Zhang Zhilu

Speaking Time: 2006-9-22 ?11:00-11:30??Hall 2

Speaker: Mr Zhang Zhilu (China)

How to Reach our Children

Zhang Zhilu

Dear Mr. Peter, Chairman of IBBY,

Dear ladies, gentlemen, and friends,

Good morning (or good afternoon)!

Today, I’m very honored and glad to be here to discuss the issue of children’s literature and social development, with writers and painters of children’s literature in the world as well as friends concerned about the cause of children’s literature, so as to facilitate the prosperity of children’s literature.

First of all, I’d like to express my sincere respect and gratitude to IBBY for its fruitful efforts to promote the reading of children’s literature in the world, and also to CBBY.


I’m a Chinese writer for children’s literature. For nearly 30 years, I’ve written more than 30 books for children. I’ve created fairy tales, novels, and science fictions. My writings cover many fields in children’s literature. I’m also the editor playwright and designer of a film production company. I’ve also created 10 children’s film scripts and many children’s TV scripts, all of which have been shot into films and TV plays. In terms of the number of children’s literary works having been adapted into films and TV plays, I’m the most productive writer in China.

When 15 of my children’s literary works were introduced into China’s Taiwan Province for publication and welcomed by the children there, I was very gratified. I felt that the impact of excellent children’s literary works was far-reaching and extensive from the bottom of my heart.

20 years ago, created by me for children, the short story “Antelope Wood Sculpture” was selected into the Chinese textbook for junior high school students (grade I) in China. Now 20 years have passed. The first group of teenagers reading my novel has become adults over 30 years old. Their younger sisters and brothers, or even their children will read my works. What a proud thing! Although they wouldn’t know my appearance and remember my name as a singing or movie star, they could remember my story and the protagonist in the story.

In 1988, the children’s film “Pili Beibei” (electrified Beibei) based on my novel of the same name, also China’s first children science fiction film was successfully produced. The story about the electrified child was so popular that no matter in what occasions, as long as I was mentioned, the film “Pili Beibei” would be mentioned at first. The novel of the same name was also distributed for a few hundred thousand volumes. The work has brought joy and touching feelings to children. One day, some other writers and I went to a middle school in Beijing to meet the students there. I was the youngest with the lowest popularity among the writers. But when I was introduced by the School Principal that I was the playwright of the film “Pili Beibei”, some students suddenly stood up from their seats, and students at the back of the hall even stood on their seats to applaud and cheer. At that moment, I was aware of the enthusiasm and sincerity of the children and felt the value and responsibility for a writer of children’s literature.

The children’s film work I’ve been engaging in has brought benefit to the creation of children’s literary works. In the meantime, the experience and attainment from the creation of children’s literary works have brought advantage to the creation of film. Literature has endowed more artistic value to my film creation. In return, the feelings from the image and motion of film have brought strong appreciation value and readability to my children’s literary works. The interaction between film and literature has endowed more extensive and far-reaching experience to my works.

No matter for children’s film and children’s literature, I believe that the common world shared by human being is reflected by my works. I’ve tried my best to have a deep and common understanding of children.

In fact, I feel very happy to be a writer of children’s literature. The joy in writing children’s literary works and the encouragement from several generations of children has become some driving force for me to create children’s literary works. In 1992, I was honored to be recorded into the Honor List by IBBY. In 2005, I was honored to be nominated by CBBY of IBBY as the candidate in China, and won China’s Andersen award.

Since the beginning of the new century, the children’s literature in the world has entered into a period of prosperous development, and also a period worth of our reflection. With social development, the global integration process is further facilitated, and the children’s literature in the world is facing many common topics. We’re still in the shadow of war, and the aspiration for peace is our long-term goal. Backwardness and poverty mean hidden trouble and uneasiness for the children in many developing countries and regions. Even in rich and comparatively rich countries, the children are also facing much perplexity at spiritual level. Children’s reading materials lack love, judging criteria for the right and wrong, moral ethics and literature. The more and more commercialized competition in the adult world has entered into children’s world too early. The trend of “entertainment first” has become more and more serious! As a result, the young heart of children matured too fast before secure and quiet growth. As a writer for children’s literature, I long to protect the happiness and calm that should be possessed by children by my efforts, so that they could spend their valuable life stage in the world of truth, goodness and beauty. In this crowded and noisy modern life, what kind of literary works can purify children’s heart? What kind of literary works can cultivate the healthy spiritual world of children? The most frequently mentioned question in my writings is: what do we have to move our children?



In terms of “move”, I’d like to share with you two trivial things happened in my childhood.

A neighbor in the courtyard I resided in was a senior professor designing machine. I would always come to his home to play. At that time I didn’t yet enter into primary school. Once I saw a white small pine tree in his room. That tree was as small as my little fist. It was made from a piece of milk-white wood; by cutting upwards, the wood skin curled naturally to become tree leaves. I liked it very much. Looking around and seeing nobody, I took the small tree to my home. But in the evening, I became regretful and uncomfortable, and wanted to send the tree back. But the tree was blackened by my hands. On the morning of the next day, the eldest daughter of the professor suddenly came to my home. I hid in the toilet with fear. The guest left, my mother asked me to come out, and I thought my bad luck would come. But my mother gave me two things with smile on her face, and said those were the gifts from the professor—one is an iron-sheet chicken that could leap after winding up, and the other is a picture book. The guest didn’t even mention the pine tree. I was relaxed and without knowing what were the gifts for. When I grew up, I came to understand the professor and felt very moved. But my move was late for many years.

They cared about a puerile and tender heart with such tolerance and attentiveness, which was my luck. The thing happened to me, but I know similar things must happen to other children. Maybe the same thing also happened to you in your childhood.

I seldom had the chance to taste “lump sugar” in my childhood. But my elder sister had her solution. When our parents were not at home, she would place the white granulated sugar to a big copper spoon and heat it up at fire. After the sugar melted, she would pour it on a piece of glass that had already been prepared, and the sugar flew naturally into the shape of cloud. Before the sugar solidified completely, she used a knife to cut small grids so that we could share after a while. That sugar was in amber color, sweet with very fragrant burnt taste. Once she was making the sugar again. In order to see clearly the whole process, I moved a small stool and stood up on it. I didn’t know why, but I turned over from the stool and bumped my forehead to the stool corner, and shed much blood. The small scar between my two eyebrows has remained to today. It’s the reminder of me—the glutton, and also the reminder of my curiosity. But today, it’s my third eye to care about and observe children.

Today when I’m writing books for children as an adult, I haven’t abandoned my childhood memory, as it’s a treasure.

These feelings and reflections have always become the attitudes and subject matters in my writings.


I hope children are happy.

“To be a happy child” is my most sincere hope and wish for youngsters and children.

Because I have a very deep feeling that if a child is happy, he or she must be open-minded and have healthy psychological status. The eyes he or she looks into the world are bright, kind, and natural. A happy child must have free heart. Happiness is not only laughter, but also the optimistic attitude towards this world.

In today’s world, the media is full of the dissemination and praise for singing stars and movie stars, praise for successful staff and elite, and even the praise and dissemination for millionaire. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, children are educated and encouraged to study from them and try to become such kind of people. It seems that happiness and joy come from that way. However, it’s improper for our children.

Because only a few children will become elites in the future, and most of the children are mediocre people. As long as they’re kind and upright, we have every reason to let them be happy and open-minded. On the other hand, who knows such children will not become talents for the human being and the country when they grow up? But at present, their average and backward performance in study means high pressure for them. I’m very sympathetic for them. The protagonists in many of my works such as the novels “My Shadow and I” and “Tortoise Also Logs On to Internet” are such mediocre children even with backward performance in study. In my works, they are not encouraged to pass the examination of a prestigious university. Instead, they’ve come to know the openness of this world and learnt how to get on with people and how to face this world. We’re also excellent children!

“Happiness” advocated in my works is endowed with broad sense. It may be a happy smile, or a touching feeling from the bottom of one’s heart. I always think that true happiness is the touching feeling from children when they’re moved by a kind of spirit or a person and willing to get along with it. Pure funny and joking words wouldn’t make children happy, let alone “leave a deep impression on them” and make them remember this happiness forever. So, when I’m told that children’s literature is happy literature, I have no objections but I’ll not pursue on purpose.

Happiness always comes with humor. I try to keep a kind of persistent humorous atmosphere through my works, as humor is not just a kind of language expression mode, but also a kind of spirit as to how to look on life!

I believe I’m the most representative children’s literature writer in China who has successfully combined humorous trait into works. When the children’s literature in China is used to telling stories in strict tone, my works would present a kind of harmonious humor to readers since a long time ago. After operation for a long time, a humorous works have reached a natural and skillful stage. The popularity of my humorous works series among readers indicates that my humor has penetrated into readers’ heart. I try to add something other than “fun creation” to the humor in my works. I think that I should treat such humor as a kind of wisdom or life attitude. We could see the wisdom of a person, the calm life attitude of a person, and the wisdom to see through worldly affairs. I hope that such humorous trait in my works can be distinguished from shallow humor lacking content, so as to improve the quality of China’s children’s literature and set up a higher standard for the literature. Such humor transcends language itself. In fact, such humor is the understanding of the nature of the existing humor, and such understanding must cross nationalities and country borders.

Endow happiness to children when they’re reading. What’s the meaning of happiness? Outside of this happiness, what should I reflect as a children’s literature writer?

I think that children’s literature should bring about reflection and recognition to children, which are as important as happiness.

I believe that children’s literature should move children instead of educating them. Children’s literature should present a sense of morality and justice, such as selflessness, uprightness, sympathy for the young and poor, support to those in danger or in need, objection to power, aspiration for equality, yearning for freedom, respect for individuality, benevolence, etc.

I believe that a children’s literature writer should possess the profundity of an adult literature’s writer, and know how to make his writings and expressions easy to understand as well. There’s an idiom in Chinese “explain the profound in simple terms”. An excellent children’s literature writer should be profound and make his writings and expressions easy to understand as well. From this respect, children’s literature writers should possess more literary or artistic talent and be more skillful than adult literature writers. Children love stories. They love anything novel, suspensive, and dramatic. So as a kind of manifestation mode, story is very important. Also, children are born to love fantasy and have high expectation for the world. Therefore I don’t favor the writing technique of naturalism. Even if for tragedy, we should make our children see the hope—every bad thing can be conquered.

The manifestation of joy, pains, comfort and heaviness should not become the taboo of children’s literature. The key is that how we manifest them. When writing pains and heaviness, we must let our children see hope for the future, and understand that they must pay out pains and sweat to conquer the difficulties, so that their life is meaningful.

I hope that my works are mysterious and fancy dramas combined with strict life topics. In my visionary literary world, my concerns for the real life are reflected everywhere.

My river novel “The Third Army” is a story about a boy. I try to tell the youngsters and children in my works that no matter what difficulties are ahead, you must face this world bravely. Ugliness is temporary and will finally be conquered by love and justice. Love and justice are permanent. The work aroused great concern from the critics circle after it was published. It’s one of my most important works. After 5 years, I adapted the work into TV series. Thanks to its strong artistic inspiration and spirit of humanity, it won the First-Grade Award of Chinese Book Award, and almost all the great awards for China’s children’s literature. This book was also one of the major reasons why I was recorded into IBBY’s Honor List in 1992.

In the 1990s, with economic development and material abundance, how should we look on the life with abundant materials? This issue should be treated by all people, especially by the writers of children’s literature with cool attitudes. How to enrich children’s spiritual life? Children’s literature shouldn’t encourage children’s demands for enjoyment, but should guide them to be selfless, have healthy personality, help others and concern for others, be sympathetic, and have the desire to be “volunteers” or “supporters”. I successively created many works on children’s growth including “Do You Have Pencil in Mouse Brand?”, “Magic Watch”, “Bumpy School”, “My Shadow and I”, and “Big Soccer Hero”.


I used home and campus for the background in most of my children’s literary works, and the children readers are also familiar with the characters in all the events—the youngsters and children themselves. Some of my works are read by youngsters and some of them are loved by children.

I graduated from the Physics Department of Normal University. Such background made it possible for me to have created many science fictions and visionary novels such as “Empty Box”, “Pili Beibei”(electrified Beibei) , “Whom Is the Cicada Crying For”, “Illegal Wisdom”, “Ultimate Illusion”, and “Mantis No1”.

In the 1980s, I didn’t use the traditional creation method for China’s children’s literature and combined illusion with reality to have delivered a series of works. They were novels in terms of style. Here, illusion doesn’t appear in virtual form, but real existence. I used realistic method to vividly depict those illusionary scenes, events, and characters. The realistic method helped eliminate the sense of distance in reading traditional fairy tales. These works also brought about new depth in thinking for China’s children’s literature. They enlightened many children’s literature writers in China: it’s hard to perfectly disclose lots of philosophical thoughts through daily life status, but the thoughts can be incisively and vividly expressed by visionary status.

I majored in Science in university. The education I received in university was about physics in this world. But I was born to be a children’s literature writer. Such two types of traits have helped me form the most important feature in the creation of children’s literary works. When I became a professional children’s literature writer, the accomplishment in natural science has become my valuable treasure. I brought my knowledge to literary creation in the form of literature. I hope that the perfect marriage of natural science and literature can be seen in my works. Natural science has become my resource and created a unique picture for the creation of my children’s literary works. Science has also become a driving force to my artistic conception. In my creation, such treasure has been applied properly. I hope that a mutually beneficial road between literature and science can be found from my creation practice.


With the progress of China’s social life and under the precondition of attaching importance to education, I’ve been paying attention to the living status of China’s children. My river novel “Do You Have Pencil in Mouse Brand” describes a parent who doesn’t stick to convention and his new way of educating the children, providing an opportunity to children to respond to setbacks. My outlook on children and on education has been fully manifested in this novel. This is a dramatic story. By creating this story, I tried to make millions of children and their parents aware that their latent strength is gained through continuous anneal. Experience by oneself means real acquisition. A child hidden under the wings of his parents would never grow up and belong to the weak forever. I believe that this novel is of strong realistic significance, as this is also a social issue explored by China’s educational circle continuously.

Once in a hotel room, I had a gathering with some 20 children from primary schools or junior high schools from different provinces. They were all literature lovers and had published one or two small articles in newspaper or magazine. When I entered into the room, they were surrounding me and passing their compositions or articles to me and asked for my judgment. When we were talking, a girl suddenly changed her posture in the chair and looked very uncomfortable. I asked her at once what the matter was, as I knew she had serious illness at the conference in the morning. But then the two children in front of me even asked me to ignore her and continue my instruction… I was shocked… How could you be so indifferent towards a person nearby? I pointed at two cups on the table and asked those two children to clean the cups, and to fill one cup of water for that sick girl and one for me… Each of the two children reluctantly took one cup and went away, and came back after a while. They placed the empty cups in front of me and seemed not willing to fill water. I had to fill water for that sick child by myself, and let her to have a rest on the bed.

I was very sad, wondering where was the children’s sympathy gone. There must be some problems somewhere. There’re many reasons for such behavior, but it’s for sure that such children lack sound human foundation. I came into thinking of the mission of children’s literature.

In 2000 I created a full-length campus science fiction “Illegal Wisdom”. This fiction shows in-depth reflection on the relation between scientific development and human spirit. I also expressed my sincere hope for contemporary youngsters and children in this fiction.

I depicted a middle school student whose name was Lu Yu. He was an open-minded, happy, and accommodating youngster. But his school performance was not very satisfactory. His father was a famous cerebral nerve surgeon. In order to make his son more intelligent, he implanted intelligence chip into his son’s abdomen (human’s second brain). Lu Yu became very intelligent and very indifferent too. He even didn’t know his father… The fiction presents some fantasy color, but the truth and spirit are closely related with objective reality.

I think that to provide sound human foundation is important in the mission of children’s literature. From the beginning till now, excellent children’s literary works and excellent children’s literature writers have played some vital role in reforming and purifying human nature, that’s why children’s literature and children’s literature writers are respected. Of course we know that there’re many factors affecting children’s growth. But in the spiritual treasure of today’s human being, how many benevolence and kindness come from children’s literature?

I think that although children are young and their shoulders are puerile and tender, in terms of moral ethics, they should shoulder the same responsibilities and be kind as their parents and teachers. To simplify the responsibilities that should be undertaken and the tempers and hardship that should be gone through by children into pure sufferings brought about by adult world is a kind of spiritual pamper. The result of such pamper would be that children blame everyone and everything but not oneself and catch rickets.

Encouragement is one of the ways to guide children to grow healthily, and criticism is also one of such ways. If a child has fault, you must tell him that he’s wrong and should shoulder the responsibilities by himself!

A child living on the fat of the land and being spoiled everywhere is hard to be moved!

Children’s literature aims to cultivate children’s emotion. In the meantime, together with other social power, children’s literature should educate children on aesthetic perception, orientation of life value and formation of sense of responsibility. Literally, “cultivation” indicates slow movement. However, “cultivation” is drizzle moistening all things on earth. It’s as tender as silk, but it can overcome metal and stone by its power. Especially for a growing child, its function is tremendous and far-reaching!

A children’s literature writer should cherish profound and far-reaching love for children, instead of gratifying children’s temporary demands. Eager and quick satisfaction for children’s desire is not true love, but misunderstanding of love.

I like children. I love children. But I don’t like the stuff pleasing children!

We’ve advocated that our children should read more good books. But it seems that contemporary children have become more and more far from reading. To write good books for children and to let children read these good books are equally important. Comparatively speaking, the latter seems to be more emergent.

In 2005, I was honored to be appointed as the “Ambassador for the Promotion of Children’s Reading in China” by CBBY of IBBY. When I entered into the school and got closer to children, I found that the children are willing to read, but guidance and promotion are lacked. Taizhou region is located in Zhejiang, China. Taizhou boasts advanced economic development. I delivered speeches in two schools there. On that day, 6,818 volumes of my books were sold, creating a national sales record for one day. But when I came to remote mountainous and rural areas, the situation was not so optimistic as the life there was not yet rich. I presented my books to the children for free. When I saw their anxious and naive eyes, I know they were yearning for reading. When I sent the books to their hands, I was as happy as when I heard the 6,818 volumes of sales figure for one day.

Every time when I delivered my speech for the promotion of children’s reading in primary or middle schools, I would tell them a rabbit story as follows:

One day, a rabbit came to a food market and said to a food seller: “Give me a carrot to eat!”

The food seller said: “No-”

On the second day, the rabbit came again and said to the food seller: “Give me a carrot to eat!”

The food seller said: “No-”

On the third day, the rabbit came again and said to the food seller: “Give me a carrot to eat!”

The food seller was angry and said to the rabbit: “Rabbit, I warn you, if you come tomorrow, I’ll use scissors to shear your ears!"

On the fourth day, the rabbit came again and asked the food seller: “Excuse me, do you have scissors?” The food seller said: “No, I don’t have scissors…”

The rabbit said: “Okay, give me a carrot to eat!”

After listening to this story, all children and their teachers and principals laughed. Next, I asked the students to tell me what kind of outstanding feature does the rabbit have? Almost all the students could tell me that it was a stubborn and indomitable rabbit, who wouldn’t give up before reaching its goals. Then I would ask myself, am I a rabbit like that? Or, is every children’s literature writer or painter at present such a stubborn rabbit?

I’m fully aware of the joys and sorrows of a children’s literature worker. But we’re conscientious and cherish love for children. For our children and for tomorrow and future, we’re persistently trying our best.

Thank you!


September 20, 2006