Jiang, whose parents were both actors, grew up surrounded by actors and drama, and she dreamed of being on the stage herself. However, during the Cultural Revolution, she was not accepted by professional art troupes because of her family’s bad political status. Jiang hoped that things would change after the Revolution ended in 1976 when she applied to the Shanghai Drama Institute. Her failure to obtain a place was a devastating blow to Jiang, and it was then that she vowed to write her story and share it with the world.
The final push to tell Jiang’s story came when she was working for a hotel chain in Hawaii. A co-worker asked why Jiang did not have bound feet. Footbinding was an ancient Chinese practice in which young girls’ feet were tightly wound in cloth bands to keep them from growing. Jiang was surprised by the question because footbinding had been illegal in China since 1911. “I was shocked: this was like asking ‘How come you don’t wear a corset?’” Struck by how little her American co-workers knew of China and the Chinese people, she made up her mind to begin writing her story.
Once Jiang found a publisher for her finished story, her editor, Ginee Seo, worked closely with her to make sure that the book could be understood by American readers. References to Chinese culture that might be confusing were developed for clarity. All their work evidently paid off because Jiang has been overwhelmed with praise for the book since its publication.
Jiang originally did not intend Red Scarf Girl to be for young people, but she has said that she is “glad it turned out to be a children’s book.” She has also said, “Maybe from my book readers can learn that we all go through suffering for different reasons. Maybe my story can give readers the courage to make right decisions.”