- Representing Children in Chinese and U.S. Children’s Literature ed. by Claudia Nelson and Rebecca Morris
This is the first book to gather studies on representations of children in both Chinese and US children’s literature. It aims to promote communication between two countries traditionally seen as ideologically opposed. As the editors’ introduction notes, the transmission of children’s literature between China and the United States is largely unilateral. While “U.S. children’s literature has wielded an important continuing influence over Chinese children’s literature” (1), Chinese children’s literature and its scholarship have only a limited presence in the United States. This volume thus encourages what John Stephens has called “reciprocal exchange of literary theories and methodologies” between East and West (qtd. in Nelson and Morris, 2), and highlights both similarities and differences between the two cultures in their views on children’s literature.
The collection is divided into five sections, each devoted to an important topic in children’s literature studies. The first section focuses on the journey as a metaphor for growing up. As the editors’ introduction suggests, the journey has long been a common motif in Western literature and has influenced American children’s stories. Roberta Seelinger Trites’s chapter illustrates this idea by taking Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a case study and suggesting that Huck’s physical and embodied journey functions as a metaphor for his psychological growth. Although the editors rightly point out that the journey is not a universal concept and that it seems less fundamental to Chinese children’s literature, the other essay included in this section, by the Chinese scholar Ban Ma, nevertheless provides a new perspective on this topic. Ban Ma argues that while the foundational concept of a modern Chinese child formed during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 CE) emphasizes decorum and the restriction of the body—“inward-directed education” (25)—as opposed to the idea of traveling, the latter did feature prominently in Chinese literature prior to this era. Travel was also a theme in children’s reading materials introduced by foreign missionaries in China during and after the Ming Dynasty that deeply influenced the later development of Chinese children’s literature. [End Page 112]
While the second and third sections both engage the issue of single authors’ influences on children’s literature, they also showcase the different theoretical approaches to this topic employed by scholars from the two cultures. For example, the three chapters by the Chinese scholars included in the second section discuss the significance of the intellectuals in the May Fourth Movement of 1919 to the development of Chinese children’s literature. While Wang Quangen’s essay provides a historical overview of the development of Chinese children’s literature from the May Fourth Movement to contemporary time, Xu Yan’s and Zhu Ziqiang’s chapters focus specifically on Lu Xun and Zhou Zuoren, respectively, and their importance in building a modern Chinese children’s literature. Although these three chapters focus on different aspects of the May Fourth Movement, they collectively illustrate a typical approach used by Chinese children’s literature scholars. That is, as the volume’s editors also observe, they tend to “present the big picture by theorizing trends important within Chinese children’s literature as a whole” (2). The approach focuses on building a general and consistent theory/history of Chinese children’s literature through discussing the historical, political, and intellectual trends that have shaped it. This approach may seem to lack specificity and intricacy, but it is a helpful way for those who have no or very limited knowledge of Chinese children’s literature to gain a general understanding.
In contrast, the third section, on American authorship, pays closer attention to the individual author/text/series through close reading. Rather than attempting to theorize children’s literature as a whole, these chapters demonstrate the contributions that a single author/text/series makes to the field of children’s literature. Dennis Berthold’s chapter argues for the significance of Alice Cary’s Clovernook collections...