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Sunflowers and Stars

The Ideological Role of Chinese Children’s Rhymes and Poems in the Twentieth Century

Valerie Pellatt

This book traces a hundred years of the development of Chinese nursery rhymes, children’s rhymes and children’s poems from the early twentieth century to the early twenty-first century. It draws on anthologies of traditional and modern rhymes and poems published in The People’s Republic of China and Taiwan, exploring the form, function and content of these texts in the light of rapid political change in China.
The role of traditional rhymes is examined within the context of a male-dominated family hierarchy of Confucian thinking that profoundly shaped children’s development. The language and literature reforms of the 1920s brought a poetry revolution in China, as authors began to write for children in the vernacular language and offer a purposeful argument against Confucianism, in favour of science and democracy. Literary approaches evolved, first into the socialist-realist approach of the 1940s and 1950s, then into the «three prominences» of the Cultural Revolution. Meanwhile, in Taiwan, children’s rhymes promoted the messages of modern science, but maintained a traditional Confucian outlook. In the 1980s, children’s poetry in the People’s Republic of China began to follow a new direction, in keeping with the new era of cultural and economic liberalization.
This book uses the evolution of the children’s poetry genre to provide a fascinating insight into Chinese political, moral and social life in the twentieth century.
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Chapter Three: Gender and family in Chinese children’s rhymes and poems

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CHAPTER THREE

Gender and family in Chinese children’s rhymes and poems

At the time of writing, Confucianism is once more officially recognized in the PRC as a guiding ideology for family life, social life, government and business. Since 2002, Confucianism has not only been officially revived by the Chinese government, but is being proactively preached around the world through the medium of the Confucius Institutes. Mo and Shen (2002) say that although Confucianism still has influence in Chinese life, Chinese people are much more pragmatic. They suggest that ‘grandmothers would find it difficult to explain [the content of the tongyao] to today’s children’ (Mo and Shen 2002: 147). Mo and Shen see the tongyao as ‘living history, history of Chinese women’ (ibid: 148). Rhymes are also literature, and literature is a channel for history. Topical views and stories, and current cultural practice in work and leisure inevitably change, but remain in the literature. British children still sing of Bobby Shafto and Elsie Marley, characters who are now legends. They still sing about fetching water from a well, something that probably does not happen in western Europe now, but still happens in other parts of the world. This does not make the rhymes any less enjoyable or educational. Children’s rhymes teach us not only about the world around us, but about the world as it was.

Writing in 2012, Hou maintains that children’s rhymes (both tongyao and erge) and poems have now been ‘re-liberated’, as...

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