Education About Asia: Online Archives

Culture and Text in Teaching Chinese Literature

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By Yanfang Tang

Gaining knowledge about Chinese culture has long been considered an important goal of teaching Chinese literature in the West.1  However, are we teaching Chinese literature effectively to achieve such a goal? What is “culture”? What is “literature”? Is, particularly, our attention to text sufficient in helping our students understand the important cultural issues that underlie it? I raise this last question because it seems that, regardless of the objectives we set for our course, we often consciously or unconsciously take studying Chinese literature as understanding the meanings of a given number of representative texts. While identifying and analyzing the meanings of a text is what we do mostly in the classroom, in our preoccupation with the text and, particularly, in our habitual emphasis on close reading, we may sometimes make the interpretative process an objective in itself.2