Education About Asia: Online Archives

A Child for All Ages: The Orphan of Zhao

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A good literary work with specific cultural elements can easily touch the hearts of its culture’s native sons and daughters; a work with universal appeal will swiftly attract natives and non-natives. But local color alone can become tedious and provincial, and universal appeal by itself may make the work too general to capture the essence and spirit of a specific time, place, and event. Only when a work has both cultural specifics and a universal dimension can it be called great literature and enjoy a culturally diverse audience, for it can seize the minds within and without a specific culture. The Chinese story—“The Orphan of Zhao”—possesses just such qualities and has endured lasting popularity both in China and in the West for centuries. Tracing the development of the story and presenting some versions of it can form a unit that introduces both basic Confucian ideas of traditional China and the movement of cultural artifacts between China and the West.