children’s literature


children’s literature
Children’s literature is called ‘literature for children and adolescents’ (shaonian ertong wenxue). Another term, which encompasses a wider range of genres, is ‘literature and art for children and adolescents’ (shaonian ertong wenyi), but this was more commonly used in the mainland in the Maoist period. Officially, children’s literature encompasses prose, fiction, film, plays, poems and picture books and animation for the young.
Children’s literature is an industry. It caters to children between three and fifteen years, that is from kindergarten to lower middle school. It has a vast audience, an established range of genres from songs to science fiction, and a complex infrastructure in all Chinese-speaking countries. The industry includes writers, publishing houses, distribution networks, television, libraries and prizes. Rhetorically at least, the primary function of this industry is educational, but modern mass media is reshaping children’s literature around commercial entertainment and consumer choice. The commercial aspect of children’s literature is a new feature of the contemporary field in the People’s Republic of China but a continuing feature in the children’s literature of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Contemporary children’s literature is made up of three strands: a living Confucian tradition, a modern canon that is institutionalized in the education system, and new works, forms and formats.
Confucian children’s literature is almost a thousand years old, beginning with one of the world’s great children’s books: The Three Character Classic (Sanzijing, AD 1242). Together with The One Hundred Family Names (Baijiaxing), The Thousand Character Classic (Qianziwen) and The Three Hundred Thousand (Sanbaiqian) were the foundation of the Confucian education system. Traditionally, children also read from China’s rich popular literature. Such works, often abridged and rewritten, remain a part of children’s literature, especially in Taiwan and other Chinese-speaking countries that emphasize Confucian values.
There is also a modern canon that varies across the Chinese-speaking world. Chinese reformers created a vernacular children’s literature on Western models in the May Fourth period. Much of this work was banned in the People’s Republic of China during the Cultural Revolution. After 1979, the history of children’s literature was reassessed and a canon of major works established as part of the PRC’s contemporary children’s literature, including its revolutionary heritage. Work by such luminaries as Ye Shengtao (fairytales), Bing Xin (prose) and Wan Laiming (animations such as Monkey Creates Havoc in Heaven (Sun Wukong danao tiangong) are recognized as classics of children’s literature today.
Finally, there is new work. Some involves the return or revitalization of established genres, such as science fiction on the mainland in the post-Mao period. Some is in new formats, such as television and the Internet, and part of a transnational children’s literature across Chinese-speaking regions. Finally, some work is in translation making Chinese children’s literature part of a global field. Chinese children watch Disney cartoons and, in the new millennium, they demand more of J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter series in translation, surpassing sales of other Western translations of children’s literature. With China’s accession to the World Trade Organization, more global fare will become part of the contemporary scene.
Farquhar, Mary Ann (1999). Children’s Literature in China. New York: M.E.Sharpe.
MARY FARQUHAR

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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