Memoirist Wenguang Huang was once a member of China's communist youth organization, which, during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), was known as The Little Red Guard. The group was originally formed by the Communist Party of China in 1949 as The Youth and Children of China Movement, but in 1953, it was renamed The Young Pioneers - the name the organization reverted to after the Cultural Revolution ended.
Most Chinese children become members of the Young Pioneers by the end of their grade school years; in 2002 it was estimated that over 130 million youths belonged to the organization. Those between the ages of 6 and 14 are eligible to join, after which time they may choose to advance to the Communist Youth League of China.
A red scarf is one of the most symbolic elements of the Young Pioneers uniform and is worn to school every day. The color is said to be derived from the blood sacrificed by martyrs of the Revolution, and children are taught that it is to be worn in reverence. Its shape - a triangle - symbolizes a corner of the communist flag. Being awarded a scarf indicates the student has acceptable grades, is a good citizen and shows proper respect for authority. It's generally given to new members by a senior member of the group who ties the scarf around the neophyte's neck during an award ceremony.
As described in an article in the New York Times: "Each year, nearly every second-grader in China goes through a solemn rite of initiation. Lined up before an audience of classmates, teachers and perhaps some beaming parents, the school band playing at the side, they stand at attention as sixth-graders march up and place red kerchiefs around their necks. An older student leads them in the pledge... From that day on, through the sixth grade, the students wear their kerchiefs to school every day - except in hot weather, when they wear a red pin instead." This ritual usually takes place on June 1, a holiday known as Children's Day on which children are encouraged to have fun by going to movies, playing with toys, etc.
The purpose of the Young Pioneers is to instill the basic tenants of Chinese communism in the students. They learn about the Communist Party's triumphs, respect for authority, and the importance of doing good deeds. They also read about model citizens who have given their lives in the service of others. The group is highly organized with a hierarchical leadership structure, a slogan, code of conduct, pledge, flag, badge and salute (see below).
Image of Young Pioneer saluting found at BetterLivingThroughBeowulf.com
This article was originally published in May 2012, and has been updated for the
April 2013 paperback release.
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