UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

From Lu Xun’s “save the children” to Mao’s “the world is yours” : children's literature in China, 1920s-1960s. Stroganova, Evgenia


In 1929 the leading Chinese intellectual Hu Shi said: “To understand the degree to which a particular culture is civilized, we must appraise … how it handles its children.” In 1957, Chairman Mao told Chinese youth that “both the world and China’s future belonged to them.” In both eras, cultural leaders placed children and youth in the centre of cultural and political discourse associating them with the nation’s future. This thesis compares Chinese children’s literature during the Republican period (1912-1949) and the early People’s Republic of 1949-1966, until the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and argues that children’s writers who worked in both new Chinas treated youth and children as key agents in building a nation-state. In this thesis, I focus on the works of three prominent writers, Ye Shengtao (1894-1988), Bing Xin (1900-1999) and Zhang Tianyi (1906-1985) who wrote children’s literature and were prominent cultural figures in both eras. Their writing careers make for excellent case studies in how children’s literature changed from one political era to another. I conduct thematic and stylistic textual analysis of their works and read them against their historical and cultural backgrounds to determine how children’s writings changed and why. As anticipated, I showed that during both eras, children’s literature and politics were closely related. Another expected finding is that the manner of writing for children changed significantly as children from victims turned into active agents of the nation’s future. Challenging the view that children’s writers of the early People’s Republic merely followed the Party line, I argue that Ye, Bing, and Zhang remained loyal to the task of “saving children.” Another unexpected finding is that the Chinese Communist Party did not invent new cultural policies toward children from scratch, but employed numerous policies and ideas, including literary ideas, of the Nationalist regime that also inherited much from the late Qing.

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