Getting Rid of the Four Olds in Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang

Red Guards. How Chairman Mao got rid of Four Olds, changed Ji-li Jiang Red Scarf Girl
A print showing the Red Guards. How did Chairman Mao and other Communist leaders get rid of the Four Olds? As shown in the book Red Scarf Girl, it changed Ji-li Jiang and her way of living and thinking. (Image: Public Domain)

Ji-li Jiang presents her experiences during China’s Cultural Revolution in her 1998 book Red Scarf Girl. The Communist Party aimed at developing China and getting it out of poverty. For this purpose, Chairman Mao (Mao Zedong or Mao Tse-tung) started the Cultural Revolution to change Chinese society. He focused on eliminating the Four Olds. The Four Olds were the characteristics of Chinese society that Mao believed had negative effects, such as poverty. The Communist Party believed that the Four Olds prevented China from improving. Chairman Mao wanted a modern socialist China. To do so, he ordered that the Four Olds must be removed. However, a challenge with this action was that the Four Olds were widely integrated in Chinese society. Thus, the endeavor of removing the Four Olds required the support of the people, as well as a compelling force to ensure the desired changes.

During the Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao and other Communist leaders got rid of the Four Olds. The Red Guards served as the primary mechanism for this purpose. The extensive reach of the Red Guards throughout the country made it possible for Chairman Mao to implement the Revolution and effectively impact the lives of the people despite the challenges associated with the geography of the country. The new situation changed Ji-li Jiang and her way of living and thinking.

How Chairman Mao Got Rid of the Four Olds through the Red Guards

Chairman Mao used young students to get rid of the Four Olds. He created a paramilitary organization from these young Chinese and named it Red Guards. The Red Guards represented the Communist Party. The Red Guards was composed of high school and college students from red families. Red families were supporters of the Communist Party. For these young people, it was a privilege and honor to be part of the Red Guards. Many red students joined the Red Guards to help eliminate the Four Olds.

The Red Guards had the duty to scour the Chinese population and get rid of the Four Olds. The Guards had the authority to raid homes suspected of the Four Olds. The Guards ransacked homes without warning. They also accused teachers and officials for involvement in capitalism instead of communism. Professionals were humiliated and restricted. The Four Olds were as follows:

  1. Old culture
  2. Old customs
  3. Old ideas
  4. Old habits

Ji-li was shocked at how Chairman Mao got rid of the Four Olds. The Red Guards questioned and humiliated people for things that did not even have anything to do with the Four Olds. People were punished for simple things like clothes, photographs, and even their nicknames. When the Red Guards found items that represented the Four Olds, they threw the items to the streets for everybody to see. They publicly humiliated the owners. Ji-li was intrigued at how the student guards kept that kind of enthusiasm, and how they interpreted the concept of the Four Olds.

Getting Rid of the Four Olds: Change in Ji-li and Her Way of Living and Thinking

When Ji-li Jiang was just 12 years old, Chairman Mao instituted reforms to get rid of the Four Olds. He replaced the Four Olds with things that supported the ideals of the Communist Party. This endeavor favored the Communist Party, but it meant drastic changes in the country.

Ji-li is a descendant of a black man – her grandfather. People were labeled black if they represented the Four Olds or opposed communism. For example, Ji-li’s grandfather was black because he was a capitalist landowner. As a result, Ji-li and her family were punished. She was mocked and harassed in the community. Such hardships could have pushed her to change negatively. Her cousin Shan-shan changed to support the Cultural Revolution. Ji-li did not. For Ji-li, getting rid of the Four Olds was hard to do. It was like battling with herself and the people. For her, the Four Olds were inside the people. The Four Olds were the people’s beliefs and thinking.

At the height of the Cultural Revolution, Ji-li’s life had changed so much. She no longer showed the peace, sweetness and happiness she used to have. The Red Guards’ activities in getting rid of the Four Olds tormented her. Her countenance and thinking showed her hardships. This condition slowly changed her thinking about the Communist Party and Mao Zedong. Ji-li’s loyalty to Chairman Mao declined over time. She knew that there was something wrong in Mao’s order to get rid of the Four Olds. Her childhood ideals of the Communist Party and her beloved China did not fit the real situation anymore.

Overall Effect of Getting Rid of the Four Olds

Eliminating the Four Olds from China was damaging. It damaged things and injured people physically. Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution damaged many people psychologically. Getting rid of the Four Olds damaged the Chinese society’s structure.

  • Esherick, J., Pickowicz, P., & Walder, A. G. (2006). The Chinese Cultural Revolution as History. Stanford University Press.
  • Gao, Y. (1987). Born red: A chronicle of the Cultural Revolution. Stanford University Press.
  • Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum (2017). Mao’s Dynasty: 1949-1976.
  • Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum (2017). 1949-1971: The Mao Empire.
  • Jiang, Ji Li. (1998). Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution. Harper Collins Children’s Books.
  • Jiang, Ji-li. Ji-li’s Books – Red Scarf Girl.
  • U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (1967). The Chinese Cultural Revolution.
  • Zuo, J. (1991). Political religion: The case of the cultural revolution in China. Sociology of Religion52(1), 99-110.

This article may not be reproduced, distributed, or mirrored without written permission from Panmore Institute and its author/s. Copyright by Panmore Institute - All rights reserved. Small parts of this article may be quoted or paraphrased for research purposes, as long as the article is properly cited and referenced together with its URL/link.