Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party

Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party

by Ying Chang Compestine

Paperback(First Edition)

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The summer of 1972, before I turned nine, danger began knocking on doors all over China.

Nine-year-old Ling has a very happy life. Her parents are both dedicated surgeons at the best hospital in Wuhan, and her father teaches her English as they listen to Voice of America every evening on the radio. But when 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 and hatred, Ling fears for the safety of her neighbors, and soon, for herself and her family. For the next four years, Ling will suffer more horrors than many people face in a lifetime. Will she be able to grow and blossom under the oppressive rule of Chairman Mao? Or will fighting to survive destroy her spirit—and end her life?

Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party is a 2008 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312581497
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 09/29/2009
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 183,039
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.80(d)
Lexile: 740L (what's this?)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Ying Chang Compestine grew up in China and now lives in California with her husband and son. She is the author of the young adult story collection A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts, as well as several picture books for children and cookbooks for adults.

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 photo.
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 comb through my hair.
As each stroke yanked at my scalp, pain shot through my mosquito-chewed body. I clenched my teeth, not wanting to cry out. Were we going to a labor camp?
Before knowing that they kept Father in the jail nearby, I had wished they would send us to his camp, wherever it was. Now I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to be here in case they ever brought him back to the hospital.
Something cold drizzled through my hair. Within a second, my scalp burned. “I hope this will kill the lice,” Mother whispered. Her ox-bone comb scraped against my raw scalp.
I couldn’t bear any more of the pain and the itching.
“You are hurting me!” I shouted.
Mother stopped.
Stiffening my back, I waited for her to scold me for raising my voice and showing disrespect.
A moment later, she whispered, “Ling, your hair is too thick. The coal oil can’t kill all the lice.” She put down her comb and left the room.
Didn’t she hear me shouting? What was she planning to do now?
Mother returned with a pair of scissors and Father’s razor. “We have to shave your head.”
I jumped off the chair. “No! There must be another way!”
She took a step back. “I don’t know what else to do, Ling. I used up this month’s ration. I even emptied the lamp. If I don’t cut your hair, the lice will spread throughout the apartment.” She tilted the blue oil cup, showing me it was empty. We received two cups of coal oil each month. Without the oil, we’d have to live in the dark for the rest of the month. Now I hated myself for being caught and for falling asleep on the dirty mattress.
Seeing sadness in her eyes, I knew she wouldn’t cut my hair if she could find another way. As far back as I could remember, she had told me that ladies should let their hair grow.
“Do what you must!” I was shaking, trying to hold my despair inside, as I threw myself back into the chair. I didn’t care about being a lady. I wanted to be a mean dragon. More than anything, I wanted to stop the pain and itching. I thought of Chairman Mao’s wife Jiang Qing’s ugly short hair.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Father's Ponytails,
Waste Is a Great Crime,
Bartering with Comrade Li,
Homemade Ice Cream and German Chocolate,
"Bloodsucking Landlord!",
Will Butterflies Land on Me?,
The Terrifying Birthday,
Crushed under the Heel,
Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party,
Drawing a Class Line,
Dark Clouds,
Would I Ever See Him Again?,
The Long White Rope,
Shopping with Mother,
Angry Tiger,
Too Proud to Bend,
Waiting for Daddy,
Howling Wolf,
Pig Fat,
Golden Gate Bridge,
Author's Note,
Historical Background,
Discussion Questions,
GOFISH - Questions for the Author,
Steamed Dumplings,
Copyright Page,

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

1. The title of this book comes from a passage from Mao Tse-tung's Little Red Book:

"A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gently, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained, and magnanimous."

Why do you think the author chose to take the title from this passage?

2. Why do you think Chairman Mao was so easily able to turn neighbors against neighbors during the Cultural Revolution?

3. Ling's mother is able to sense early on that things in China are changing (on page 11, Ling notes that her mother had been in a bad mood for almost a year). What early indications does the author give that "danger [is] knocking on doors all over China"?

4. Why does Ling's mother disapprove of so much of her behavior (page 15)? Why do you think Mother seems to Ling "like a proud white rose," which Ling is "afraid to touch because of [the] thorns" (page 40)?

5. A propaganda film is a film produced (often by a government) to convince the viewer of a certain political point or influence the opinions or behavior of people. The Midnight Rooster in Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party (page 60) is an example of such a film. What effect did watching this film have on the students at Ling's school? Why do you think Ling did not react to the film in the same way as her classmates?

6. What role does food play in the narrative of Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party? Why do you think food is so central to this book?

7. Ling's understanding of what bourgeois means changes throughout the book. Based on the events of the novel, what did the word mean during China's Cultural Revolution? Why was it bad for a family to be bourgeois?

8. Father chose to stay in China rather than go to America with Dr. Smith to help build a new China. The rally cry of Comarde Li's Red Guard is also for a new China. Why are the two groups (people like Mother and Father and devotees of Chairman Mao) not able to work together to build a new China?

9. When Ling asks Mother why her family needs to hang so many portraits of Mao in their apartment (page 104), Mother explains, "It's like the incense we burn in the summer to keep the mosquitos away." What does she mean?

10. What does the Golden Gate Bridge represent to Ling and her family?

11. Mr. Ji, the antirevolutionary writer Ling and Father save, says "dark clouds have concealed the sun for too long" before he leaves their apartment (page 136). What does he mean?

12. What keeps Ling, Mother, and Father from losing hope like Mr. Ji and the baby doctor did?

13. Why does Father operate on Comrade Sin?

14. A simile is a literary device that uses like or as to compare two things. How does the author of Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party use similes throughought the book?

15. Can you think of a time in America's history when the political atmosphere was like that in Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party? Why do you think people, no matter what country they live in, behave this way?

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Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
abicantrell More than 1 year ago
This was interesting, very easy to follow, and has some emotional events that take place. It is interesting to see how strong Ling is in the situations that she encounters. A quick read and well worth it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After studying China's modern history in political terms, this story was captivating as it brought me more understanding of the people's livelihood at the time and how it was affected. The novel was written in a way that the emotions of the characters could be felt. Stories like this help me learn more about the time period in a compelling way, especially when they are written as good as this.
HistoryBuff45 More than 1 year ago
This was a very gripping read from a time period which I was just learning about, the Cultural Revolution. This book was definatly an eye opener! I was caught up in everything and I loved it. What she had to go though is unimaginable to a girl today. A definate read.
nicholspdx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A truly compelling story that children should read. All children should know history and this books make the history of Mao's revolution come alive. All children should know the struggles other cultures go through and this is a great example.
abbylibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Based on actual events from the author's childhood, this novel tells the story of Ling, a young girl growing up during China's Cultural Revolution. Her whole world is turned upside down as people she loves are taken away, food becomes scarce, and her classmates torture her for being part of the bourgeois. I've always had an interest in China and I thought this was a fairly accessible glimpse into the Cultural Revolution. Content-wise, I think it's appropriate for middle schoolers (though there is some violence), but I'm not sure they would have the historical background to understand it. Still, this could be a useful classroom book to pair with a study of the Cultural Revolution or Communism. There is an author's note included and a note on the history of the Cultural Revolution. I wish that the historical note had come before the novel instead of after it (although... does anyone besides librarians read authors and historical notes?).
horomnizon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful historical look at a time that many young people know nothing about. I am planning to pass this along to a young lady who was adopted from China. The story takes place in the mid-1970s, preceding Mao Zedong's death and is told by a young girl who sees the horrors happening around her and refuses to give in to them, while learning to do as she must to survive. Her father is taken away and her mother is almost paralyzed by thoughts of what might happen to them, but history takes its course and the future is a little bit brighter. While the book is fiction, it is written by somebody who lived during those times and Compestine has based many of her characters on people she knew and events that did happen. This was an eye opener and has encouraged me to read more about the history of China - a country I know very little about. Really a great read - girls should particularly like it. And even though we don't all face such hardships, the courage of Ling can teach us all a great lesson.
ambookgeek on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In some ways, Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party strikes one as yet another story of the life of a young girl coming of age during the Cultural Revolution. Think ... Red Scarf Girl ... Compestine's young LIng, however, is brought to life with such nice skill that in spite of the fact that I have read numerous variations of this now familiar tale, there were sections of the read where I was moved to tears.
autumnesf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Novel based on the life of the author growing up in China during the mid to late 70's. Although other books have been written on the same subject (Red Scarf Girl) the voice in this one is really well done. Also, the character has spunk - which in a way is painful as she makes herself a target with the little red guards. A good read for middle schoolers that will give them a good like at this period in China. It is one I'd like my Chinese daughter to read when she is older.
MonicaFontenot on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ling is an only child of two doctors who live in Wuhan, China during the Cultural Revolution set in the years of 1972-1976. Her family struggles to survive during many hardships brought on by the military. She matures from a daddy's girl into a strong, willful young adult who stands up for herself and her beliefs. This novel could be used in grades 4 and up with students ranging in ages from nine and above. It would be great in a world history class or in a thematic unit on China. The inside front and back covers have a map of the area described in the story which could be used in a geography lesson. I learned about a time, culture, and political information I didn't know about before. My favorite part of the story is reading about the main character's feelings toward others. The least favorite part is when the military makes people suffer saying it will benefit all.
erineell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Revolution is Not a Dinner Party gives readers a honest and raw portrayal of life for an intellectual family during the peak of China¿s Cultural Revolution. Ling, a nine year-old girl who lives with her doctor parents in their comfortable apartment, is oblivious to the political change occurring in her community. Naïve and hopeful, Ling is impressed by the Red Guard officer that is stationed to live in her apartment. He is bold and always sharing of the teachings of Chairman Mao. However, as time passes everything about her life changes for the worse- no food, her dad¿s wrongfully imprisonment, no electricity, her house ransacked, people being forced to relocation and personally being victimized. Ling¿s invincible life is shattered. She blames Chairman Mao¿s ideologies for the hardships that her family, friends and community face. Being accused of being a trader to Chairman Mao and taunted ¿bourgeous,¿ Ling struggles to make choices that will protect her and her loved ones while fulfilling her urge to revolt against her oppressors. Ying Chang Compestine uses her personal experience and those of others who lived in China during the Cultural Revolution to expose the dark realities of an unjust dictatorship. Readers will identify with the inner struggles of Ling and be reminded of the human spirit and what one is able to endure when in survival mode. Revolution is not a Dinner Party transcends cultures and speaks to freedom and justice. Additional features in this book that add to the credibility and background knowledge of China are: an author¿s note, historical note and a brief interview with the author. The discussion questions also helps readers to process the overall themes and controversy within this novel. Revolution is Not a Dinner Party is a quick, but powerful read.
rapago on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book that all teens and other children should read. It is not so much that the writing is that good, but the subject is something that all people should know about. Learning history, through the words of fiction writers is an interesting way to discover new things. I think that knowing about what happened during the Cultural Revolution is as important as knowing about the Holocaust and other atrocities that have been committed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I first read it in real life and finished it and i have to have it here to read it over and over again because its my fav book of all time and i just love it so much
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'll try
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AlexanderSepp More than 1 year ago
"Certain to inspire discussion about freedom and justice." Yes, as for those beautiful pastries and flower stitched clothes: Which peasant under feudal china could afford anything else except mudpies and the little rice that the land owning lords left for them? The Chinese revolution and subsequent cultural revolution is one of the most amazing developments in human history. The first time that the majority of working people rose up and attacked all things contrary to their class interest, symbolic of their thousands of years of silent indignation and subordination to kings, royals, monarchs, masters and capitalists. It is too bad that human society developed into classes as a result of undereducation and animal instincts, but at the rare revolutionary moments of history when the systemically suppressed masses rise up and demanding before their bourgeois rights of freedom of criticism and freedom to exploit, the right to self-determination of labor, production of all working people and the freedom to partake in society and its riches, created by themselves.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
iLoveGod5 More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love this book!!! It is descriptive and fun to read for everyone- even for those who hate reading! I could not put this book down and forgot that I had to read it for an AP History class! The voice the main character has is aw-striking and amazing. This story will touch the hearts of all those who read it!!!
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Schoovala More than 1 year ago
I thought this novel, despite its size, was a fabulous read. It shows the view of a young girl(Ling) in the time of the Chinese Revolution. Ling is the daughter of two doctors. When Mao Tse Tung enters Ling's life everything she loves begins to go away. When they take away her father Ling is brave and starts standing up for what she believes is right. Although I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read it, i especially recommend it to 11-13 year olds or people who are interested in the Chinese Revolution.