This was a difficult book. The author recounts her experiences as a 12–14-year old during the Cultural Revolution in China. She tells the story in a very matter-of-fact way. I'm sure things were different in different places, but my recollections of the time is that things sounded pretty horrible, and, of course, I wasn't even there. But, this helps confirm my recollections.
We did, however, have some sense of the cultural revolution even here in the U.S. We had a group of nitwits running around with Mao's little red book. I know their hearts were in the right place, but they were clearly not very bright. They thought that if they brought down "the system", everyone would suddenly become moral and holy and get along like lions with lambs. Likely those nitwits have turned into libertarians now: same kind of naive stupidity. [But I digress....sorry].
I read this, in part, because the parents of my soon-to-be, son-in-law, Victor, were swept up in the Cultural Revolution. They had been teachers who were sent into the country side to be agricultural workers for ten years (nope! they were teachers in the countryside). This process was to reeducate them in some way. I'm not sure how, and Victor wasn't much interested in telling me more. Unlike Jiang Ji-li, the author, who still espouses a strong affection for the country of her birth, our Victor's parents aren't much interested in going back, and Victor himself has zero interest in ever visiting the country of his parents' birth. [According to Victor's father, the greatest horror was in having no sense that a decent future was possible, no idea what might happen next. Fortunately, they did have a future: after 10 or so years, they came here and prospered.]
I dunno, there's a lesson in all this. When a charismatic leader, who is also a supreme narcissist with little interest in effective governance, takes control of things, bad things are bound to ensue. And so they did; and so they always have, and so, I fear, they will again.