Chinese Children’s Literature?

alice_in_wonderland_9789867014306The exhibition at 180 Strand, featuring the works of eight Chinese designers, closed today. As part of the British Council’s 2014 International Fashion Showcase, these designers had produced work based on the very English children’s book, Alice In Wonderland, by Lewis Caroll. I wish I could make a quick remark that, by way of cultural exchange, British designers should try their hand at a Chinese children’s classic.

I could not think of any that would fit the bill.

As a child, I was lulled to sleep with beautifully illustrated versions of Aladdin, Greek myths and Hans Christian Anderson stories. There were picture books of the old myths, of Pan Gu the giant, Nu Wa the Goddess, Hou Yi the legendary archer, and Chang’E who lived on the moon with her jade rabbit. I liked the comics of the Seven Gourd Brothers, a tale of seven little boys who grew from an old farmer’s gourd patch, each with a special power, who would protect him and fight the snake and scorpion demons in the mountains. I remember ethnic folk tales of Ma Liang and the Magic Paint Brush, and The Peacock Princess. These were fragmented, few and far between, nothing as magical or with as great an impact as Alice in Wonderland, Wind in the Willows, or the wealth of children’s literature produced by Britain. Other stories tended to be very allegorical, like Monkeys Fishing For the Moon, or heavily didactic, like Sparkling Red Star.

In Western society, the idea of ‘childhood’ began in the 19th century, but in China, the idea of offspring as cute beings to be adored, cherished and given plenty of fun did not really begin until the Single Child Policy was introduced in 1979. Amidst the rapid economic development and social changes, people could only turn to age old folk tales or Western Children’s stories to nurture their children’s imagination.

Perhaps now in the 21st century, when China is, relatively, politically stable, domestic Chinese artists and writers could start creating some homegrown children’s adventure stories to cater to the thousands of Chinese children being born every day, and nurture them on their native culture, from birth. It’s literally a growing market.

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