Introducing English poetry to Chinese college students
By: Hsiao-chuan Liu
Published: 1954
Uploaded: 10/19/2006
Uploaded by: Pocket Masters
Pockets: Gottesman Libraries Archive, Historical Dissertations
Tags: English language, English poetry, Study and teaching, Textbooks for foreign speakers

This project report is written for teachers who teach English poetry to Chinese college students. It is understood that teachers have already observed and tackled many of the difficulties confronting students as they teach English poetry. There are, however, certain fundamental problems and procedures that are uniformly to be met whenever English poems are introduced to Chinese students. This project report is concerned with analyzing these problems and illustrating these procedures. The writer offers suggestions only in the hope that the study of English poetry might become easier to students.
It seems necessary to discuss briefly Chinese general attitude towards poetry. We may then understand why Chinese college students might be interested in learning English poetry, especially the English majors.
China is a land of poetry. Joseph Lewis French points out that Chinese poetry is not only the largest but the oldest body of poetry in the world. Similarly Robert Payne thinks that the Chinese have written more poetry than all the other nations of the earth put together. Probably there has never been a people in whose life poetry has played such an important role as it has done, and does, among the Chinese people.
Chinese poetry began with Chinese written history about five thousand and five hundred years ago. Some of the earliest poems were written by the Emperor Yao (died 2258 B.C.).
In the Chow Dynasty (1122-255 B.C.) poetry became more significant not only to individuals but also to the government. Emperors traveled over all the feudal states to collect the most popular and typical poems or songs. Poetry in this period was not merely a literary task for scholars but a means of expression common to both sexes of all classes.
We may use Shih Ching or The Book of Odes ([foreign language]) as an illustration. Traditionally, it has been said that Shih Ching was edited by Confucius (551-479 B.C.), who selected three hundred and five poems out of three thousand ancient ones. These are popularly known as the Three Hundred Poems. They had been composed between the reign of the Great Yu, who founded the Hsia Dynasty in 2205 B.C., and the beginning of the sixth century B.C.
Confucius arranged these poems according to their music. He told his son that the latter would be unfit for the society of intellectual men unless he read these poems. He also said that a person without a knowledge of these poems was like one who stood with his face against a wall. These poems have been memorized and quoted by Chinese scholars and officials for more than two thousand years. They are still popular among the Chinese people.
The poetry of the TĂang Dynasty (618-905) may be used as another example. The TĂang Dynasty has been commonly recognized as the golden age of poetry. From the founder of the dynasty to the last ruler, almost every one of the emperors was a great lover and patron of poetry. Many of the emperors were poets themselves. Robert Payne estimates that during the TĂang Dynasty at least 2,200 poets wrote 48,900 poems. These are preserved, but millions of others are lost to the world. For example, Li TĂai-po (705-762) took pleasure in writing poetry, then throwing the paper on a stream, and watching it sail away.
A tribute should be paid to the Empress Wu Hou (625-705) of the TĂang Dynasty. Through her influence poetry became a requisite in examinations for degrees and a vital course leading to official promotion. This made every scholar and every official a poet. Through all changes of dynasty, the requirement of poetry as one of the subjects in the governmental examinations were continued for a thousand years to the end of the last century.
Poetry has entered into the fabric of the life of many Chinese. Lin Yutang thinks that poetry has taken over the function of religion in China, in so far as religion is taken to mean ˘a cleansing of a manĂs soul, a feeling for the mystery and beauty of the universe, and a feeling of tenderness and compassion for oneĂs fellowmen and the humble creatures of life.÷
In the old days there were parents who chose bride grooms for their talented daughters on the merit of a few lines of good poetry. One of the chief pastimes of educated men and women was to meet together to play various games, most of which turned on the writing of poetry.
Even today poetry still plays an important part in China. People inscribe fresh couplets on their door-posts on Chinese New YearĂs Day. Poems are often written for great events, such as a friendĂs wedding, birthday, or funeral; the celebration of an organization or club. When a person makes a voyage, he will write down his experience in poetry. Walls of the study and sitting room are adorned with poetical scrolls, gifts of friends. Temples are decorated with scrolls of poetry; rocks of the mountains are inscribed with verse.
From the discussion above, we may see how vital poetry has been in the history of Chinese literature and in the individual and social life of the Chinese. With this view in mind, we may assume that some Chinese college students will be interested in learning English poetry, especially the English majors.
The writer feels that a project report which introduces English poetry to Chinese college students is needed. Traditionally, English poetry has taken an essential part in programs for English majors in Chinese colleges. According to Laws Governing Education in China, issued by the Ministry of Education in 1946, English poetry has been required for six credits for students of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature and the Department of English Literature. Such a course has been given at sophomore level.
An introductory course in English poetry will assist the English majors, who in their future studies may go on into courses such as English Drama, Selected Readings in European and American Literature, and Literary Criticism. These courses have been required for majors in Foreign Languages and Literature. A study of English poetry will also prepare students for selected readings in English poetry such as Milton, Shakespeare, and Romantic Poets.
Although most of the people who study English as a second language seem mainly concerned with acquiring English as a tool for gaining technical information, the study of the art forms of English language is still important for many students as a part of general humanities. Poetry is, of course, one of the chief art forms of English language.
Wherever English language is taught to Chinese students, there are always those who will have a concern for English literature, particularly the English teachers. These teachers might be interested in materials which lead Chinese students into the world of English poetry.

Sponsor: A. T. Kitchin, F. Shoemaker
Dissertation Committee: V. F. Allen, E. M. Feagley
Degree: Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University