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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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In Conclusion: Tongyao, erge and tongshi as a mirror of a changing Chinese society



Tongyao, erge and tongshi as a mirror of a changing Chinese society

Between the republican revolution of the early twentieth century and the digital revolution of the early twenty-first century there is evidently as much continuity in tongyao, erge and tongshi as there is change. The continuity of the genre lies in its crucial role as a child’s entry point to language and literature, reflecting the old and the new, the regulated and the free in poetic composition. The timeless images and metaphors of the natural world continue to provide appeal in this genre of children’s literature, along with the musicality of Chinese poetic language. In Taiwan traditional forms and philosophical underpinnings have been maintained and supported, along with a receptive attitude to foreign influences.

At the same time, authors, collectors, editors and teachers of the rhymes and poems ensure that they are a vehicle for the dissemination of moral values and general knowledge. Editors of anthologies on both sides of the Strait emphasize the importance of teaching rhymes in order to instil harmony in the family, and a sense of love between children and parents. In a strongly prescriptive paratext for teachers and parents, Lin (1995: 73) provides a list of the functions tongyao have for the Chinese child:

Stabilizing physiological behaviour; Simple concepts of society and health; Learning family relationships; Learning the difference between right and wrong; A healthy attitude to growing up; Getting on with one’s peers;...

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