One notable and exciting outcome of the Writing Chinese
children’s literature symposium was the formation of a new collaboration among our three keynote speakers, Helen Wang, Minjie Chen and Anna Gustafsson Chen who have since produced a wonderful new web resource all about Chinese children’s literature, Chinese Books for Young Readers
. I asked them to tell us more and they kindly obliged.
What are Chinese children reading today?
A phenomenal amount of children’s books from around the world have been translated into Chinese. Big names among Chinese children’s writers include Cao Wenxuan (Bronze and Sunflower)
, Shen Shixi (China's ‘King of Animal Stories’), Qin Wenjun (Schoolboy Jia Li; Aroma's Little Garden
), Yang Hongying (Naughty Boy Ma Xiaotiao; Diary of a Smiling Cat
), Leon Image (the Charlie IX
series, the pedigree dog who is smarter than his owner).
How significant was the 2016 award of the Hans Christian Andersen prize to Cao Wenxuan?
It looks as though Cao Wenxuan’s schedule has become even busier than before. In newspaper interviews, he often says he’s happy to have won the Andersen, but that he’s been saying for years that good books are being written in China. A number of Chinese authors have been nominated before, but he is the first to have won it.
What are the specific challenges of translating children’s literature from Chinese?
Names can be a real challenge! When you look at a Chinese personal name in its original form, you’ll usually see two or three, and more rarely four, Chinese characters. The combination of these characters creates something that is, at the same time, visual, aural, and meaningful. A name may be loaded with cultural references high or low. It may be hilarious, philosophical, stupid, clever, cryptic, witty, beautiful, subtle, crude... and the wordplay may extend to other characters’ names in the book!
How ‘different’ is children’s literature from China and is there an audience for it outside of China?
‘Children's literature’ is essentially what adults perceive as appropriate reading materials for child readers. Writers, publishers, educators, and parents in Chinese society apparently do not see eye to eye with those in the West on what constitutes children’s literature. One prominent area of difference is how narratives about
children are accepted as being for
children. That is, the authors write stories with a child (or several children) as the main character, and the books are then classified as ‘children’s books’, although they’re really written in a style that’s more suitable for an adult reader. Quite a few bestselling works are stories about children and childrearing, engagingly told, albeit from parents' point of view. The Story of My Daughter
(女儿的故事), by Mei Zihan (2001), is a fictional account of the childhood of the author’s daughter. Pika, My Son
(我的儿子皮卡), by Cao Wenxuan (2009), begins with many details that strike as what a young parent would share with close friends about pregnancy and parenting. Even animal stories are centered on mother wolf and father cat. Wolf King Dream
(狼王梦), by Shen Shixi (1990), follows a female wolf's ambition to raise one of her cubs as the next wolf king. These books differ from Western children’s literature, in which adult writers make great efforts to observe the world from a child’s necessarily limited perspective in order to tell a convincing children’s story. A question that interests me (Minjie) is: is an adult perspective absolutely undesirable for children's literature, or does it offer something that complements a child-centered narrative world?
Paradoxically, Chinese books for teenagers and young adults tend to feel very ‘naïve’ or ‘sweet’, compared to Western books that often deal with rather dark topics and problems. For one thing, adolescents who seek validation of their awakening sexuality will be much disappointed by the body of Chinese books for teens. Perhaps this explains why a couple of teens we asked could rattle off more titles that are marketed to a general audience than those in the category of ‘YA literature’.
But do go to our site, Chinese Books for Young Readers (https://chinesebooksforyoungreaders.wordpress.com/)
, for more on this.
We’re also on Pinterest, https://uk.pinterest.com/cb4yr/
and Twitter, @cb4yr.