“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
~ Muriel Rukeyser (American poet and political activist)
Author of, The Red Scarf Girl, Ji Li Jiang shared her story of growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976) with our middle schoolers today. She spoke of her family’s experiences under Mao’s rule – a time in which the youth of the country were recruited to help shed old traditions (Four Olds) and spark a revolutionary mentality that would lead the country into a position of power and strength.
Through tears, Jiang revealed how her contented life was turned upside down when it was discovered that her grandfather had been a landlord, classifying her family as “Black” – opponents of the Communist ideology. It didn’t matter that Jiang was ranked top of her class and was loyal to the Communist Party – she no longer was acceptable. Friends and opportunities disappeared and they became victims of the Red Guards scrutiny and accusations. At one point, Ji Li was faced with an impossible decision, when she was expected to denounce her father in public for his alleged counterrevolutionary activities. Was she to stand by her father or save her future?
Facing her audience, Jiang expressed,
“Use your own mind and follow your heart to find the courage to make your own decisions.”
She reminded us that leaders are human beings and that it is our job stand up when power is used to abuse. A powerful and important message; it was an honor to receive Jiang’s story.