The Little Red Guard

The Little Red Guard

A Family Memoir

Written by:

Additional Formats
  • Ebook
  • ISBN 9781101580660
  • 272 Pages
  • Riverhead Books
  • Adult


A Washington Post Best of 2012 pick

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 traditional Chinese practices, including burials, was strictly enforced. But Huang’s grandmother was persistent, and two years later, his father built her a coffin. He also appointed his older son, Wenguang, as coffin keeper, a distinction that meant, among other things, sleeping next to the coffin at night.

Over the next fifteen years, the whole family was consumed with planning Grandma’s burial, a regular source of friction and contention, with the constant risk of being caught by the authorities. Many years after her death, the family’s memories of her coffin still loom large. Huang, now living and working in America, has come to realize how much the concern over the coffin has affected his upbringing and shaped the lives of everyone in the family. Lyrical and poignant, funny and heartrending, The Little Red Guard is the powerful tale of an ordinary family finding their way through turbulence and transition.


“A gripping, lyrical memoir . . . revealing, ironic, and effortlessly elegant.”

Chicago Tribune

“There is no overstating the profound effect of the Cultural Revolution on the lives of every single Chinese, and the Huang family’s struggles to bury their grandma is a heartrending example…perfect, moving.”

The Daily Beast

“Lively…inspires as many laughs as it does tears.”

The New Yorker


The Washington Post

“A memoir centered on a coffin? Yes, and it works.”

O, The Oprah Magazine

“A riveting, well-crafted story… at times comic and at times heartbreaking… there are plenty of fresh and unforgettable revelations.”

“An interesting look at China through the lens of family.”—

New York Post



“Mesmerizing and lyrical.”

New Jersey Star-Ledger

“New and refreshing and adds a different perspective into the canon of immigrant literature.”

Chicago Sun-Times

“Illuminating… Huang’s coming-of-age story eloquently describes his family coping with change and how, in a turbulent time, he made sense of the world.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 “A trenchantly observed story that depicts the clash of traditional and modern Chinese culture with a powerful combination of sensitivity and mordant irony.”

Kirkus Reviews

“[Huang’s] description of life under Mao will come as a revelation to readers.”


“Another interesting way to look at China, something readers crave.”

Library Journal

"The Little Red Guard is a remarkable memoir.  Wenguang Huang gave it an ingenious dramatic structure, which reveals the tensions and emotional struggles within his family.  At the psychological level, the story has some universal resonance that is beyond history and culture.  Huang tells it with extraordinary candor, acuity, and the cruel irony of life.  As a result, the story is full of gravity, absurdity, and grief."

–Ha Jin, author of Waiting

The Little Red Guard—his first book—establishes Wenguang Huang as a master story-teller. Vividly engaging and often surprising, this memoir of coming of age in an ordinary Chinese family amid the social and political wreckage of Mao’s Cultural Revolution is uncommonly wise and deeply moving.”

–Philip Gourevitch, author of The Ballad of Abu Ghraib

“With brilliant humanistic insights, Wenguang Huang reveals how the terrors of youth, both large and small, imprint our lives with psychic markers and force us, eventually, to confront the irrational foundation on which strong character can be found.”

—Patrick Tyler, author of A Great Wall: Six Presidents and China

“Although Wenguang Huang came to the West years ago from China, memories of his native country still resonate. Through his writing, time reverses itself, and the ghosts from his past have been revived, like falling leaves returning to their roots.  Just as he has done in his translated works, Wen has transformed the intimate stories of a Chinese family into a gripping book that will appeal to readers of all cultures.”

—Liao Yiwu, author of Corpse Walker – Real  Life Stories: China from the Bottom Up