Chinese children seek double fun from ancient classics, pop culture

17:31, November 19, 2009      

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Beijing boy Liu Hanzhao, 9, is starting his day with reading aloud Confucian classics for 20 minutes after breakfast.

Before he is going to sleep in the evening he reads English tales like "The Little Match Girl" by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. At the weekends he is watching "Kung Fu Panda", the popular animation film. It is his favorite movie.

Liu is enjoying to have access to such a range of literature and films originating from different cultural backgrounds.

"I like to be moved by true and beautiful stories," said he. "I can't bear to see animals hurt."

Mei Zihan, an established writer and a professor with Shanghai Normal University, said nowadays children had a wide range of choices concerning reading and watching.

"The combination of both ancient classics and children's works from home and abroad will be conducive to the growth of Chinese children," he said. Liu said there were many schools teaching Confucian classics in Shanghai, only that no one had added them up.

Liu has been taking a weekly class of Confucian classics since 2007.

He is one of some 100 children who are attending the Chengxian Confucius School. Every Saturday morning, Liu sits for two hours in a classroom inside the Guozijian, which was the Imperial College 100 years ago.

They chant the teachings of Confucius (551- 479 B.C.), a great teacher and thinker and read ancient poems.

"Liu is able to recite several simple classics, such as 'San Zijing', though he can not write many characters," said Ji Jiejing, director of the school. The classic, also known as "Three-Word Chant", is a well-known short essay introducing Chinese words and characters. It also teaches traditional virtues like respecting parents.

The experience has knocked a courageous reciting star out of a shy boy, said Ji. Liu is one of the rather introverted, not very talkative young boys. When he is on stage the boy seems to be another person.

"On the Dragon Boat Festival this year, I recited 'Li Sao' before an audience of 200," said Liu. The work, crafted by ancient poet Qu Yuan (340-278 BC), is one of the longest poems with 372 lines in ancient China. He drowned himself after he was exiled and his death is traditionally commemorated on the festival which falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, usually in early June.

"The people were enthralled when he was there on the stage," said Ji, "He delivered it loud and vibrant."

Ji told Xinhua some 400 children like Liu had studied in the school, including foreign children. Six-year-old Li Yitang, whose father is a Danish investor in Beijing, said he liked learning Chinese characters as much as watching animated theatrical shorts.

And, Ji's school is expanding with classes on weekdays because more and more kids are coming for the lessons. Schools like Ji's are sprouting up everywhere in the country as people realize traditional culture will help their children grow more talented.

Shanghai girl Wang Xinyu, 6, enjoys dancing to English songs like "The Sound of Music." She also rejoices in reading poems of Li Bai (701-762), a great poet in Tang Dynasty.

"I listen to English songs for a while, and then shift to Li Bai's poems," She said. "It's fun."

"Although we know that she might not quite understand what she is listening and reading, we are delighted she enjoys them," said the mother Wang Yuanhong.

Zhang Yiwu, a professor of Peking University, said it was natural for the Chinese children and teenagers to enjoy the ancient classics as well as the popular culture from the western countries.

"The works, like 'San Zijing' and Andersen's stories, are interesting in nature and filled with the shared value of life," he said.

Source: Xinhua
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