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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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Historical note on major political movements in the People’s Republic of China 1911–1989

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1911 The establishment of the Republic of China

In 1911 the Qing Emperor was deposed and the Qing regime came to an end. Sun Yat-Sen was declared provisional president of the new Chinese republic, taking office on 1 January 1912.

1919 May Fourth and New Culture Movement

The term May Fourth Movement was sparked by events of that date, but is used to refer to a period from 1915–1921 and is often called the New Culture Movement. The movement was provoked by the Chinese government’s weak response to the Treaty of Versailles, which allowed Japan to take over territories in Shandong which had been surrendered by Germany after the Siege of Tsingtao. Student demonstrations in Beijing on 4 May 1919 gave rise to national protests and a popular movement which called for modernization. Key notions of the movement were science, democracy, universal education, literacy and popular, as opposed to elite, culture.

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