Snow Falling in Spring Coming of Age in China During the Cultural Revolution

Moying Li

Square Fish



Trade Paperback

192 Pages



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In 1966 Moying, a student at a prestigious language school in Beijing, seems destined for a promising future. Everything changes when student Red Guards begin to orchestrate brutal assaults, violent public humiliations, and forced confessions. After watching her teachers and headmasters beaten in public, Moying flees school for the safety of home, only to witness her beloved grandmother denounced, her home ransacked, her father's precious books flung onto the back of a truck, and Baba himself taken away. From labor camp, Baba entrusts a friend to deliver a reading list of banned books to Moying so that she can continue to learn. Now, with so much of her life at risk, she finds sanctuary in the world of imagination and learning.

This inspiring memoir follows Moying Li from age twelve to twenty-two, illuminating a complex, dark time in China's history as it tells the compelling story of one girl's difficult but determined coming-of-age during the Cultural Revolution.


Praise for Snow Falling in Spring

"Snow Falling in Spring joins other important books about the Cultural Revolution . . . as childhood testimonies to national trauma, cautionary tales for our own time, and appreciations for homes, old and new."San Francisco Chronicle

"The simple, direct narrative will grab readers with the eloquent account of daily trauma and hope."—Booklist (starred)

"Reports of family imprisonment, death, betrayal of people she thought she once knew, endless control of everyday life, were all commonplace in Moying Li's life during China's Cultural Revolution. Intimidation was often the weapon of choice, followed by destruction of personal and public property. Even siblings of school friends joined the Red Guards, Chairman Mao's youth group helped uphold Mao's teachings and instructions through brute force, threats, and hostility. Li's close family, teachers, and friends were all targeted, and political sentiments threatened to prevent Li from achieving a once in a lifetime opportunity. Although Li is not the outgoing protagonist that is organizing protests, she fights back in her own way. She reads banned books from a list supplied by her educated, imprisoned father, which include all of Shakespeare's writings, fairy tales, Jack London's Call of the Wild, Mark Twain's stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, respectively, as well as others from Russian, British, and American literature. Li continues to secretly educate herself, despite the fact her school, job, and location are assigned to her. As the major events begin in the mid 1960s, it is interesting to learn about a historical event that is not too far removed from today. The writing is so steady and calm; it only creates a larger contrast to the jarring events and gruesome disregard for humanity. This is a fantastic way to use history to stir up emotion and discussion about government control, loyalty, choice, and civil rights."—Renee Farrah, Children's Literature

"In 1958, four-year-old Moying Li lived with her extended family in a hutong, a neighborhood of traditional courtyard houses, in Beijing. By the fall of that year, the Great Leap Forward had begun, and their courtyard had been transformed by the addition of a huge brick furnace where family and neighbors worked unceasingly, throwing in bits of scrap metal, which produced only a useless, inferior steel. In her engaging memoir of growing up in China, Li tells the story of her family's efforts first to follow with enthusiasm Chairman Mao's dictates and then to comply with them despite disillusionment and fear. In 1963, when she was nine, Li went to the Foreign Language School, where she thrived. Her life changed in 1966, the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, when her beloved teachers were attacked by Red Guards and the headmaster of the school hanged himself. Her mother had been sent to the countryside to teach, and eventually her father was denounced and packed off to a labor camp. This beautifully written memoir joins a growing body of literature, such as Ji-Li Jiang's Red Scarf Girl (HarperCollins, 1997) and Chen Yu's Little Green, about life in China during the Cultural Revolution. Because this book starts with the Great Leap Forward and extends beyond the end of the Cultural Revolution, it offers a somewhat broader view of a nation in turmoil and illustrates the grit and determination necessary for survival in a dysfunctional society."—Barbara Scotto, School Library Journal

"Recalling 2007's Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party, a fictionalized autobiography by Ying Chang Compestine, this memoir also offers a highly personal look at China's Cultural Revolution. The author is four years old when Mao initiates the Great Leap Forward in 1958, and she describes the transformation of the family's shared, once lovely courtyard as the neighbors follow orders to erect a brick furnace and feed it all their metals in an attempt to produce iron and steel. Everyone, including the child narrator, willingly cooperates, but the instructions are flawed and everything is ruined. The episode prefigures what follows: diligence is repaid with destruction, obedience with chaos, loyalty with treachery. Li effectively builds the climate of fear that accompanies the rise of the Red Guard, while accounts of her headmaster's suicide and the pulping of her father's book collection give a harrowing, closeup view of the persecution. Sketches about her grandparents root the narrative within a broader context of Chinese traditions as well as her own family's values, establishing a basis for Li's later portrayal of the individuals around her who respond to oppression with hope and faith in knowledge and education."—Publishers Weekly (starred)

"When Li was 12 years old, the Chinese Cultural Revolution began and changed life in that nation. For Li and her family, the peaceful situation, in which several generations of the family lived together in harmony, changed precipitously. Mao's revolution destroyed family customs and life. Members of educated, comfortable families who lacked political influence (like Li's) were forced into reeducation according to Communist principles. Her father was sent to a Labor Camp and she went to boarding schools some distance from Beijing. Her education was thorough but strict. The Red Guards controlled life, destroying her father's valuable library, forcing false confessions, denouncing people and punishing them in public-a dictatorship of thugs. Told in the first person, the narrative will enable readers to sympathize with Li and feel relief when she leaves to study at Swarthmore College after ten years of education in China. Combined with The Diary of Ma Yan, readers can begin to know about education and life in modern China."—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

From Snow Falling in Spring

In front of Baba's eyes, they flung book after book onto the stone floor. One of them reached into a lower shelf for Baba's rare books. Dragging them out by their silk strings, he yanked them open.


Read the full excerpt


  • Moying Li

  • Moyling Li, one of the first students to leave China for study abroad after the Cultural Revolution, came to the United States in 1980 on a full scholarship from Swarthmore College. She holds an M.A., an M.B.A., and a Ph.D. She lives in Boston and Beijing.

  • Moying Li