Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party

Ying Chang Compestine

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)




256 Pages


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Nine-year-old Ling is very comfortable in her life; her parents are both dedicated surgeons in the best hospital in Wuhan. But when Comrade Li, one of Mao’s political officers, moves into a room in their apartment, Ling begins to witness the gradual disintegration of her world. In an atmosphere of increasing mistrust, Ling fears for the safety of her neighbors and, soon, for herself and family. Over the course of four years, Ling manages to grow and blossom, even as she suffers more horrors than many people face in a lifetime.

Drawing from her childhood experience, Ying Chang Compestine brings hope and humor to this compelling story for all ages about a girl fighting to survive during the Cultural Revolution in China.


Praise for Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party

"Ling, the daughter of two doctors, has a comfortable life in Wuhan, China. She enjoys her English lessons with her father and the walks they take along the river. Her life changes dramatically when Comrade Li, one of Mao's political officers, moves into her family's apartment in this coming-of-age novel by Ying Chang Compestine. Ling watches helplessly as family friends are taken away by the military. Her father burns old photos and English language books, hoping to protect his family. Each family member keeps up appearances of being a Mao supporter while quietly helping others maintain a reasonable quality of life. Ling matures far beyond her 13 years as she copes with her father's eventual imprisonment and the constant torment by classmates who have joined the Red Guard. Narrator Jodi Long skillfully moves from naïve Ling who never quite accepts the hardships in her life to belligerent and officious Comrade Li who seems to find pleasure in hurting others. Long easily conveys Ling's confusion and bewilderment through her tone and pacing, and powerfully communicates Ling's inner strength and determination that life will improve some day. This semi-autobiographical novel comes alive with the author's rich descriptions of the sights and smells of China at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution."—Wendy Woodfill, Hennepin County Library, Minnetonka, Minnesota, School Library Journal

"Known for her picture books, Compestine grew up in China, during the Cultural Revolution, and her autobiographical novel tells the history from the viewpoint of the young, protected, privileged child who loses her innocence when political brutality invades her home. For nine-year-old Ling, things always seem clear. She's close to her loving father, who teaches her English and about freedom in America, but she feels distant from her tense, angry mother. During the course of four years, repression increases, and eventually the Red Guards arrest Dad as a class enemy. Ling feels the repression in other ways, too; she stands up to class bullies who try to cut off her 'bourgeois' hair. Always she is sustained by memories of her brave father and his dream of freedom. In clipped lyrical sentences, Compestine's first-person narrative sets a naïve child's struggle to survive against betrayal and courage in one neighborhood and also the political panorama of spies and slogans."—Hazel Rochman, Booklist

"Based on the author's family's experiences in China during the Cultural Revolution under Mao, this tells of one family's losses in that turbulent era. The narrator Ling is a little child at the beginning of her story, and as her family faces more and more hardship, she gets older and tougher. Ling is the only child of a loving father who is a doctor and a mother who works at the hospital too. As the story begins, they enjoy a wonderful life together. Soon, however, they are accused of being enemies of the people and their comfortable life gets harder and harder. Ling's father is imprisoned, yet released occasionally to perform surgeries on party officials, so Ling tries to sneak into the hospital to catch a glimpse of her father at those times. Ling's mother gets more and more depressed, and Ling is afraid she will commit suicide. The title is taken from a saying of Chairman Mao. Compestine does a good job giving young YA readers a realistic picture of what that period of history meant to individuals caught in the political nightmare. Certainly those with a Chinese heritage will find the story important to understand their own family history."—KLIATT
"During the early 1970s, nine-year-old Ling and her parents lived through the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Without an invitation, one of Chairman Mao Zedong's political officers moved in with the family. Ling's father was subsequently imprisoned for being a 'bourgeois sympathizer.' At school, Ling's individuality and life were threatened on a daily basis by her revolutionary classmates. The death of Chairman Mao on September 9, 1976, marked the beginning of better days ahead for Ling, her parents, and the Chinese people. Many of the events in Compestine's fictional debut novel actually occurred during her childhood. Early on in this story, Ling felt closer to her father as a result of her mother's constant criticism. After her protective father's imprisonment, Ling relied on her mother and her own five senses to survive. The similes that are used by Compestine—'Ling, your hair is as dry as dead grass'—add to the story's appeal. This freedom-loving reviewer appreciated this novel."—Children's Literature
"The Cultural Revolution marches into young Ling Chang's life, upsetting the pleasant routines of living in the medical complex. Beautifully descriptive phrases allow this autobiographical fiction to come alive with the colors of the clothing that are lovingly sewn for Ling, the aromatic preparations of the food that is cooked, and the genuine appreciation of school, work, and valued neighbors. Then Comrade Li is forced to live in the Chang home, and as the Red Guard takes over, people are spied upon, denounced, and arrested, including Ling's surgeon father. Mounting fear pervades daily life, rations become scarce, and in the name of Mao's revolution, the bourgeois are the enemy. Ling is ostracized and bullied at school and the danger of losing her parents lurks around every corner. Violence is highlighted in vivid detail, and the reader watches the changes as they affect Ling growing up. The secret radio to the West, the image of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the question of the nature of freedom draw American readers into a historically accurate portrayal of this period in China. The simple narrative is [refreshing] . . . in its youthful disbelief of the hardships that have befallen them in a changing political situation."—VOYA
"Picture book and cookbook author Compestine turns to 1972 China as the setting for her first YA novel . . . Ling, the spunky daughter of two doctors, lives in Wuhan, China; dreamy and idealistic, she often describes her world in metaphor (about her neighbor, Ling notes, Mrs. Wong was fragrant and warm like a red peony, which always welcomed visitors). But the lives of Ling and her family are disrupted when Comrade Li, an officer of the Communist Party, moves into their apartment. Difficulties mount as friends and neighbors disappear, Ling's father is arrested and she endures vicious tormenting at school because of her bourgeois background ('At times I wished my family was poor and my parents worked on a vegetable farm . . . so I could have friends. But if my parents worked on a farm, who would treat their patients?'). Although her father has been jailed, her family starved and their books burned, Ling fights to keep her long hair, a symbol of dignity and individualism to her, though her classmates see it as emblematic of Ling's privilege. Ling survives on wit, hope and courage until the death of Chairman Mao, after which she and her mother have a joyful reunion with Ling's father. Readers should remain rapt by Compestine's storytelling throughout this gripping account of life during China's Cultural Revolution."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"It's 1972 China, and nine-year-old Ling is the child of two doctors. Life isn't perfect, but Ling is happy, excels at school and loves studying English with her father. Everything changes with the advent of Chairman Mao's regime. Luxurious items like flowered fabrics and pastries disappear. Anything associated with the West becomes suspect. Then a political watchdog moves into the family's apartment. Their upstairs neighbors, the Wongs, are denounced and arrested; Ling's parents are demoted; and the family lives in fear about the future. School is horrible; Ling becomes the target of the son of a government official and is mocked and beaten because she's seen as bourgeois. When Ling's father saves a political poet, he too is taken into custody, and Ling and her mother must survive alone as further horrors unfold. This child's-eye view of the Chinese Cultural Revolution is ultimately a tale of survival; lyrical yet gripping, accessible and memorable, it's based on the author's experiences. Certain to inspire discussion about freedom and justice."—Kirkus Reviews

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Read an Excerpt

Mother picked up a stack of old newspapers from beside

the stove. Carefully, she checked every page before

laying it around a stool, setting two sheets with Chairman

Mao's pictures on the counter. Months earlier, a nurse

had been sent to prison as an anti-Maoist just because

she lit her stove with a newspaper page with Mao's


I noticed a cloth rice sack in the corner next to some

herbal medicine bottles and folded clothes. "Why are you

packing, Mom?"

Without answering me, she led me to the stool and

raked her hard-toothed
Read the full excerpt


  • Ying Chang Compestine

  • Ying Chang Compestine grew up in China and now lives in Lafayette, California, with her husband and son. She is the author of several picture books and has written three cookbooks for adults. This is her first novel. 
  • Ying Chang Compestine



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