In this, the Age of the Memoir, few such works capture the essence of a life and its times as compellingly as Wenguang Huang's "The Little Red Guard." The author shows us post-revolutionary China with its stifling conformity and brutish contempt for human achievement and takes us through to the current era of rampant materialism--Communist style. The framework is simple: A boy is put in charge of of his grandmother's coffin--guarding it, hiding it and sleeping next to it at night. Burial is forbidden by a government desperate for land--at first for farmland to feed the revolution, later for handbag factories and tai chi schools. But grandma insists on burial next to her beloved husband, who died before cremation became the rule. She must remain intact to properly join him in the afterlife. Her devoted son, Wenguang's father, obeys her wishes, even though he fears losing status as a highly-regarded Communist Party factotum.
The tale unfolds at the level of "ordinary" people living in near poverty and obedience to authority. Yet, as the grandson grows into manhood and samples the best of Western education, his slavish devotion to Party rapidly fades. Hiding a coffin no longer seems a foolish violation of government rule but more a symbol of family ties that trump any doctrines dictators may try to impose.