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Red Land, Yellow River: A Story from the Cultural Revolution

by Ange Zhang

Ange Zhang was just 13 in June 1966, when Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution utterly swept away his childhood world. In this breathtaking memoir, he seems a reluctant guide, cautiously navigating his way through the dark waters of his own story. He watches his family get torn apart, as his father, a renowned poet, is arrested and sent to a labour camp and an aunt commits suicide. Under the shadow of his family’s disgrace, Zhang changes his name, shaves his head, and desperately tries to fit into the zealous revolutionary student movement, wanting to be a Red Guard at almost any cost. At 15, he becomes one of millions of students sent to the countryside to learn to farm and spends the next two years trapped in a small village working the land. He also takes his first tentative steps on the path to becoming a visual artist, a journey we witness through his luminous illustrations.

Red Land, Yellow River is an extraordinarily powerful recounting of a teen’s experience of China’s Cultural Revolution. Zhang’s paintings illuminate his simple, straightforward text, capturing the momentum and the artwork of that era. There’s an unsettling detachment in Zhang’s account, however, which seems to gloss over the personal tragedies he witnessed. But I think he’s captured a sense of himself as he was at that age, with little self-reflection or apology. Zhang’s desperation to fit in, common to teens everywhere, might well have been more important to him than his family’s well-being.

His original artwork speaks more eloquently than his text about his emotional reactions, showing his pain and confusion when he’s beaten by a rival gang of Red Guards and forced to re-evaluate his connection to the movement. Family photos add another layer to Zhang’s poignant story, offering readers glimpses of happier times. An excellent afterword provides a solid history of the Cultural Revolution


Reviewer: Jeffrey Canton

Publisher: Groundwood Books


Price: $18.95

Page Count: 56 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-88899-489-3

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: 2004-11

Categories: Children and YA Non-fiction

Age Range: 11-14

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