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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 Four: Tongyao and erge to tongshi: The evolution of a dedicated children’s poetry



Tongyao and erge to tongshi: The evolution of a dedicated children’s poetry

As adult literature in China changed with the momentous events and movements of the twentieth century, children’s rhymes underwent purposeful development in form and content. The children’s rhymes and poems covering the century from the Xin Hai revolution in 1911 to the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 reveal as much about the ideology and practices of the regimes, and the beliefs, customs and desires of the people as the literature that was aimed at adults. Primarily, there was increasing interest in creating dedicated children’s literature which would play a central role in education. The education of a nation is always driven by national ideology, evident in the marked changes in the content and emphasis of the rhymes. These accord with political changes elsewhere in Chinese arts and literature. Chinese children’s rhymes and poems of the twentieth century show that in many cases authorities were purposefully commissioning and publishing rhymes and poems that carried their desired ideological content. Farqhuar notes the importance of recognition through official awards and reviews (1999: 8), in other words, authorization; the canon of Chinese children’s literature over the century, including rhymes, poems and songs, has been mainly, though not entirely, created top-down.

A new Chinese children’s literature in the twentieth century

Chinese children’s rhymes are considered an organic part of China’s ‘new literature’, conceived and championed from the 1890s on, and developed in the...

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