Writing in the Devil's Tongue
A History of English Composition in China
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: Southern Illinois University Press
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A sense of complacency, if not outright chauvinism, is tangible these days in certain parts of American composition studies. Sensational statements of one kind or another—“Composition Studies Saves the World!”; “Globalizing Composition”; “Transnationalizing/Globalizing Rhetoric and Composition Studies”; and so forth—reveal not only tremendous disciplinary pride but also compositionists’ confidence in what the discipline can ...
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Writing is always contested for residents of what Mary Louise Pratt has called “contact zones,” or “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other” (34). There has been no exception to this rule for Chinese students who write in English, as my early encounters with English writing reveal. In the late spring of 1989, China Central Television (CCTV) devoted its primetime news coverage entirely to students’ political demonstrations in major Chinese cities. I was in my first year of high school ...
1. Encountering the Devil's Writing
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When English was first taught in Chinese schools in the nineteenth century, the majority of literati despised it. They firmly believed that only Confucian classics embodied the worthy knowledge of the human realm and that Western learning mainly dealt with practical matters, which Confucians looked down upon. After repeatedly losing wars to Western powers, the Chinese were compelled to learn their enemies’ craft in order to defend themselves. English as well as other foreign languages served the purpose ...
2. Writing and Decolonization
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By the time the First World War ended and a half-century of English teaching had passed, Chinese literati no longer despised the devil’s tongue quite so much. They keenly understood that, rather than a makeshift strategy, mastering foreign languages was indispensable in pursuing their modern dreams. The country was partitioned and controlled by local warlords with the complicity of foreign powers. ...
3. Writing and the Proletarian Revolution
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After Communists established the People’s Republic in 1949, English was condemned as the Anglo-American imperialists’ language for the next three decades. The Cold War created political and economic barriers between China and the West and weakened previous ties. As English fell out of use for average students, the teaching of it rapidly declined, and English composition as a college course vanished overnight except in Taiwan.1 Only when Communist China returned to international political and economic arenas in the ...
4. Writing and the Four Modernizations
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When China reopened itself to the outside world in the late 1970s, public attitudes toward English changed overnight. Although it was still regarded as a foreign tongue, English was no longer demonized. The Cultural Revolution had severely interfered with and thus degraded the national economy, scientific research, and education. ...
5. Writing and Socialism with Chinese Characteristics
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As further economic reforms opened up China’s interior to foreign investments, transnational capitalism gained a strong footing in the country in the late 1980s. At the same time, a market economy also gradually replaced a centrally controlled economy. A series of educational reforms ensued, aimed at making higher education available to more students and enhancing its versatility and accountability in the booming market economy. ...
6. Writing in Our Tongue
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In recent discussions of English education in China, the perception of English as a devil’s tongue has started to shift. The old framing that associated English with English-dominant nations is being replaced by a neutral, technological framing. The new framing, I suggest, continues the old sinocentric ti-yong dualism that reduces English to a practical tool alien to Chinese cultural essence. In fact, each nationality exposed to English finds a way to repurpose it to their own needs, to exercise control and a degree of sovereignty over the language. ...
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Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 3 b/w halftones
Publication Year: 2010