- Cao WenxuanAuthor – China
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Those who can go through suffering gracefully grow into strong men.Cao W.
for the past thirty years, children’s literature in China has been closely associated with the name Cao Wenxuan. Born in a small village in Jiangsu Province in 1954, Cao experienced the three years of nationwide great famine during his childhood. Since then, he has turned his childhood memories of abject poverty and hunger into his greatest literary asset. After his graduation from Peking University in the mid-1970s, he first became a lecturer and then a professor in Chinese literature and children’s literature. Above all, however, Cao is a prolific children’s writer. Since his first novel Old Enclosing Wall was published in 1985, he has written more than one hundred works, three of which have already been adapted into films. His most well-known work, The Straw House (1997), remains something of a miracle in Chinese publishing history, with over 300 reprints.
Cao’s contribution to Chinese children’s literature includes both his literary work and his academic achievement in the field. Previously, Chinese children’s literature primarily served as an ideological tool and was loaded with didactic messages. Cao, by contrast, makes every attempt to combine classical aesthetical principles and spirit of humanism with modern sensibilities in his stories, rather than simply indoctrinating or preaching to children. He advocates “coming-of-age” novels, which are characterized by uniting poetic landscape and compassion for tragic beauty with the growth of children. Reading Cao’s works, readers often find themselves meandering through “great landscape of human nature and nature itself,” to feel with all the attendant beauty and inevitable suffering. His quest novels present many tough but kind-hearted teenagers—for example, Sangsang in The Straw House and Dingding and Dangdang in the novel of same name; they are all capable of smiling in the face of life’s ebbs and flows. Through these characters, Cao hopes to help millions of children grow up undaunted and unspoiled into adulthood.
Cao’s stories not only influence Chinese children’s quest for identity but also those of children around the world. Over the years, his books have been translated into a number of languages, including English, Swedish, French, and German. Over the course of his thirty-year career, Cao Wenxuan has garnered a number of awards and distinctions, including Chinese National Book Prize, Song Chingling Children’s Literature Awards, and Bingxin Children’s Literature Awards. His series of novels Dingding and Dangdang were selected as one of the 2015 IBBY Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities. In recent years, Cao is dedicated to the collaboration in picture books with various artists. For example, A Feather (2015) is an exquisite collaboration with Roger Mello. All these literary, research and pedagogical efforts make him a shining star in contemporary children’s literature.