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Getting behind the stories

By Xu Junqian (China Daily)

08:14, July 17, 2012

An early translation of The Wild Swans. Provided to China Daily

A Shanghai university professor savors the literary power of Hans Christian Andersen, Xu Junqian discovers.

Bright sunshine pours through the classroom windows and over the chairs where students sit in twos and threes. They are reading about Karen, the vain girl who eventually abandons her red shoes in one of Hans Christian Andersen's most famous fairy tales.

It's a likely scene at any primary school, where Chinese students have studied Andersen stories like The Red Shoes for decades. But these students regroup every Tuesday morning in a spacious classroom to study the stories at Shanghai Fudan University.

"We kicked off this course, Nordic Literature, as a kind of trial a couple of years ago," says Sun Jian, professor of the course and director of the Nordic Literature Research Institute at Fudan. "But overwhelming feedback and student demand have made it a regular choice on the curriculum."

It's no surprise that Andersen's fairy tales have been a major part of the course, about one-third of curriculum, Sun adds. The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid, The Little Match Girl, and The Emperor's New Clothes are the most popular Andersen stories in China, appearing in text books as late as high school.

Sun meets about 50 students in this decade-old red-tiled school building. Coming from majors including computer science and business management, they come here to immerse themselves in a legendary storyteller's wild imagination.

An ugly duckling is transformed into a swan. A pair of red shoes bears a curse. The love of a little mermaid is unrewarded - the most popular story in the classroom.

"Most of the students are girls. As they are more emotionally sensitive and subtle, it's always a pleasure to listen to their interpretation of works like The Little Mermaid and The Ugly Duckling from perspectives like feminism and cross-culture study," says Sun.

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