Pedagogy of Life

A Tale of Names and Literacy

by Rosa Hong Chen (Author) Sarah Bode (Adapted by)
©2018 Textbook XLVIII, 238 Pages
Series: Complicated Conversation, Volume 52


Pedagogy of Life takes its readers through the echoing stories of the half-century, historical Cultural Revolution of China to the literate lifeworld today. Rosa Hong Chen offers a gripping array of personal and kindred stories woven into the power of words and empathy of art through the volutes of writing and dancing for life, expressing genera of warm melancholy, weighty sensations, compulsive sobs, and refrained elation. It is for the existential history of individual lives and communal sharing that life creates a pedagogical condition of possible experiences. Life itself forms a historical and social path of human growth and maturation. In a philosophical and educational autoethnographical inquiry, the author examines the nature of literacy for those marginalized and oppressed; Chen explores how one’s name and the ways in which that name is used affect a person’s self-knowing and knowing of the world. This book exemplifies the idea that individuals’ autobiographical stories are importantly connected to wider cultural, political, and social meaning and understanding. Pedagogy of Life echoes readers’ musings, affects, relations, imagination, choice, learning, teaching, and much more, because we, each and all, have our own names, ways of uttering, writing, and dancing, and, ultimately, our own ways of living, knowing, and becoming.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Pedagogy of Life
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Note on the Cover Image
  • Figures
  • Preface and Acknowledgments
  • An Echo of Silence
  • Prologue
  • Sentiment, Pathway, and Pedagogy
  • Life Stories, Currere, and Aspirations
  • Part I: In a Place, at a Time, with Kinship
  • Chapter 1: Ebb and Flow: Relation of Incidents
  • The Unprecedented Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of China (1966–1976)
  • In My Hometown—Neijiang, Sichuan
  • Chapter 2: Ties of Life and Death: Our Names and Naming
  • Our Named Genealogy and Connected Lives
  • Our Troubled Life and Death
  • Chapter 3: Names and Literacy: A Braiding of Two Strands
  • “What’s in a Name?”: A General Question
  • Words and Literacy: A Correlated Agency
  • Names and Literacy: A Sociocultural Synergy
  • Part II: Life Sentiment and Literate Assimilation
  • Chapter 4: The Weight of Names and Words
  • “Big-Character Posters” (“大字报”) on the Wall
  • “Criticizing and Denouncing Meeting” (“批斗会”)
  • Slogans on the Blackboard
  • Names Scrawled on My Back
  • Chapter 5: The Bearing of the Named
  • A Place to Fit in
  • Longing to Become a Ballerina
  • A Dream Never to Come True
  • A “Scarlet Stain” on My Trousers
  • Chapter 6: Connection and the Narrow Escape
  • Hoping for Hopes
  • Hiding Away
  • A “Red Stigma”
  • A Warm Fondness
  • Chapter 7: Social Deprivation and Action
  • Father’s Manuscript and “Lorry Parade”
  • “Telling Revolutionary Stories”
  • A Three-Day “Name-Calling” Muster
  • A Darker Incarceration
  • A Letter of Appeal
  • Part III: Pedagogy of Life
  • Chapter 8: A Pedagogy of Necessity
  • Pedagogy of Pedagogy
  • Literacy of Creativity
  • Empathy of Art
  • Foresight for the Art of Life
  • Chapter 9: A Pedagogy of Contingency
  • When Schooling Was Dismantled …
  • When Dancing Became an Epistemic Virtue …
  • When Dancing Was Carved by Moral Agency …
  • When Our Vision Was Distorted …
  • Forethought for Our Responsibility
  • Postscript
  • Witnessing Life Vicissitudes
  • Warning Against Historical Iterations
  • Echoing Beyond—Words that Continue …
  • Post-postscript
  • Empathy with the Present
  • Ode to My Torments
  • Our “Youth” (the Movie, “芳华”)
  • Index
  • Series index

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The cover image is from seal-cutting art by my great-great-grandfather, Huang Shiling (styled Mufu, 1849–1908), the well-known seal-cutting artist of the Late Qing Dynasty of China (1644–1912). The carved inscription reads, 儿女心肠 英雄肝胆 (Heart of Children, Bravery of Heroes).

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Figure 1.1. Rosa Hong Chen with brother Huang Ming at the entrance of Nanchong Teachers College.

Figure 2.1. Excerpted images of the totems for Huang Name, Chen Name, and Hu Name.

Figure 2.2. My great-great-grandfather Huang Shiling’s/黄士陵 (Mufu/牧甫) 53rd birthday portrait.

Figure 2.3. Huang Shiling (Mufu) in “Huang Shiling Park” (黄士陵公园).

Figure 2.4. Seal cutting by Huang Shiling.

Figure 2.5. Calligraphy by Huang Shiling.

Figure 2.6. My great-grandfather Huang Shaomu, (黄少牧) my great-granduncle, Huang Xiaomu, and my great-great-grandmother, Mrs. Huang.

Figure 2.7. My grandfather Huang Liancheng (黄廉丞), grandmother Hu Ao (胡鏊), uncle Huang Yonggang (黄永刚), and aunt Huang Yongan (黄永安).

Figure 2.8. My father playing the lead character in the drama “Thunderstorm” (“雷雨”). ← xiii | xiv →

Figure 2.9. My father and my mother wearing her medical school badge.

Figure 2.10. Family portrait (1961) with Nanny, Lei Popo, mother, father, brother Shudu, brother Ming, and me.

Figure 2.11. Family portrait (1968), when father was taken away.

Figure 3.1. The seal-cutting of “literacy rises from the hardships of life” by Huang Shiling (Mufu).

Figure 4.1. Little Hong Chen with her best little pal Z.

Figure 4.2. With classmate D.

Figure 4.3. Photo of an old classroom in Neijiang No. 8 Elementary School.

Figure 5.1. Little Hong Chen wearing “Little Red Guard” armband on her left arm.

Figure 5.2. Little Hong Chen en ballet pointe.

Figure 5.3. Hong Chen dancing to “Propaganda Mao Zedong Thought” in the street.

Figure 6.1. Neijiang No. 2 Middle School Basketball Team winning the championship.

Figure 6.2. Two “re-educated youth” buddies. Brother Ming playing violin in Dongxing Commune.

Figure 6.3. Hong Chen playing violin in front of the Classroom Building of Neijiang No. 2 Middle School.

Figure 7.1. Hong Chen performing “Telling Revolutionary Stories.”

Figure 7.2. Hong Chen dancing solo in “To Be a Successor to the Cause of Proletarian Revolution.”

Figure 8.1. Hong Chen and Ning Xie hosting the Special TV English Column “Fifteen Minutes on the Weekend.”

Figure 8.2. Hong Chen hosting and dancing for the opening ceremony of China’s First International Television Festival—Sichuan (‘91中国四川国际电视节).

Figure 8.3. Hong Chen in a Tibetan dance.

Figure 8.4. Rosa Hong Chen in the “Watch Your Step” show.

Figure 8.5. Rosa Hong Chen performing a Tibetan dance.

Figure 8.6. Rosa Hong Chen in the dance opera “Little Radish in Jail.”

Figure 8.7. Rosa Hong Chen in “West Side Story.”

Figure 8.8. Rosa Hong Chen in “Out of Ashes.” ← xiv | xv →

Figure 8.9. Rosa Hong Chen in La Esencia de mi Madre (“The Essence of My Mother”).

Figure 8.10. Rosa Hong Chen choreographed and performed “Name—A Symbol of Self.”

Figure 8.11. Rosa Hong Chen choreographed and performed “Name—A Symbol of Self.”

Figure 8.12. Rosa Hong Chen performing “Name—A Symbol of Self.”

Figure 8.13. Rosa Hong Chen performing “Name—A Symbol of Self.”

Figure 8.14. Jennie Y. N. Chen’s poem “My Dream.”

Figure 8.15. Jennie Y. N. Chen’s poem “My Dear Mother.”

Figure 9.1. Rosa Hong Chen in the National First Prize winning dance “Becoming a Teacher” (“实习之前”).

Figure 9.2. Rosa Hong Chen leading in “Becoming a Teacher.”

Figure 9.3. Rosa Hong Chen in Pas de deux “Farewell” (“送别”).

Figure 9.4. Rosa Hong Chen in the university gymnastics competition.

Figure P.1. Rosa Hong Chen and Kathryn Sullivan in ballet class at Barnard College.

Figure P.2. Rosa Hong Chen dancing to “Thank You” in a Tibetan dance.

Figure P.3. Rosa Hong Chen dancing to “Thank You” in a Tibetan dance.

Figure P.4. Rosa Hong Chen dancing to “Thank You” in a Tibetan dance.

Figure P.5. Rosa Hong Chen dancing to “Thank You” in a Tibetan dance.

Figure PP.1. Rosa Hong Chen in the Broadway musical “Kiss Me, Kate.”

Figure PP.2. Rosa Hong Chen in the Broadway musical “Kiss Me, Kate.”

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Writing this book is an odyssey of persistent hopes and callings, scarring through sobs, fears, solaces, and joys. The yearning thought in the book has been evolving over the past ten years (from completing my master’s thesis in 2006), so that I am able to divide and meld that time between recalling and living, reading and writing, between teaching and dancing, querying and questing. Adding to my resolute return to the historical authenticity, the images I include in the book push me into a vast maze of the possible and the impossible. Not only is it imperative to seek permissions and releases of these images for reprint in the book but also the seeking process itself livens up the shreds and lapses of our far-flung memories, so that history seems to have restarted its unveiling …

Consider the images and portraits that are of dozens of years old, some even eighty to over one hundred years old! The course alone, locating people, museums, journals, magazines for their authorized signatures, has been enormous work, culminating in hundreds of inquiry calls and numerous e-mail correspondences. As acquisition editor, Sarah Bode regarded the anticipated efforts would have brought the book a legitimate and gratifying effect. Joined by many warm hearts and souls, the process has, indeed, proved fruitful and rewarding! The people in the images, either the changed lives or the lost ← xvii | xviii → memories, are taken back, at one and the same time, to their own restorying, all of which work to justify the integrity and contemplation of our past, present, and, perhaps, reimaged future …

Fanghui Li (from Mumbai), my childhood friend, was reminiscent of the times and peoples in reading the Prologue, as she described that it had to be a lifetime’s bearing for such a tearful book to grow. Indeed, life sometimes is too light to carry on, hence, some shall be missed or lost in the flowing of lives, but words weaving the book, as if with textures, can be heavy enough to read, sound, and resound. Gang Luo (from Washington D.C.) was my childhood “Little Red Guard” singing-dancing partner, exclaiming, “The ‘Big Character Names’ appeared in the chapters gave me a shocking resonance!” In these phrases, he seemed to have felt the print of blood and tears, the indomitable spirit and persistent will, urged by a perpetual mission!

In translating the Chinese aphorism my great-great-grandfather Huang Shiling engraved on one of his famous seals, my colleagues, Gang Luo, Yiding Hu, and Tianxing Li, shared their helpful comments. The saying, “人生识字忧患始” (cf. Chapter 3, Figure 3.1 Seal Image) is derived from Song Dynasty Su Shi’s (1037–1101) poem, entitled, “Shicang Shuzui Motang” (“石苍舒醉墨堂”). The literal sense of the poetic aphorism reads, “Literacy gives rise to worries and sufferings” (my translation). As an interdependent theme to the book, I have deliberately renewed its connotation, in that its subject and object are exchanged. It thus reads, “Literacy rises from the hardships of life” (my translation). It is for this purpose that I include my two translations of Shiling’s inscription on the seal (cf. Chapters 2 and 3).


My father used to say, “No child could grow up by herself …” and “one thing always leads to another.” A person’s growing up is always tied in with people and place, the given times and circumstances. This book would not have been possible without people, those who raised me up and taught me life, who cried and rejoiced with me, and who shared their thought and deepened my thinking. The idea of writing about name/naming one day took shape while I was at my master’s supervisor Dr. Teresa Dobson’s house at the University of British Columbia, chatting about how I remembered my father’s and our names being publicly crossed out in the act of humiliation during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. I thank Teresa for suggesting that I write names/naming for my master’s thesis (Chen, 2006b). And ten years later in 2016, over a lunch at the Philosophy of Education Society Annual Conference in Seattle, my colleague Dr. Peter Roberts suggested that I write a book on the subject of name ← xviii | xix → and suffering, and he recommended me to Dr. William Pinar’s book series. Bill greeted my book proposal with enthusiastic support. I owe my deepest gratitude to Bill and Peter for the coming of the book.


ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (February)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XLVIII, 238 pp., 24 b/w ill., 26 col. ill.

Biographical notes

Rosa Hong Chen (Author) Sarah Bode (Adapted by)

Rosa Hong Chen is a visiting scholar at Teachers College of Columbia University. She has studied in China, the United States, and Canada in the disciplines of educational philosophy, curriculum studies, linguistics, literature, literacy education, and performing arts. She is an accomplished artist, published poet, and philosopher of education.


Title: Pedagogy of Life