Wang Quangen

Speaking Time: 2006-9-22 ?08:30--09:00??Hall 2

Speaker: Mr Wang Quangen (China)


The Aesthetic Responsibility of Children's Literature

and Individual Development

Beijing Normal University of China

By Wang Quangen

When human beings stepped into the 21st century, we are facing various new opportunities, challenges and puzzles. At this time, Children's Literature becomes increasingly prominent in respect of social and cultural values.

Besides literature for adults, Human beings apply themselves to create a special form of literature to serve the needs of adolescents and children for the purpose that their souls can touch the pleasure carried in languages, the basic purpose and value thereof are to adequately represent human society (adult world)'s respect to the rights and social status, and fully understand and satisfy the particular spiritual needs and literary acquisition pattern, which are very different from that of the adults. That is the reason of the creation of children's literature in the first place, which stands for the respect for both current children's world and the same world every adult has ever passed through. It is unimaginable that there is no childhood, no children's world and no children's literature.

The second motive that human beings create children's literature is to find a way of spiritual communication and dialogue between adult world and child world in terms of literature that fits children's thinking pattern and tastes, by which way the expectations of the elder generation can be passed on to the next generation. Therefore, I believe children's literature represents a special form in respect of the transmission and succession of culture and spiritual communication between two generations, and also an artistic combination of cultural design (namely humanization design) that the adult world for the time being carries out for the future generation and cultural criteria. Different from the adult literature's orientation of "truth is beauty", as a special form of literature that carries adult society (in which the adults are the principal of creation)'s cultural expectation and ardent hope for the future generation (in which the principal receivers are children), the aesthetic tendency of children's literature is naturally different from that of the adult literature. I believe, the fundamental aesthetic characteristics of children's literature should be "goodness is beauty".

Basically speaking, the idea of "goodness is beauty" is the preliminary preparation for embedding into the soul of the younger generation the faith humanity, and for the healthy development of the spiritual life of the younger generation, which is a great cause concerning the purpose of human life. In relation to the aim of art, Hegel ever said that "art is an activity of the soul……it contains an end bound up with it". Art exists to fill up the need of soul, in this sense, "art is only useful when it is used to improve human beings, which is also the highest function of art." In the practice of the art of literature, people are more liable to leave their hope "improve human beings", the highest aim, with the art of children's literature. Luxun ever said, "the status in childhood is the fate in the future". Child represents the beginning of life, bearing the hope of human beings. It is in this sense that children's literature is endowed with more detailed, more realistic literary practical nature than adult literature in respect of the "highest aim" to "improve human beings".

The function of children's literature for human culture and civilization lies in the actualization of cultural expectation of the human society for the next generation, an expectation of value carrying the significance of life and the highest aim to improve human beings, namely, it is such an expectation that the children can establish an idea about what kind of person they should be in the future by virtue of the special literature form. "Goodness is beauty", the connotation of children's literature, consists in human beings themselves (children), and in the self-perfection of mankind (children), that is to say, through artistic visualization of aesthetic joviality, children's literature can be used to nurture and optimize children's spiritual world of life for the purpose of bringing into being the basic values in respect of life, morality, aesthetics, which shall be essential foundations for humanity and the nationality in the future.

Children's literature sticks to the aesthetic idea in artistic creation with different content from adult literature. Excellent children's literature works all over the world have furnished us with the aesthetic example in respect of such practical nature of art, which advocate keeping away from violence, evil behaviour and excitation of adult society, and all unhealthy elements jeopardizing the growth of children's spiritual life. At the same time, the uniqueness of the content stuff of children's literature mainly reflects in the following two aspects: 1) the expression of children's life and the spiritual world, the sensitivity of children's emotion and their fantasies (including animals and plants, nature, heroes and myth); 2) the common dream and cultural ideals of the mankind as a whole, and the stuff that have direct impact upon the orientation of the next generation’s pursuit. To be more detailed, it covers the following threes points:

(1) Embodiment of growth

Children's literature constitutes the elementary art form of human beings, the aim and significance of which are of the development of the life at the early stage of a human being as a child. Children's literature mostly serves adolescents at the ages in between 12 and 18 (ages for primary school and middle school). Therefore, the children's literature will accompanies very young people throughout the years when they are undergoing bodily and psychological changes which would bring about puzzles, harasses, dreams, expectations, indistinct emotional appeals and even “contacting closely”, awakening of self-awareness, generation "gap" among parents, school and society and closely connect with the respect and understanding of children's individual personality, independence, self-esteem, and self-confidence. The issue of growth as the artistic theme appears plentifully in the works of children's literature, i.e. novels with adolescents as the main characters and campus stories. For example, among contemporary foreign children's literature, there are The Watcher in the Cornfield, Green Henry, Beneath the Wheel, The Outsider, Alaska Challenge, New York Youngsters, "Guli’s Choice", and etc., and among contemporary Chinese children's literature, there are Thatched Cottage by Cao Wenxuan, Illegal Intelligence by Zhang Zhilu, Legend of Boy Student Jia Li by Qin Wenjun, and etc. All those said works are creationary and dedicated to exploring the theme of growth, with great influence upon young people in the middle of growth.

(2) Wild Fantasy

In the absence of fantasy, there will be no more children's literature. Therefore the aesthetic creations thereof are always closely connected with imaginary world. As to style, imaginary children's literature mainly includes fairy tales, allegories, science fictions, and animal novels. The artistic characters in the aforesaid works that are more liable to enable young readers to make endless imagination and reading pleasure are animals and plants, especially animals. Besides characters like monsters and gods, superman, heroes and strange characters (such as giant, elf, and dwarf) are also welcome by children. If we make a comparison of the relations between imaginary artistic characters and human beings, we can divide such characters into four categories: 1) impersonation or personalization, i.e. giving non-human characters with human nature and instinct, such as animals and plants; 2) superman related characters, such as monsters and gods, transformable characters, strange characters and so on, who have many super capacities such as flying in the air (J·K· Rowling's Harry Porter), being able to transform (Andersen's Sea's Daughter), differential body (Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels), and never grow up (Peter Pan's Child Never Grows Up). In western fairy tales, such characters as elf, fay, dwarf, witch, giant, enchanter, and ghost, all belonging to this category; 3) intelligent humanlike characters: such characters neither exist in human world nor in animal and plant world, not even in the world of monsters and gods, but mainly in scientific imaginary four dimensions world, such as robots, aliens, clones and invisible persons; 4) Common human characters: even though such characters are identical with real world mankind, they are endowed with usual characteristics that only exist in imaginary world through artistic exaggeration and processing, such as the emperor, princess, Dalin, and Xiaolin respectively in Andersen's Emperor's New Dress, Princess on the Pea, and Zhang Tianyi's Dalin and Xiaolin .

(3) Philanthropism

Love is essential for the growth of children. The theme of love always penetrates in every piece of works of children's literature, especially in such works like essays and stories for very young children. Human being's love can be roughly divided into two categories: 1) self-centred love: the first one is the basic love, such as desires for material, survive and sex; the second is beauty appreciation, for example the appreciation to a certain artwork such as stamp album; the last is friendship, concretely include the friendship focused on benefit, the friendship focused on interest, the friendship focused on morality and justice and so on, 2) super love, i.e. philanthropism, an altruistic love, without desire and utilitarian purpose. The latter usually dominates the children's literature, which is very important for the growth of the children's cultivation of humanistic spirit. Andersen ever said that love and sympathy are the most important emotions for every human being. It is just this kind of noble sentiment in many of the world famous works of children's literature that deepens, polishes and beautifies the spiritual life of adolescent, which is also a real and explicit embodiment of the value of the principle of "goodness is beauty" in the children's literature.

Amidst the tide of globalization of economy, pluralisation of politics, intersectional traffic and information network globalization, the world children's literature in the 21st century is undertaking more than ever important and immediate mission in cultivating the healthy development of next generation's spiritual life. The world is becoming smaller and smaller. Issues in respect of war and peace, ecological environment and natural disaster prevention, animal protection and sustainable development, the existence dilemma of modern human being and the solution, the degeneration of ethnics and morality and sharp increase of juvenile delict, all these troublesome problems for all mankind have increasingly become the focuses, hot topics and difficult points in world children's literature. Children don't hate long, the hearts of them are communicable; children's literature has no boundaries, and children's literature is real universal literature in respect of realization of the joint culture ideals and interests. Therefore, under such a background, we set out such an aesthetic attribute and values as "goodness is beauty" with respect to children's literature, expecting such ideas of "goodness is beauty" (advise somebody to do something right, aim at helping those criticized, avoid evil and purse goodness, punish evil and promote goodness and choose and follow what is right) can be conveyed to our children via the media of aesthetic visualization of art, which we believe is timely and essential. Science provides order for our way of thinking; morality directs our behaviours, while art can give us order in commanding the visibility, tangibility and audibility of the material world around us. The world civilization in the 21st century still needs children's literature, which shall still uphold the aesthetic banner of "goodness is beauty".