Prologue–Writing Da-zi-bao

Ji-li Jiang lived a happy life in China until the Cultural Revolution of 1966. As political unrest and division swept the country, her father was imprisoned and her life was turned upside down. In this memoir, she provides a window into a transformative period in Chinese history.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. fateful
    having momentous consequences; of decisive importance
    With my red scarf, the emblem of the Young Pioneers, tied around my neck, and my heart bursting with joy, I achieved and grew every day until that fateful year, 1966.
  2. tantalizing
    very pleasantly inviting
    The sounds and smells of the tantalizing May afternoon drifted in through the window.
  3. exemplary
    worthy of imitation
    In the corner behind me the breeze also rustled the papers hanging from the Students’ Garden, a beautifully decorated piece of cardboard that displayed exemplary work.
  4. imitate
    reproduce someone's behavior or looks
    He demonstrated the exercises of the great acting teacher Stanislavsky, he imitated Charlie Chaplin’s funny walk, and when he was reading about calculus, he explained Zeno’s paradox and the infinite series.
  5. dowry
    money brought by a woman to her husband at marriage
    We children would help Song Po-po polish the mahogany table and Grandma’s four prized red-and-gold dowry trunks until we could see our reflections in the wood and leather.
  6. calligraphy
    beautiful handwriting
    There was Uncle Zhu, a young actor who had excellent handwriting. Every time he came, he would take some time to help me with my calligraphy.
  7. audition
    a test of the suitability of a performer
    Until the audition I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.
  8. elude
    escape, either physically or mentally
    After school I would stay in the library until it closed, just to elude the family’s over-concerned looks.
  9. abreast
    alongside each other, facing in the same direction
    The alley on which we lived was famous for its handsome buildings, and it was wide enough for two cars to pass abreast.
  10. pernicious
    exceedingly harmful
    Every day since then on the radio we heard about the need to end the evil and pernicious influences of the “Four Olds”: old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits.
  11. establish
    bring about
    Chairman Mao told us we would never succeed at building a strong socialist country until we destroyed the “Four Olds” and established the “Four News.”
  12. auspicious
    indicating favorable circumstances and good luck
    “That sign cost the owner a fortune. They always said that since an especially auspicious date was chosen to hang the sign, the store has been prosperous for more than thirty years. What a shame! What a shame!”
  13. vigil
    the rite of staying awake for devotional purposes
    First they had to keep vigil by the coffin for a week.
  14. martyr
    one who voluntarily suffers death
    We were proud of our precious red scarves, which, like the national flag, were dyed red with the blood of our revolutionary martyrs.
  15. ruthless
    without mercy or pity
    We had often been sorry that we were too young to have fought with Chairman Mao against the Japanese invaders, who tried to conquer China; against the dictator Chiang Kai-shek, who ruthlessly oppressed the Chinese people; and against the American aggressors in Korea.
  16. proletarian
    a member of the working class
    . . . tight pants and pointed shoes are what the Western bourgeoisie admire. For us proletarians they are neither good-looking nor comfortable.
  17. detrimental
    causing harm or injury
    What’s more, they are detrimental to the revolution, so we must oppose them resolutely.
  18. submissive
    inclined or willing to give in to orders or wishes of others
    He looked nervous, standing in his white socks while the inspectors surrounded him, holding his hands submissively along his trouser seams.
  19. deftly
    in an agile manner
    She raised the scissors and deftly cut the pants leg open.
  20. mutilate
    destroy or injure severely
    The students cheered and triumphantly threw the mutilated shoes into the air.
  21. ideology
    an orientation that characterizes the thinking of a group
    “Take your fourolds with you. Go home and thoroughly remold your ideology.”
  22. indignantly
    in a manner showing anger at something unjust or wrong
    “What? What do you mean?” An Yi asked indignantly.
  23. reincarnation
    the doctrine that a person may be reborn successively
    On the last arithmetic test you only got twenty-six out of a hundred, and you said that your stupidity was due to your sins in a former life. Isn’t that what you said? Isn’t reincarnation a superstition?
  24. swagger
    walk with a lofty proud gait
    Feeling they had the upper hand and wanting to quit while they were ahead, Du Hai and Yang Fan picked up their schoolbags and swaggered off.
  25. fervor
    the state of being emotionally aroused and worked up
    The classrooms buzzed with revolutionary fervor.
  26. festoon
    decorate or adorn
    The row of tall parasol trees that lined the inside of the school yard was festooned with more da-zi-bao, hanging like flowers from the branches.
  27. insidious
    working or spreading in a hidden and usually injurious way
    They fill us with insidious revisionist ideas.
  28. ambition
    a strong drive for success
    They promote personal ambition by encouraging competition for the highest grades.
  29. flabbergasted
    as if struck dumb with astonishment and surprise
    “Yin Lan-lan? A victim?” I was flabbergasted.
  30. affront
    a deliberately offensive act
    Just a few weeks earlier Aunt Xi-wen had complained to the school because some students had climbed into her yard to pick mulberry leaves for their silkworms. This latest affront was too much for the students to bear.
  31. dawdle
    take one's time; proceed slowly
    Yu Jian, chairman of the class and one of the best students, was somewhere in the middle of the line, while I dawdled so that I could be in the back of the group.
  32. gape
    look with amazement
    She gaped at us in alarm.
  33. distress
    psychological suffering
    She did not want to read the terrible things written about her, but she did not dare refuse. Her face was ugly with distress.
  34. filthy
    vile; despicable
    The more you try to improve your outward appearance, the filthier your heart becomes.
  35. conscientious
    characterized by extreme care and great effort
    Remold yourself conscientiously.
Created on November 14, 2015 (updated September 17, 2018)

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