This is the fascinating story of how a young Chinese author, Guang Weiran, a passionate militant from the age of twelve, fought, using art, theater, poetry and song, especially the famous Yellow River Cantata — the anthem of Chinese national spirit — to create a socially just China. Set during the period of the struggle against the Japanese and the war against the Kuomintang in the 1920s and ’30s, this book, written and illustrated by Guang Weiran’s award-winning artist son, Ange Zhang, illuminates a key period in China’s history. The passion and commitment of the artists who were born under the repressive weight of the Japanese occupation, the remnants of the decaying imperial order and the times of colonial humiliation are inspiring.
Zhang’s words and wood-block style of art tell us the story of his father’s extraordinary youth and very early rise to prominence due to his great talent with words. We see and hear the intensity of what it meant to be alive at such a significant moment in the history of China, a country that understands itself as the heir to one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known. The humiliations and social injustice the Chinese people had endured in the colonial period were no longer bearable. And yet there were major factional differences between those who wanted to create a modern China. Ange’s words and art paint the picture for us through his father’s story, accompanied by sidebars that explain the historical context.
The book ends in a burst of glorious color and song, with the words of Yellow River Cantata in Mandarin, as well as newly translated into English. This great song turns eighty years old in 2019, and will be sung and performed by huge orchestras and choirs around the world, as the Chinese diaspora has embraced the cantata as its own.
Ange Zhang has illustrated many books for Groundwood, most notably his memoir of growing up during the Cultural Revolution, Red Land, Yellow River, which won the Bologna Ragazzi Award. A former designer for the National Opera Theater in Beijing, he now works as an animation artist. He lives in Toronto.
Reviews for A Song For China by Ange Zhang:
“Succinct history, an inspiring personal story, clear language, and engaging artwork make this volume an appealing choice for middle school readers.” — School Library Journal
“While never eliding tragic details . . . Zhang presents his father’s difficult decades with subtle control, ensuring younger readers an age-appropriate introduction to major historical events. . . . Zhang’s intimate gift honoring his late father becomes a revelation for new audiences.” — Booklist, starred review
“A Song for China is a dense, masterful work, ideal for rich discussions about art and culture, war and politics.” — Quill & Quire
“An informative resource rich with mixed-media visuals.” — Kirkus Reviews
Reviews for Red Land, Yellow River by Ange Zhang:
“Although presented in picture-book format, this is a sophisticated personal reflection on the Cultural revolution …” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review
“On nearly every page, Zhang’s distinctive artwork opens a window into his past. At times painterly, at times reminiscent of silk-screened posters, his computer-assisted illustrations are beautifully composed and often dramatic.” — Booklist, starred review
“[A] breathtaking memoir … Red Land, Yellow River is an extraordinarily powerful recounting of a teen’s experience of China’s cultural revolution.” — Quill & Quire
“[A] moving account of a youngster swept up in the revolutionary fervor and then beginning to question its goals …” — School Library Journal
“[An] intense autobiography, written matter-of-factly but with deep feeling … Ange’s story will resonate with preteen readers; he shows that not even oppression can squelch individuality — a stirring message of hope.” — Publishers Weekly