China's literary classics are losing out to popular culture as
far as teenagers are concerned, according to a report of the
Guangzhou Daily on August 21.
Before the school summer vacation started this year, Ms Li drew
up a "reading schedule of literary classics" for her daughter, a
senior secondary school student. But by the end of the vacation,
her daughter had only read ten pages of A Dream of Red
Mansions, a novel published in the early Qing Dynasty
(1644-1911) by Cao Xueqin, just one of the classics Ms Li had hoped
her daughter would plow through. A hapless Ms Li lamented: "What's
the matter with these middle school students now?"
A teenager engrossed in the
popular book Blue Stone.
Xiao Kai, a senior secondary school boy who spent most of his
vacation in remedial lessons, had plans to play basketball, surf
the Internet and watch TV for the remainder of the holidays, His
father, however, had different ideas. He'd hoped that the boy would
catch up on his reading of the classics. There is no shortage of
the classics in Xiao Kai's bedroom, including Chinese classics such
as Heroes of the Marshes and The West Chamber,
and western ones like Notre Dame de Paris, A Tale of
Two Cities and The Old Man and the Sea. But the only
one that Xiao Kai has read so far is The Old Man and the
Sea. "I only read it because it was one of the shorter one,"
Xiao Kai admitted.
"My son is only interested in 'rubbish'," Xiao Kai's father
said. The "rubbish" he referred to include foreign cartoons, the
Internet, illustrated martial arts comics and popular magazines,
which are regarded to be "a great scourge" by parents and
"My parents go on and on about how reading literary classics is
useful to help me cope with examinations and education. That's what
I hate most," Xiao Kai said.
Many of the literary classics that parents push their children
to read are used as textbooks in middle schools and their contents
frequently appear in examination papers. This is why parents and
teachers urge children to read the classics.
"My teacher wanted very much for us to read A Dream of Red
Mansions, but none of us did it," said Xiao Wei, another
senior secondary school boy." So, before the final examination this
year, my teacher used two lessons to give us a quick summary of the
story, drawing pictures of the characters and the storyline so that
it'd be easier for us to remember," Xiao Wei added. Xiao Wei was
speaking with the newspaper in a Guangzhou Bookstore that has on
sale simplified and abridged versions of many Chinese and Western
Yang Jinsong, a teacher from Guangzhou Zhixin Middle School,
said that parents and teachers are keen for children to read the
classics because they feel this will help in examinations. And it
is precisely why the children aren't interested.
Ah Min has just graduated from junior secondary school. It was
her grandfather who encouraged her to read the classics when she
was younger. But cartoons are now her favorite: "Ancient classics
are boring and they depict a cruel reality that I don't like," she
said. Ah Min's favorite cartoons include Detective Conan
and Pirate Lu Fei. "They teach us to be courageous and
friendly," she said.
Like Ah Min, Zi Yin, a junior secondary middle school girl
prefers Virtual City written by Guo Jingming to the
classics: "I enjoy the novel very much, and the writer is so
smart," she said.
"Literary classics take place in time too far removed from us,
their stories are too long and we have no time to read," according
to many of the students interviewed by the newspaper.
A teenager studies a
martial arts book.
In addition to comics and cartoons, the Internet is also proving
to be a major challenger to traditional forms of entertainment for
China's youth. Children spend a lot of time surfing the Internet
for quick access to entertainment and pop culture, and many are
aware that it is all part of the current "fast-food culture".
"We love pop culture, even if they are artificial," they said.
And they have no illusions about pop culture today becoming
classics in the future.
Chen Yijing, vice director of the Guangzhou-Hong Kong-Macao
Juveniles Research Institute, said that what juveniles need today
is something to satisfy their hunger for knowledge and
entertainment, but most of what is available today is "lacking in
nutrition", and they know this. "It indicates that today's youth is
very much at a loss in terms of culture," Chen said.
Chen added that the age gap between the children and their
parents has plenty to do with the disinterest shown by the
children. The children are searching for something that actually
interests them; parents tend only to think about whether or not
reading classics would be useful for exams. Parents also worry if
the new sources of entertainment will have a bad impact on their
Chen suggested that parents would be much better off trying to
guide their children rather than criticize them for their
He also pointed out that whilst he believes it is worthwhile for
children to read the classics, they don't necessarily have to do it
anytime soon. "Reading is a lifelong hobby. People can choose
to read the classics when they really want to."
It would also seem that little is gained from forcing a child to
read the classics. Many of the students interviewed said: "The more
they drive us to read, the more we are unwilling to do it."
(China.org.cn by Li Jingrong, August 29, 2006)