Literary masterpiece resonates with language teacher

2024-07-08 12:10:40China Daily Editor : Mo Honge ECNS App Download

Chang Yu-ming (right) talks with her students about making bookmarks related to the Chinese literature classic Dream of the Red Chamber. (Photo provided to CHINA DAILY)

In a university classroom on the Chinese mainland, teacher Chang Yu-ming brings the characters of the Chinese ancient classic Dream of the Red Chamber to life through intricate paper-cutting and crafting handmade floral bookmarks inspired by the literary masterpiece.

Originally from Taipei, Chang, who was born in the 1980s, previously taught at Banqiao Senior High School in Taiwan where she was responsible for curriculum development and conducting research on Chinese language teaching across the Taiwan Strait.

Her journey to the mainland was sparked by a visiting scholar in 2017 when she was focusing on her doctoral dissertation on the impact of television adaptations of Dream of the Red Chamber, which proved to be a pivotal turning point in her life.

Through her studies and in-depth interviews with professionals related to the TV series of the novel, she gained a deeper understanding of the mission and reverence held on the mainland for the literary and cultural significance of Dream of the Red Chamber.

Written by Cao Xueqin in the 18th century, Dream of the Red Chamber is considered one of the greatest Chinese novels of all time.

In 2017, before Chang traveled to the mainland, Taiwan was embroiled in debates over its high school curriculum. As a Chinese language teacher, she advocated for maintaining the importance of classic texts in the curriculum amid a growing trend by authorities to reduce their emphasis.

"When I was receiving education at university, students of my generation carried the expectations of our teachers, hoping to carry forward and promote traditional Chinese literature. However, when I became a Chinese language teacher, what I faced in Taiwan was de-Sinicization," she said.

"I felt a sense of pessimism toward the de-Sinicization policies under the Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan. However, my experience in Beijing exposed me to a different world — one that embraced and revitalized Chinese culture and traditions," said Chang, who now teaches literature at Xiamen Institute of Technology.

Chang said this contrast led her to choose a path where she could contribute positively to the field she loved, rather than feeling stifled in an environment that seemed to suppress her passion.

In Taiwan, it could take weeks to explain to students the significance of reading Dream of the Red Chamber, whereas on the mainland, students engaged in full-text readings, she said.

Upon completing her doctoral studies in 2019, Chang quit her teaching position in Taiwan and joined Guangxi Normal University as a college teacher.

Her love for Dream of the Red Chamber remains a constant theme in her teaching and research. Through immersive experiences, she guides her students in exploring the themes of food, love and relationships depicted in the classic novel, fostering a lively and emotionally rich learning environment that has proved popular.

"Many young people on the mainland show a strong interest in traditional culture, with students even exploring the themes of traditional Chinese medicine and health practices depicted in Dream of the Red Chamber," she said.

By intertwining these themes with the narratives of family relationships and love, Chang said her students are deeply moved and engaged, sometimes even shedding tears at the emotional depth of the stories.

In her teaching, Chang has collaborated with other teachers to bring the characters of Dream of the Red Chamber to life through vivid paper-cutting art.

Through hands-on activities such as creating handmade floral bookmarks inspired by Dream of the Red Chamber, Chang encourages her students to internalize the essence of the literary masterpiece in their unique ways.


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