Born Red is an artistically wrought personal account, written very much from inside the experience, of the years 1966-1969, when the author was a young teenager at middle school. It was in the middle schools that much of the fury of the Cultural Revolution and Red Guard movement was spent, and Gao was caught up in very dramatic events, which he recounts as he understood them at the time. Gao's father was a county political official who was in and out of trouble during those years, and the intense interplay between father and son and the differing perceptions and impact of the Cultural Revolution for the two generations provide both an unusual perspective and some extraordinary moving moments. He also makes deft use of traditional mythology and proverbial wisdom to link, sometimes ironically, past and present. Gao relates in vivid fashion how students-turned-Red Guards held mass rallies against 'capitalist roader' teachers and administrators, marching them through the streets to the accompaniment of chants and jeers and driving some of them to suicide. Eventually the students divided into two factions, and school and town became armed camps. Gao tells of the exhilaration that he and his comrades experienced at their initial victories, of their deepening disillusionment as they utter defeat as the tumultuous first phase of the Cultural Revolution came to a close. The portraits of the persons to whom Gao introduces us - classmates, teachers, family members - gain weight and density as the story unfolds, so that in the end we see how they all became victims of the dynamics of a mass movement out of control.
A non-fiction Lord of the Flies
By A Customer - December 20, 1998
This amazing tale is seen through the eyes of the child the author was at the time, rather than through the filter of adult wisdom and judgement. That is what gives this terrifying and funny book its power. As a fourteen year-old boy Gao Yuan attended a boarding school that became caught up in the wildness of the Cultural Revolution. He experienced the foolishness of the children and their terrible violence as they turned on each other. At the same time his father was being pilloried at home. This is a great yarn about a surreal world, as well as an important historical document.
Riveting account of a student in the Cultural Revolution
By M. Desoer - July 23, 2000
"Born Red" is not a broad historical account of the Cultural Revolution, but the autobiography of a man who was a young student in an elite "middle school" at the outset of this tumultuous and destructive period of recent Chinese history. The students were urged to ferret out "counter-revolutionaries" and given almost free reign over their decisions and punitive actions. I agree with the prior reviewer that this book brings to mind a real "Lord of the Flies," and would add to that the Salem Witch Trials.Although their actions were encouraged, at the outset, by their teachers, the students quickly turned their attentions to their instructors and "found" counter-revolutionary, "bourgeouis" and other improper behavior. Nearly all the teachers were branded, even after the Communist party instructed the students that most teachers should be considered good or "relatively good." When the students ran out... read more
"Lord of the Flies" and "1984" at a national scale.
By J. A. Edwards - January 22, 2004
"Born Red" is a fascinating and horrifying book recounting one boy's experiences during the Cultural Revolution. As an American, steeped in our culture from birth, I find it is nearly impossible to truly grasp a culture that would permit the kind of reflexive parroting of official party line to take hold as it did in China (and continues today in North Korea). The book does a fine job of painting Mao as a cult leader that succeeded in making himself a virual infallible god in the eyes of the citizenry, pushing one socialistic national program after another that were universally irrational and doomed from the get-go. The book showcases a unique traditional asian culture that promotes/permits this lemming-like following of "the leader", migrating blindly into disaster. To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of "Born Red" is the apparently honest and heartfelt attempts by the citizenry to, at one level, mentally embrace and pursue the communist... read more
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