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Scholars advocate cross-disciplinary research on children’s literature

Author  :  SUN MEIJUAN     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2020-06-15

Cooperating with researchers of other fields will help researchers of children’s literature solve the subject’s most urgent questions. Photo: PEOPLE.CN

Since the 21st century, the study of children’s literature has received increasing attention and interest from higher education institutions. At the same time, the introduction of international research findings on children’s literature, the holding of a series of international seminars on this field, and the progress made by domestic researchers all reflect the sound development momentum of the studies of contemporary Chinese children’s literature. 

Tang Sulan, a professor from the Liberal Arts College at Hunan Normal University, said that an international academic exchange on children’s literature has started. There are also efforts to discover potential links between children’s literature and foreign literature, philosophy for children, and children’s education, especially in relation to Chinese language education. These efforts focus on expanding the disciplinary boundaries of children’s literature and establishing a cross-disciplinary subject.

The field of children’s literature has two major attributes, namely, academic interdisciplinarity and practicability. Zhu Ziqiang, vice chairman of the China Society for the Studies of Children’s Literature, said that with increased focus on these two attributes, children’s literature will have a broad research scope and rich topics for discussion. 

There is still vast space for development in the research of children’s literature in China. Most researchers focus on international children’s literature in the 20th century, and little attention is given to those in the 21st century. In addition, studies on children’s book series and their rules of composition need to be strengthened. Research related to readers, markets and sections of the children cultural industry chain is also lacking, said Yang Peng, an associate research fellow from the Institute of Literature at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Currently, children’s literature research is in most cases classified into a sub-discipline of modern and contemporary Chinese literature, comparative literature or world literature. However, children’s literature has its unique theories, history, criticism and philology, which is almost an academic category close to the scale of a first-level discipline. At present, the scale of children’s literature research in China is far from matching the scale of the children’s literature discipline. Existing studies cannot cover the broad academic research scope of children’s literature, and it is difficult to delve into major and fundamental academic issues. Classifying children’s literature as a first-level discipline could be a good solution, Zhu added. 

China’s children’s literature research requires better suited platforms for academic exchange, but there is still no special journal for this subject, putting the research at a greater risk of marginalization, said Xu Derong, a professor from the College of Foreign Languages at Ocean University of China.

Xu suggested innovating with China’s children’s literature research methods through strengthening international exchanges, discussing common problems facing children’s literature in the world with overseas scholars, and learning from each other. In addition, it is necessary to build a “Chinese school” of children’s literature by establishing research frameworks, systems of concepts and methodologies with Chinese characteristics, thereby contributing Chinese wisdom to the study of world children’s literature. If conditions permit, we can build special journals and academic groups for children’s literature research to provide an academic exchange platform and to facilitate an academic community around this discipline. 

Focus on interdisciplinary and cross-border research on children’s literature can support its future development. Researchers need to increase their cooperation with other researchers in disciplines such as pedagogy, cognitive science, translatology, sociology and psychology to solve the most urgent problems found within the subject. In addition, conducting comparative research on children’s literature not only contributes to the rapid development of China’s children’s literature research, but also contributes to the international exchange on children’s literature creation and research, Xu continued.

In recent years, Western scholars in this field have paid special attention to the combined research methods of cognitive neuroscience and children’s literature. For example, the schema theory based on cognitive neuroscience is conducive to promoting the effective application of children’s literature to teaching. Tan Fengxia, a professor from the School of Chinese Language and Literature at Nanjing Normal University, said that children’s literature is an open field involving multiple disciplines. In the future, it will be necessary to consciously break disciplinary boundaries and promote cross-disciplinary integration. 

Researchers of children’s literature should also seek opportunities to visit bookstores and schools in order to obtain first-hand book sales information and other types of information about readers. With first-hand information on reading and demand collected from marketers, school teachers and students, scholars can adjust their research. In addition, researchers should learn to use big data collected from research into children’s literature to adjust the direction of research and enrich personal research materials, Yang said.


(Edited and translated by YANG LANLAN)

Editor: Yu Hui

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