Annual Conference 2020: Plenary

Zhao Xia

To launch our “Online Annual Conference” we would like to introduce Professor Zhao Xia, an expert in Contemporary Chinese Children’s Literature from Zhejiang Normal University. Professor Zhao kindly took the time to speak to us recently about her plenary on ‘Contemporary Chinese Children’s Literature’, which will take place on Tuesday 9th June from 16:00-17:00. For more information, please visit our Conference webpage.

Hello Xia! You will be delivering the plenary, ‘Contemporary Chinese Children’s Literature’. Can you tell us a little bit about your plenary?

Sure! There are so many things we may talk about concerning contemporary Chinese children’s literature. I aim to choose those that both concern me most and, in my eyes, might be thought-provoking for teaching and learning Chinese. How has Chinese children’s literature developed its unique aesthetics in the recent years? How to choose the best Chinese children’s literature for both the child and adult reader? How are teachers in China exploring ways of using children’s literature as a special teaching resource?

How did you develop an interest in children’s literature?

It seems some people are just born for something. I spent quite an amount of my childhood time reading stories available everywhere. And I became interested in children’s literature writing and study when I was an undergraduate student. Then I did my MA in children’s literature and finished my doctoral dissertation on children’s culture and literature. I think that once you find yourself still in love with something following decades of close study, your love becomes more mature and long lasting as well as more justifiable.

Why do you think literature is important for Chinese language learning and how can school teachers use literature in class? How is this different from how you recommend to teachers that you train in China?

I think literature is important for learning any language, because it is in literature that we experience the most enchanting power of language. I would say that one learns to use a language through many ways, but he/she learns to love a language only through its literature. The Chinese word “Yu Wen(语文)”, which is a basic subject from elementary to high schools in China, is always an inseparable complex of language(语) and literature(文). By including literature into Chinese learning classrooms, some learning process would become more fluent and fun. Children’s literature could be used in many ways in class: group reading, silent reading, role playing, stage performance… However, the toughest challenge teachers would find themselves facing while trying to include literature into language lessons is how to teach literature in a literary way.

How do you hope the plenary can inspire participants?

I would like to share with everyone that learning Chinese could be both useful and fascinating. And, as the learning becomes more interesting, we’ll find it much more enjoyable and efficient. Actually, literary reading would endow one with the ability to discern the most delicate grammatical difference in an intuitive and natural way. We call that Sense of Language. By using appropriate materials of children’s literature and applying appropriate methods of analyzing these materials in our classrooms, we may see children, as well as the teachers, more actively engaged in the learning process.

Are there any particular authors or resources you could recommend to our teachers (and why)?

That would be a long list: Cao Wenxuan, Zhang Zhilu, Zhang Wei, Qin Wenjun, Mei Zihan, Zhou Rui, Shen Shixi, Huang Beijia, Liu Haiqi, Tang Sulan, Gui Wenya, Chen Danyan, Li Donghua, Yuqing, Peng Xuejun, Tangtang, Zhang Xiaoling…I haven’t included those mainly writing for the very young children, since most of our audience are teachers from secondary schools. Different authors and different styles bring different horizons for language learning. For choosing a particular book published in recent ten years, I would recommend The White Ravens Catalogues for international children’s and youth literature published annually by the International Youth Library in Munich. I have been doing the Chinese catalogues part together with my husband since 2009, selecting and reviewing five of the most excellent and representative children’s books published every year in China. The catalogues are available on the official website of IYL.

To find out more about our free online series of workshops please visit our Conference webpage.