China for Kids: Cultural Revolution, Books for Kids and More

China for Kids with Children’s Books, Culture and Design

China for Kids: Cultural Revolution, Books for Kids and More

I thought I’d finish up my family history and then I promise to move on from Asia for a while! I covered my mother’s Japanese aristocratic Daimyo history here, and my husband’s royal Yi Dynasty ancestry here.

My father immigrated from China before the Communist Revolution and like most Mainland  China expats, he has his own Joy Luck Club tale to tell. But first, isn’t it funny/strange that most everyone seems to be related to a royal or an aristocrat if you just go far enough back in time? Is this because that is the history that people take pains to preserve? Or maybe these family trees are immense?

In any case, my father’s Chinese side of the family is not related to royals (though with so much history and shake ups, you’d think almost everyone in China had a shot at that) or aristocrats; his family were silk merchants. I don’t exactly have all the details but I would imagine that his family did soup to nuts — raising silk worms, spinning thread, weaving fabric and then selling it. I would also guess that they were prosperous but not moguls  in that I know that his relatives suffered greatly during the Cultural Revolution.

In China, most opportunities for advancement are based on standardized tests, particularly in education. My father did well and went to the top university in China and then he went on to teach math at a university. He was later sponsored by the Chinese government to study in the United States, and he went to U.C.L.A. to get his PhD in math. Rumor has it that he fudged his age a tad to appear younger in order to qualify.

The Communist Revolution happened and he was told to return to China. He decided to disobey and stayed. He met and  married my mother and taught math at several universities before settling down in Southern California at the newly established California State University, Long Beach. There was a small detail that I grew up not knowing. In order to study abroad, only married family men were selected so that they had an incentive to return. My father had a wife and two girls back in China and his wife was also a math professor. Apparently, this was not a marriage made in heaven though I do not think that it was an arranged marriage.

After the Communists took over, all communication between the U.S. and China ceased until Reagan opened China again in the 1970’s. My father made two trips to China; one right after China reopened by himself, and a decade or so later with us, his family. It was on this second trip that we were abruptly greeted at a hotel by his two girls who grew up, unusually in China, without a father. It seemed to me that this fatherless childhood was more traumatic to them than the Cultural Revolution. Years later I was surprised again to meet the children of my half-sisters in the United States. They had researched online to locate us and were now studying for their PhDs the United States. It really is a small world, isn’t it?!

So, to tie this in with my Teach Me Tuesday feature, I thought I would cover KidLit, Communist China era memorabilia, Zen interiors with Buddha heads. I picked Zen interiors only because I really like a good Buddha head; religion during Communist China did not really exist. Do you have or know of a Joy Luck Club story? Please share! It doesn’t have to be from China!


Children’s Literature

To cover the Culture Revolution, I selected Little Leap Forward, a chapter book about living during this time in China. Zen Shorts still remains one of my all time favorite picture books because is manages to combine Chinese Philosopher Chuang Tsu’s parables in a way that is accessible to kids and yet leave adult readers pondering Big Ideas. Finally, for everyone who has a Joy Luck Club story from their homeland, I hope that you all have had a chance to read this book that broke the ground for a new Asian American literature genre twenty-five years ago.

Mei-Mei Loves the Morning by Margaret Tsubakiyama

Experience life in China with Mei-Mei and her grandfather as they eat, bike and exercise through the streets of an urban city in China. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

Little Leap Forward by Guo Yue and Clare Farrow, illustrated by Helen Cann

The Cultural Revolution comes to life through the eyes of a young boy in this gentle easy chapter book about a difficult period in Communist China [easy chapter book, ages 8 and up]

Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

This was the book that started the new Asian Amerian literature genre and revealed that it was not just my family that had a secret past. [young adult/adult fiction, ages 12 and up]


Cultural Revolution Memorabilia

The strong graphic images of the Cultural Revolution (bad idea but good branding!) make for collectible memorabilia.

Mao Satchel Bag

Mao Clock

Mao’s Little Red Book

Army Hat (in army green or blue)

Mao Watch

Buddha Head Interior Design

I am partial to Buddha heads in interiors …

modern chinese interior design buddha heads pragmatic mom teach me tuesday china kidlit joy luck club jadeluckclub

from Interior Design


from Designer’s Portfolio, HGTV

from Mackenzie Pages

From A Creative Interior

Buddha Heads

Most of the Buddha heads I have purchased have come from flea markets, but here is a good selection I found on Amazon. I didn’t list the prices since these seem to change, but most are well under $100. Click on the Buddha head to see more info including price.  I use mine for book ends.

To view any object or image more closely, please click on image/book/object.

China for Kids: Cultural Revolution, Books for Kids and More

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. It’s fascinating hearing about your father’s story as I have lived in Mainland China as a student and journalist. I remember being so shocked when I taught English to graduate students in Beijing (when I was a young student) and some of them had spouses in other parts of the country that they were only able to visit once a year. I will have to get the children’s books you suggest as I’m always talking and telling my kids about China. One of my own favourite bits of memorabilia is a lighter that plays the communist anthem when you open the lid!
    Kriss MacDonald recently posted…The Colour of Home by British author Mary HoffmanMy Profile

  2. I’m also going to use the word fascinating, because that’s what it is. Thank you so much for linking it in with the Kid Lit Blog Hop.
    Jemima Pett recently posted…Kid Lit Blog HopMy Profile

  3. Thank you for linking to the Kid Lit Blog Hop. I learned so much from your post about China and your dad’s life. I am going to look through and read your previous posts as well. Thanks again!

  4. Thank you for sharing your father’s story – how incredibly interesting. I’ve found a collection of children’s books about the cultural revolution, but I hadn’t heard of Little Leap Forward – I’ll have to check that out. I’ve learned so much this past year about the communist revolution, I’m surprised I knew so little of it to begin with! I won’t be sharing it all with our girls, but hopefully with these books, a good introduction.

  5. It’s a great post to share with Afterschool. My grandfather was actually serving as a Soviet military adviser to Mao before Soviet-Chinese relationship soured. He had two military awards in his service, and I remember always wanting to wear them during special celebrations 🙂
    Natalie recently posted…Week In Review–October 6, 2013My Profile

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