What I Learned From the Red Scarf Girl

Red Scarf Girl.

I picked up this book from the library last week because the cover was so engaging with a smiling black and white photo of a young Chinese girl dawning a brilliant red scarf around her neck in the center of the frame.  Her eyes brimmed with hope, and she seemed so joyful, excited, and full of life.

As I started reading through the autobiography, however, my stomach began twisting in knots.

The young girl, Ji-ling Jiang, and her family were targeted in Communist China as a “black” family, or one who was in opposition to Chairman Mao’s beliefs and teachings.  Why were they targeted?  Because Jiang’s grandfather was a landlord.  Because their family had possessions and money.  Because Jiang had a stamp collection.  A STAMP COLLECTION.  The result?  Public humiliation and ostracization.  Emotional turmoil.  Questions and doubts and hate and anger.

Although I understood the mechanics and facts about the Chinese Cultural Revolution, I couldn’t believe that such an event actually took place.  Shouldn’t humans know when a deed, action, or belief are ethically and morally incorrect?  How can an inidividual treat another with such disdain and hatred?

It all boils down to ideology.  What is the common held belief in a society?  What is the “truth” that is being espoused from those in power?  In the case of Red Scarf Girl, the believed truth was that Communism needed to remain alive, and social upheaval was necessary.  No matter how off-putting this idea may seem to us in twenty-first century America, that was the thought then.

But what about the ideologies and beliefs we hold true now?

Strong is the new skinny.

Carbs are bad.

No pain, no gain.

You can rest when you’re dead.

Trust the process.


Most of you reading this post may agree that some of these thoughts are pretty inane.  “Strong is the new skinny” has taken the image of a physically powerful female and somehow romanticized it.  Girls no longer desire a thigh gap like how I did in high school, but instead want booty gainnzzz, thinking a bigger posterior equates to strength.  Sadly, the objectification of a female’s body part is still at work here, yet that myth (I need to have a ________ to look strong) is slowly being challenged.  In a similar fashion, the “carbs are bad” myth has been debunked by science in so many instances, as has “no pain, no gain.”  But the last two statements, that one needs to always be working and that a person must put trust in a process, still slay me and are commonly held beliefs.

God made the world in six days and took the seventh as a Sabbath.  If God himself needed a break, what would make me believe my fallible human body can withstand continuous work?  Why rest when I’m dead?  Why not rest for work now?  And I’m not just talking about resting in training (yeah, I used to take “active rest days” which in reality are bogus), but in all of my daily tasks.  At work, I need a break.  I need a time to shut my brain off and not read or write or talk or do much of anything.  I need a time to be out in the sun, looking at God’s beautiful creation and thanking Him for it.  At my old teaching job, I was constantly stressed, trying to plan ahead, eyes fixated to a laptop screen, emailing at all hours of the day.  I was constantly worrying and plotting and hemming and hawing.  It’s no wonder I’d wake up every day feeling a dread, a heaviness invading my eyes and mind.  It’s no wonder I’d need coffee as soon as I hit the kitchen, coffee as soon as I got to work, coffee after I had lunch, and maybe more coffee before I left school.  My brain and body were a fatigued mess.  This year, I have a position that allows me the freedom to stop, go outside, and be thankful.  And you know what?  My coffee consumption has gone down because I don’t feel a perpetual state of fatigue and lethargy.  Like, my intake has gone down a tremendous amount–not even a half cup in the morning, and maybe a few sips after lunch.  That’s all.

Rest in body and rest in mind ARE necessary.

…and then, that other belief of trusting the process.  Ahhh, trust.  The other day I was listening to a podcast (it’s called “Training Make” and is about all things sports and weightlifting related), Zack Telander and Max Aiea were talking about how “trusting the process” infers that there was no trust initially, so in fact, that statement is invalid.  How can one put trust into something she doesn’t believe?  Well, that got me thinking.  I was such a starch proponent of this phrase, as I thought it would help me get through the valleys of recovery.  When I was feeling overwhelmed and extremely fluffy and my stomach seemed to be distended with bloat, I could “trust the process” that everything would eventually turn out ok. But in reality, there WAS a little seed of doubt.  What if I wasn’t like all of the other people who reached full recovery?  What if I remained uncomfortable for the rest of my life?  I had quite a bit of fear, and so it was hard to trust something that I couldn’t see.  A lot of times, people say that we can trust God even though we can’t see Him.  But, that always bothered me because I DO see Him.  I see Him in the love from my parents, in the smiles of my children, in the beauty of the Ko’olau Mountain ranges, in the kind words from friends.  I KNOW He is there.  And I also know that what I’m doing now in recovery IS the best option for ME.  So I had to reframe my thinking.  Now, I am no longer “trusting the process.”  I am OWNING THE PROCESS.  I know that there will be ups and downs in recovery.  I know that my journey will not be linear.  And I accept that and am ready for it.

I am not done with Red Scarf Girl yet.  Every time I start to read, I actually have to limit the amount of pages I go through because I end up getting so upset at the atrocities the characters go through, that if I don’t stop, I’ll be up all night thinking about poor Ji-ling Jiang and her family.  And much like the righteous anger I experience from reading this text, I also feel a compulsion, a push, a calling to share my thoughts and views about my recovery journey on this blog.  Unlike Jiang’s experience growing up in Communist China, in my recovery journey, my actions are not dictated and controlled by a powerful, unethical authoritative voice.  I can make my own choices knowing that God’s powerful presence is not one of fear or lording, but one of compassion and love.  I can choose to follow God’s voice and walk and His path, and so, no matter how challenging this journey can get, I do not feel angry or upset.

Reading Jiang’s account is thought provoking and compels me to evaluate my own ideologies and beliefs and events.  It inspires me to continue to press forward and reaffirms that I CAN change and challenge past thought patterns and social mores that held me prisoner for so long.  Hopefully, this blog will also provide you, dear reader, with a similar experience.


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