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.
About Wenguang Huang
Wenguang Huang, who grew up in northern China, is a Chicago-based writer and translator. His writing has appeared in The Paris Review,Harper’s, TheChristian Science Monitor, the Chicago Tribune, and the Asia Literary Review. Heis the English translator of Liao Yiwu’s The Corpse Walker and God Is Red and Yang Xianhui’s Woman from Shanghai.
In 1973, Mao’s ruthless political campaign sought to bring an end to all “decadent” traditional practices. But the author would remember the year for a different reason—it was a time when his 71-year-old grandmother “became obsessed with death.” Afraid that she would be cremated and rendered unable to reunite with her dead husband in the afterlife, she made her son, Wenguang Huang’s father, promise that he would give her a traditional burial. Her son agreed and built a coffin, knowing that if he was discovered, the Communist Party would punish him and his family for disobedience. He made the author the official “coffin keeper.” For the next nine years, he dutifully slept near what the family would refer to as Grandma’s “longevity wood.” In the end, thecoffin really did become a kind of longevity talisman because the grandmother would live to be 87. Throughout the 16 years leading up to her death, the family often became embroiled in bitter battles over how they would inter the grandmother, who demanded a traditional Chinese burial next to her husband, whose grave was far from the family home. The one family member who suffered the most was the author’s father, who passed away a year before his mother. A “filial son,” he had made his mother’s obsession his own, to the point where it “sucked him dry until there was nothing left but his own corpse.” – Kirkus Reviews
‘The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir,’ By Wenguang Huang
The Washington Post Book Review – June 15, 2012 (Excerpt)
In the 1970s, when Wenguang Huang was a little boy in the central Chinese city of Xi’an, his grandmother’s death loomed large over his family. The woman was old, but not ill, yet the particulars of her funeral consumed her. A diminutive figure with a towering personality, she spent years milking her son and grandchildren’s loyalty to get what she wanted.
“The Little Red Guard” is the story of the Huang family’s attempts to carry out their matriarch’s wishes, a task made both complex and risky by sweeping policy shifts imposed by Mao Zedong’s communist government. Burial became illegal in China in 1949, leaving cremation the only permissible way to handle the remains of the dead. Officials ramped up their enforcement of this rule during Huang’s childhood. Still, Grandma insisted on a traditional burial. [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith. - 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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