Qiang is four years old and something of a rebel. Armed with a pair of sparkling eyes and a precocious, indomitable will, he attends a well-organised kindergarten in Beijing – because his parents are rarely at home. It is not long after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949 and the new nation is still quite young.
Life at kindergarten is meant to be an enriching experience, full of diversity. But Qiang finds it hard trying to fit into such an organised, communal life. A born individualist, he does his best to follow the teachers’ instructions but, try as he might, he is doomed to failure. And yet he longs to reap the rewards accorded to the other children, and receive the little red flowers awarded for laudable contributions.
But Qiang is never a recipient. He can’t dress himself and doesn’t play with the other children. Moreover, he even dares to contradict his teacher Li and headteacher, when they try to discipline him. However, his behaviour begins to win him the admiration of the other children. Their tiny kernel of resistance grows even stronger when Qiang persuades the other children that their teacher Li is a child-eating monster in disguise. When their attempt to hold her prisoner goes awry, Qiang’s rebellion takes on such disturbing proportions that he finds himself completely isolated by his comrades.
What is to become of him? Will he knuckle down and conform, or make his own way, according to his own rules?