20 September 2017 by Suyen Hu
Diversity teaching is essential in a globalised world and a multicultural society, which is why all English schools are required to include this teaching in their activities. While there is much professional advice available to teachers on effective ways to teach diversity, they all have two main aims:
to increase awareness of other cultures and life styles; and
to develop understanding and respect for all people.
Snowflake Books help young children to absorb Chinese life and culture informally, with authentic and accessible stories and engaging illustrations. In this way Chinese culture and writing become a natural part of growing up from an early age, and a good foundation is laid for mature attitudes and further learning later in the child’s development.
In September 2015 the government decided to encourage Mandarin teaching with extra money and 1000 Chinese teachers. Last year only about 2% of state-funded primary schools and 5% of state-funded secondary schools offered pupils the opportunity to learn Chinese as a curriculum subject. Even in private and maintained schools the figures are only about 36% and 14% respectively.
Many schools, unfortunately, will not have the resources or time to offer formal teaching in Mandarin, but Snowflake Books believe there is great value to be found in the less formal introduction of Chinese culture which our books offer.
Our Mandarin story reading and workshops with primary schools are always well received. The children are very excited to learn some Chinese words and writing from real Chinese people. Our books have parallel Mandarin and English texts and CDs so that children can practice listening and saying. We believe the impacts of these sessions and use of our books are very successful in raising diversity awareness without large amounts of formal teaching and diversion of resources.
We also believe in the importance of emphasising the common humanity among diverse peoples, and once the barrier of strange Chinese writing is overcome, English children will discover that Chinese children are really very like them.
What can be discovered in the series of Snowflake story picture books?
Chinese believe every child is different and unique, as influenced by their Animal Zodiac. People find ways to appreciate each other’s strengths and tolerate also their weaknesses. It is a very interesting approach to introduce the idea of ‘diversity’ based on the animal characters and to encourage positive striving and collaboration in each child.
In the legends of the Chinese Animal Zodiac, all the animals showed different attitudes when they heard of the special race to be held by The Jade Emperor, mythical ruler of the Heaven, and they reacted just like humans. The emperor would use the names of the first twelve animals in the race for the names of the Chinese Zodiacal calendar.
Here are some stories out of the 12 Animal Zodiac.
Mouse tricked both cat and buffalo, so although he came first he is not so respected maybe. But on the other hand, the tiny mouse would get no place in the Chinese Zodiac if he didn’t use trickery to win. Was he wrong? So we say people who are born in the Year of Mouse are very clever.
When the other goats were too lazy to enter the race, Silly Billy Goat thought he should make an effort to represent the goats if no one else would do it. Goat people normally are strong-minded.
Although they were racing against each other, Goat, Monkey and Rooster helped each other to cross a big river to win a place in the race.
Rooster and goat were quite happy to be in the first twelve and didn’t mind not being first, but Monkey was very angry and behaved badly because he wasn’t first. So monkey people are ambitious and agile.
At the beginning, Rooster was laughed at by his friends. But he was not put off and entered anyway. So we say people born that year are very persistent.
Horse should have won easily, but he was too dreamy and stopped to dance. So Horse people always follow their hearts and value their own freedom and will never compromise.
Snake was brave to carry on even though she was injured. Snake people are very determined.
Like traditional tales everywhere, Chinese legends emphasise the values of courage, cleverness, friendship, loyalty, wisdom, love and family, and in these respects the Chinese are no different to other peoples. So these tales help children and adults to glimpse the seemingly exotic aspects of Chinese life and, at the same time, to become aware of our shared values.
Similar to English proverbs, many of the pragmatic wise sayings, which the modern Chinese use to comment on life or to advise on courses of action have their origins in real historic stories. Superficially, modern China is like any other country, with its cars and skyscrapers, but what are its people really like?
The important place that dragons have in Chinese culture, even today, is just one example which at first seems strange to Western minds. Of course no one believes in dragons, but the Chinese have come to attribute noble and desirable qualities to their mythical dragons, which are quite unlike those of Western dragons.
There is the story of the Nine Sons of the Dragon King, who through the trickery of an emperor and their own brotherly loyalty to each other were condemned to live on earth for ever. Each brother had different qualities, some not so good, yet each found a way to make himself useful in this life. This shows us that children are all different, but each one has something to offer if we take the trouble to find and encourage it. At a different level the story also helps us to understand the various types of protective dragon statues which decorate Chinese architecture, for Chinese dragons are mostly very handsome and colourful beasts.
The Chinese have many colourful festivals based on the traditional cycle of farming. These festivals are still timed according to the old lunar calendar, even in this modern age. So the Chinese New Year in early springtime represents a time of thanksgiving for the previous year’s harvest and looks forward to a prosperous new farming year. Today it is seen as a time of hope and optimism for everyone.
Many legends surround the Chinese New Year. In winter hungry robbers and wild animals might come to steal the people’s hard-earned food. The most famous legend is about the mythical Nian Monster (Nian is the Chinese character for ‘year’) who seems to symbolize all these dangers. ‘New Year Beast’ tells how a fierce monster used to come down from the mountains on New Year’s Eve every year and eat all the people’s food and animals. The people were going to run away, but then they were encouraged to work together bravely to face up to the monster with firecrackers, flames and anything red. These things are still used to celebrate the Chinese New Year when people feel the dangers of winter are finally over and look forward to peaceful times. The Chinese love to celebrate their many festivals such as the Moon Festival and the Dragon Boat Festival. Stories help in understanding these too.
There are also stories about legendary people such as the clever Wan Nian who by hard scientific work and persistence through setbacks invented the Water Clock and the Chinese ‘Sun and Moon’ (lunar) calendar which is still used by traditional farmers. A fanciful legend about the failed student Liu-Yi and the unhappy Dragon Princess who was badly treated by her brutal husband, is an introduction to one of the founding pieces of Chinese literature. There is a touching account of a little boy who discovers his grandfather’s old notebook that records the seasons of the Chinese farmers’ calendar and brings back nostalgic memories.
Chinese myths and legends offer a rich procession of fascinating characters, animal and human, amusing or sad, foolish or wise, to introduce children to an exotic world which they will discover is in fact much like their own. Children who grow up with the stories will be aware of how diversified the world has always been: a different-looking group of people with black hair and dark eyes who live far away in the East and worship the Dragon, pay respect to their ancestors on special days each year, celebrate their own New Year’s day with red colour and firecrackers and who believe the stories of their animal signs may help them to plan and make decisions for their lives more wisely! However, it will no longer be a strange or alien world with intangible language and inaccessible customs and culture. The values and morals are not much different from us, but with an exotic appearance. Diversity stems from our human instinct and curiosity to seek to understand and explore the world and its peoples wherever we are from.