The Power of Story is Truth

It is the truth of my childhood, remembered in my new book, Girl Under a Red Moon, in a little town called Yellow Stone in southern China.


The power of narrative is truth:
the truth of the sky above us;
the sea that surrounds us;
the mountain that lifts our soul;
the sun that rises and sets;
the moon that waxes and wanes;
the river that runs from the high hills to the sea;
the trees that adorn our one-farmhouse village.


It is the truth of my childhood, remembered in my new book, Girl Under a Red Moon, in a little town called Yellow Stone in southern China. We had a cobbled muddy street, and awakened to the squeals of piglets being slaughtered by the commune butchers. There was the sound and fury of us farmers cleaning our night pots, mothers washing diapers in a running brook, of cows mooing, goats bleating, dogs barking, roosters crowing, hens laying eggs, and farmers plowing watery rice paddies, singing not out of happiness but to relieve early morning exhaustion.

After sunset, the truth is the appearance of a blind man who sits under our biggest pine tree to tell age-old tales of love and hatred and revenge. The blind man is old but his tales are even older, stretching our imagination far back into our foggy past.

My truth was simple. When I was born, no one told me that there was a cultural revolution blazing from the big cities to our small village like the north wind—a force that spun our wealthy family into the dark abbess of China’s history where wealth suddenly became capitalistic evil and Grandpa was sentenced to labor camp in the mountains to dig a windy reservoir, and Dad was fired from his school teacher job, leaving us no land, no stores, and no money to feed me, my four siblings, my mom, and my aging grandparents.

The hard truth was that we lived on grass, tree bark, moldy yams thrown away by neighbors, and old rice dug from the garbage piles of our communes’ big shots.

My eldest sister was expelled from school, and wanted to take her life by jumping into the eastern sea, but she was saved from death by a kind shepherd. She and I ran away to escape the persecution and hid in a school deep in the mountains, far away from our home, finding unexpected kindness and grace. My latest book, Girl Under a Red Moon, has allowed me to tell the true story of my sister and I. We suffered, but we survived. The political tides changed, and Chairman Mao died, ending the curse of China’s Cultural Revolution.

The final truth is that God gives us little ripples of miracles every day, ultimately changing the world.

Da Chen is the New York Times bestselling author of Colors of the Mountain, a memoir; Sounds of the River; Brothers; and Wandering Warrior. His latest middle grade novel, Girl Under a Red Moon, is available now.

This article is part of the Scholastic Power of Story series. Scholastic’s Power of Story highlights diverse books for all readers. Find out more and download the catalog at Check back on School Library Journal to discover new Power of Story articles from guest authors, including Sharon Robinson, Elsie Chapman, and more.


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