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Compare Children’s Images in Western and Chinese Children’s Fantasy Literature

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CLB 9003 Cross-cultural Studies of Children's Fantasy Literature (1st Term, 2013-14)

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“Compare children’s images in Western and Chinese children’s fantasy literature”

Name : So Lok Ching

Student ID :4028177

Instructor : Dr Tong Man

The development of Western and Chinese children’s fantasy literature varies a lot. Western children’s fantasy literature has a much earlier development process. In Ancient Greece and Rome, there was no distinction between children and adult’s literature, children and adults shared the same literature. Until the 18th century, a remarkable French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, believed that every child has a unique value and children should not be seen as immature adults. He also emphasized the importance of moral development in his writing ‘Emile’, in which he believed it could be performed by living a simple life. Rousseau’s ideas had a major influence on the development of children’s literature. People raised awareness about children and children’s fantasy literature was flourishing in the 19th century. In this Golden Age, different varieties of children’s fantasy literature were written to entertain children, such as modern fantasy stories and adventure stories. The naughty image of children could be shown in many adventure stories as well, such as ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ (1876) by Mark Twain and ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio’ (1883) by Carlo Collodi. Up to the 20th century and recent decades, Naughty main characters are typical and common in children’s adventure stories, they are appealing and popular to young readers as well, for example ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ (1964) by Roald Dahl.
On the other hand, Chinese children’s fantasy literature had a rather short history of development. Before the 20th century, children’s fantasy literature did not exist in China. Until the Inter-war Period (1921-1937), Chinese children’s literature eventually blossomed. During the May Fourth period in 1919, there was a large-scale introduction of Western children’s literature in China. With many translated pieces of western children’s literature by Lu Xun and Zhou Zuoren at that time, the Chinese authors were inspired by the western children’s literature and started to create their own ones. ‘The Scarecrow’(1923) by Ye Shengtao was regarded as the first book in China’s new children’s literature. Until 1996, ‘Feng Kuang Lu Ci Wei’ written by Peng Yi was the first published children’s fantasy literature in China. ‘Journey to the West’ is one of the most popular adventure stories in China. When it was first written during the Ming Dynasty (the 16th century) , it was not especially created for young readers, and it is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. In 2011, Bai Bin rewrote ‘Journey to the West’, he only kept the adventure plots of the story. Without the complicated details of the story and difficult language, it is more attractive and suitable for children to read. The main character is a human-like monkey with a naughty personality, which is also a charming part of the story.

‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ is about the exciting adventures of Tom and his friends. Without living as an ordinary and hardworking school kid, Tom likes playing and exploring with his companions, he even looks for treasures with them. ‘Journey to the West’ is about Sun Wukong(Monkey King)’s adventurous journey to the Western Land to obtain the Buddhist scriptures, together with his master Tang Sanzang and his fellows who are called Zhu Bajie (Pigsy) and Sha Seng (Sand Monk). ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Journey to the West’ are both well-known and popular adventure stories of Western and Chinese children’s fantasy literature respectively, the personalities of the main characters are similar in both of the stories as well. Children’s images in Western and Chinese children’s fantasy literature will be compared with reference to these two adventure stories as follows.
Firstly, ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Journey to the West’ express the playful image of children. Sigmund Freud, who is best known for his study of children’s psychology, expressed his ideas that the pleasure principle is the most basic principle of life, children tend to seek immediate pleasure and fulfill the needs of happiness through playing. The playful image of children is well expressed in these two stories. For example, Tom Sawyer (Tom) ,the main character of ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’, is a naughty and outgoing kid who loves playing a lot. One day, Tom and his friends Joe Harper act as generals, the other boys act as soldiers, they have a fighting battle in the town square. In the classroom, they also teased the lice. Moreover, Tom and Joe take turns to play the role of Robin Hood in the forest. Tom even had an adventurous journey with his beloved girl Becky in the cave. It shows that Tom’s ideas of playing are very creative, with different kinds of tricks. Furthermore, the playful image of Monkey King, the main character of ‘Journey to the West’ can be shown in these plots, such as playing a prank to the Dragon King in the Dragon Palace, having fun with other monkeys in the Mountain of Flowers, flying into Princess Iron Fan’s stomach as an insect to play tricks on her. It shows that the main characters of both of the stories are naughty and playful, almost every part all of their daily lives are related to playing.
Secondly, children’s reluctance to be governed by social rules and their yearning for freedom can be shown in these two stories. For instance, Tom is full of resentful of the boring homework and the hypocritical adults. He always violates the school rules and even skips classes. Also, he doesn’t obey Aunt Polly, he likes sneaking out to swim and hang around in midnights. Besides, he doesn’t obey the rules of Sunday School in church since he is unwilling to memorize the Bible. Tom enjoys living a life full of freedom and without any limitations. Thus, he slips away to a desert island with his friends, so that he can become a ‘pirate’ leisurely. In addition, Monkey King creates havocs in the heavenly court and in the land of darkness (Chinese Hell). Making a mess in both the heaven and the hell, it is really impudent and impolite. After meeting his master Tang Sanzang, he does not obey his master at all. When he hurts the thieves accidentally and getting scolded by his master, he is unwilling to admit his fault and leaves his master alone. It is clear that Tom and Monkey King are unwilling to be controlled by the social norms and they just want to live freely as they want.
Although children long for freedom, they have to grow up and be a part of the society eventually. Thus, Tom gives up his free life as a pirate in the island and returns to the small town he used to live. He overcomes fear and weakness, telling the truth of a murder in the court bravely in order to save the life of innocent Potter. His bravery and calmness can be shown when he lost his way in the cave as well. At last, he has the same idea with the adults, he even persuades Huck to accept the wealthy widow’s adoption in order to have a better future. It shows that Tom has grown up from a naughty child towards an adult. Besides, Monkey King overcomes many difficulties during his adventure to obtain the Buddhist scriptures in the Western Land. He eventually listens to his master and Bodhisattva’s teachings. After suffering from the miseries and being bound by his master’s golden cudgel, he ultimately can complete the mission and being praised by the Jade Emperor, who is the ruler of Heaven. It shows that Monkey King becomes more mature and gains success. Thus, it can be seen that children have to grow up and get involved in the society inevitably.
Besides the similarities of children’s images in Western and Chinese children’s fantasy literature mentioned above, there are differences in ethics, value judgments, education and entertaining purposes due to the divergence of Western and Chinese cultures. The differences can be shown in the children’s images in these two stories.
At first, children’s images in the two stories reflect different ethics and value judgments in Western and Chinese cultures. Confucian values place a great impact on Chinese culture, especially Confucius’s saying of ‘The lords in position behave the way it should, the subjects behave like a subject should, father behave like a father should, son behave like what a son should." It shows the emphasis on social orders and norms, treasuring the interests of the whole society instead of pursuing individual’s own good. In addition, there is a spread of Buddhism in China. Those can be shown from the obedience of Monkey King after being bound by his master’s golden cudgel, Monkey King’s mission to obtain the Buddhist scriptures together with his master is not for pursuing his own benefits, but to protect the interests of the whole country through obtaining the Buddhist scriptures. Thus, Monkey King becomes successful through completing the mission since he can protect the whole nation after that. On the other hand, Western culture emphasizes individualism, places importance on fulfilling individual’s wants and happiness. Thus, Tom yearns for individual prestige, wealth and romance. Eventually, he obtained reputation, valuable treasures and Becky’s love. It shows that success is linked up to individualism in the story, in Western culture as well.
Moreover, children’s images in the two stories place different levels of importance on education and entertaining purposes. Western culture respects personalities. Without many limitations, Tom nearly gains success through his own bravery and intelligence. However, Chinese culture believes ‘Nothing can be accomplished without norms.’ In ‘Journey to the West’, Monkey King receives more strict education than Tom. After being tied around by the golden cudgel, he is forced to obey his master’s teachings without his own willingness. Also, Monkey King’s master and Bodhisattva teach him, as well as admonish him very often. It is clear that the naughty image of Monkey King has a more important role of educating children than to entertain them, but the naughty image and more playful and exciting adventures of Tom emphasize more on entertaining children rather than educating them.
To conclude, children’s images in ‘The Adventure of Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Journey to the West’ are different in ethics, value judgments, education and entertaining purposes due to the divergence of Western and Chinese cultures. However, there are some similarities of the two stories, such as the playful image of children, children’s yearning for freedom and children’s inevitable growing up in reality.

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