la lente familiare, del rapporto della società cinese con i suoi retaggi ancestrali e con il regime comunista, ma nei capitoli finali si trasforma in una commovente riflessione sui legami familiari, sull'incombenza della morte e su come le nostre radici danno forma a quello che siamo, assumendo un valore non più solo antropologico ma anche universale.
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Little Red Guard (2012) by Wenguang Huang recounts the the author's life in Communist China from 1973 on. The story is held together by his grandmother's obsession with death and her burial. She is a product of the old ways--having had her feet bound and growing up with the rituals and superstitions of the past. Even though the Party has outlawed extravagant burials and now requires everyone to be cremated, Grandma makes Wenguang's father promise that he will not burn her up when she dies--t ...more
Talbot Hook
Dec 13, 2016 rated it liked it
There are a good many reasons to read this book. As a memoir, it tackles history in an incredibly personalized manner, and it simultaneously has the freedom to delve into myriad psychological and sociological quandaries. It also doesn't shy away from (sometimes brutal) honesty and tragedy, even while it retains a sense of optimism about growth and change. Centered around a casket and an impending burial, the book flits between memories of life and visions of death, all set against the complex ba ...more
Sep 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs
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
May 11, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: quit-reading
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
Feb 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
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)
Feb 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really liked this novel.

I really appreciated the author's writing style. This was a story about his family and yet, he was able to remain impartial. I was able to form my opinions instead of being told what I should feel. I understand that a lot of people may not like this book but as a proud Asian, I can certainly say that the author's story is very much true and I appreciated that. I empathised and understood a lot of what the author was going through. Trying to find the right balance betwee
Keilani Ludlow
Jun 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Ariel Uppstrom
Jun 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
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 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
Feb 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
May 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Chad Post
May 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 13, 2012 rated it liked it

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
Jun 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 25, 2016 rated it liked it
I enjoyed many parts of this memoir. For instance, learning about China's political history and the day to day life style of an average Chinese household during the late 1960s to early 1980s. I don't know much about the Chinese culture or politics and I appreciated learning it from the perspective of the author. But, the book was not a sequential timeline of the author's life growing up in China. He would go down a path with a story and when that story was finished, he was onto a new topic. In m ...more
Jun 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
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
Jan 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
The novel The Little Red Guard is a family memoir from the perspective of the eldest son during the cultural revolution in China and the many cultural problems it brought with it. I would not recommend this novel to those without a least some interest in China. This novel brought the family life and culture of a time in China that is rarely studied in the United States but incredibly important. I recommend this novel to those that interested in learning new perspectives. The novel follows the el ...more
Diane S ☔
May 17, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Bruce Thomas
Extremely personal story about growing up in 1970's-1980's China, pointedly proving that mothers-in-law can be problematic no matter the culture. Extreme fixation of father to burial demands of his mother gets old and dominates the story; I would have preferred more attention to the changing political and cultural situations of this time. Interesting afterword on brief history of the city Xi'an, especially the unopened burial temple of the first Qin emperor.
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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...