My Name Is Number 4 A True Story from the Cultural Revolution

Ting-xing Ye

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

240 Pages


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Number Four will have a difficult life. These are the words that were uttered upon Ting-xing Ye's birth. Soon this prophecy would prove only too true . . .        Here is the real-life story about the fourth child in a family torn apart by China's Cultural Revolution. After the death of both of her parents, Ting-xing and her siblings endured brutal Red Guard attacks on their schools and even in their home. At the age of sixteen, Ting-xing is exiled to a prison farm far from the world she knows. How she struggled through years of constant terror while keeping her spirit intact is at the heart of My Name Is Number 4. Haunting and inspiring, Ting-xing Ye's personal account of this horrific period in history is one that no reader will soon forget.


Praise for My Name Is Number 4

"My Name is Number 4, by Ting-Xing Ye, is a true and sobering story of growing up during China's Cultural Revolution. The Ye family owned a factory and that made them enemies of the people in Mao's China. The children in the family were referred to by their birth order. Ting-Xing, the fourth to come along, tells of life under the Red Guard, a mobocracy who scorned learning and lived by slogans and the practice of terror. At age 16, Ye was sent to a prison farm in the countryside. She survived spiritually and emotionally, as well as physically. Number 4 puts a human face and a personal story on a brutal time."—Sarah Bryan Miller, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Ting-Xing Ye was barely 14, an orphan with four siblings (she is named for her place in the birth order), when she saw her first 'big character' posters: ‘Suspend classes to make revolution!' and 'Long Live the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution!' It was the spring of 1966. The Red Guard was purging schools and universities; by August, Ye writes, 'Mao Ze-dong had unleashed a violent windstorm that would engulf me and my siblings because we had been born to a capitalist father and mother who were no longer around to be attacked.' Her story, told with little embellishment, covers her years of 'education and reform' in Shanghai and her years of hard labor after she was 'sent down' to a labor camp called the Da Feng Farm. The rigors of farm life—converting cotton fields to rice paddies by hand, harvesting and threshing—were made more onerous by other torments. Ye ran afoul of the 'red face . . . white face,' or good cop, bad cop, team that oversaw her brigade. They put her through 'struggle sessions' and weeks of torture by sleep deprivation until she wrote a fake confession implicating her only friends. She was denied visits home and sentenced to prison. The mounting set of obstacles called forth a courage and fortitude that are likely the intended lessons for this book's young adult audience, as is her persistence, which is highlighted when her determination to learn English became her path back into the world."—Jane Ciabattari, The Washington Post Book World
"In a time where what your parents did defines who you are, Ting-xing Ye is growing up. As the Cultural Revolution evolves and changes from white to black, Ye is trying to go to school and become smart enough to go to a University like her brother. That is the only way for her to become independent of welfare and live a better life then what she has. But when Ting-xing Ye is sent to a prison farm so her sister can get a job, not only has it become a much more difficult struggle to survive, but also it means the chances of her going to a University are getting thinner and thinner. Injuries and sickness plague the farm, but will Ting-xing be able to survive and overcome, and eventually be able to achieve her dreams? Wow. Wow and amazingly good. That's really all I can say about this book. For this author to be able to go through what she did and then write about it is truly amazing to me. My Name is Number Four is a shockingly true poetic novel that will have every single person who opens the book unable to put it down. Not only is this book surprisingly easy to fallow, it also educates the reader about the Chinese Cultural Revolution without being boring or sounding too much like a homework assignment. My Name is Number Four may be one of the best books I have read this year.”—Flamingnet
"Powerful and unforgettable . . . told with authenticity and passion."—Ji-li Jiang, award-winning author of Red Scarf Girl
"Riveting . . . . The power of this memoir lies not just in the details of this period, but in the honesty of its telling."—The Globe and Mail
"This abridged version of the author's adult autobiography, A Leaf in Bitter Wind (1998), brings the horror of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution to vivid life by combining clean prose with gritty detail. Ting-Xing Ye was the fourth child born to a family of Chinese rubber merchants in 1952. Her parents died soon after the 'Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution' began, leaving upper-class Ting-Xing and her siblings at the mercy of Mao's Red Guards, lower-class youth who terrorized citizens under the guise of destroying the 'Four Olds': culture, customs, habits and ways of learning. At 16, Ting-Xing was exiled to a prison farm due to a government policy intended to ease urban overpopulation. Frightened and alone, she used her limited free time to study, winning a coveted place at university after six years of hard labor and humiliating interrogation. Teens will be fascinated by the details of Ye's impoverished adolescence, and inspired by her determination to continue her education against all odds. A worthy addition to the growing canon of Cultural Revolution literature."—Kirkus Reviews

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I was born in Shanghai, late on a hot June afternoon in 1952, the fourth child in my family. So I was called Ah Si, Number 4.

My father decided four kids were enough, but rather than rely on birth control, which was officially discouraged at that time, he put his faith in the power of words. Choosing a formal name for a child was no small matter: it required the weighing of tradition and precedent.

My surname, Ye, means Leaf. My generation name, Xing—Capable—had been decreed by my paternal grandfather after casting bamboo fortune telling
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  • Ting-xing Ye

  • Ting-xing Ye is the author of the international bestseller A Leaf in the Bitter Wind. Once an English interpreter for the Chinese government, she now lives in Canada.