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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 Five: Children’s rhymes and poems as a reflection of ideological change in the twentieth century



Children’s rhymes and poems as a reflection of ideological change in the twentieth century

The earliest new poetry for children

Zhang and Jin, in the introduction to their anthology of twentieth-century Chinese mainland children’s literature (2001), list five generations of children’s authors, the first of these being the pioneers of the May Fourth or New Culture Movement. They were the ‘greats’: they recognized and valued children, using the children’s own world as the main material for their writing (Zhang and Jin 2001: 2). They note that in the 1930s, the subject matter of children’s literature expanded to embrace the wider world, and they cite Tao Xingzhi as a major children’s poet of the period. In the 1940s, children’s poems centred mainly on the War of Resistance against Japan, and on the revolutionary struggle. The early 1950s was a period of relative stability in which children’s literature drew on folk tales, and the simplicity and hopes of ordinary folk (Zhang and Jin 2001: 4). In the 1960s children were exhorted to follow fictional political role models such as Zhang Ga (张嘎). Zhang and Jin note that in the 1960s and 70s there was a vacuum in children’s literature, but do not suggest any reason for it, stating only that in the years between 1980 and 2000 ‘literature has returned to literature and has returned to children’ (2001: 4).

The first Chinese anthology designed for children and written in baihua was Memories (《忆》) by...

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