Independence: the new trend in the editing of Singapore Chinese literature textbooks

In 2010, Singapore’s Ministry of Education set up the Mother Tongue Languages Review Committee fiJiD which conducted another round of discussion on the Chinese Language Syllabus. At the same time, changes were made to the Literature in Chinese syllabus. In the end, based on the above review, the 2013 Literature in Chinese (Secondary) syllabus --P>C >CЩ--tjjiISHi. was announced. This review was a significant milestone as it highlighted that Singapore’s independent attempts to explore local literature education had reached a new level. The main characteristic of this review would be the removal of over 30 years of content in History of Chinese Literature from the syllabus. Students are no longer required to learn about the “development of the main literary genres.” The requirements of the 2013 Syllabus were for “students studying this Syllabus to be able to learn certain analytical and appraisal techniques and to have certain knowledge on literary works and artistic characteristics, thus, having the rudimentary analytical skills to holistically feel and interpret the content and characteristics of literary works.”4

Without a doubt, the drastic removal of the knowledge criteria of literary history, and the shift to the emphasis on the cultivation of skills in understanding and appreciating literature, were attempts to make Chinese literature easier for second-language learners. Furthermore, the selection of texts still used the four main genre categories but their contents were drastically changed.

Classical Chinese Prose: This still began with fables from the Pre-Qin sages. These included Mencius' The One who has Retreated 50 Steps Laughs at the One who has Retreated 100 steps Zhuangzi's Sighing while Gazing

at the Ocean and Han Feizi’s To Buy a Wooden Box and

Return the Pearls Within Sima Qian’s Record of the Historians was

again selected, although this time, “Jing Ke Assassinates Qin Shihuang Щ" from the Biographies of Assassins Ш'&ЩЩ was used. Works selected since 1982 such as Tao Yuanming’s The Peach Blossom Spring, Liu Zongyuan’s Visit to the Small Stone Pond 'J'Tand Zhou Duuyi’s Discussing Beloved Lotus were still included. The truly new pieces of work added were Yuan Hongdao's Travel to Manjing and Pu Songling’s Three Wolf Tales (И) ЗЙНЙ ( JL-). Compared to the 2006 content, the Classical Chinese Prose section of the new textbook had the following characteristics: 1) Increase in content; 2) More travel essay in the 2013 textbook compared with more argumentative essays in the 2006 version. In terms of difficulty level for students’ learning, aesthetic values, and practicalities for the current era, the new selection was definitely better; 3) Content of the prose selected had a stronger narrative with most having a simple plot, proving more interesting and better in readability.

Poetry: In total, 15 poems were included. Book of Songs - Songs from South Zhou - Ospreys' Call > Nineteen Old Poems - So Remote, the

Draught Ox Star Ballad of Mulan and Tian

Jing Sha - Autumn Thoughts • $C,@. were the new additions. This was due

to the desire to outline the history of development in Chinese literature via the classical works from various time periods despite the removal of literary history content. Compared with the 2006 textbook, it would be found that the 2013 selection of Tang Poetry and Song Verses had the following characteristics: 1) Works were selected from each of the four Tang periods (Early, Golden, Mid. and Late); 2) Representative works of pastoral or frontier poetry i£ HItF were selected; 3) In comparison with the 2006 textbook, which contained more verses from the subtle school Jisj, there was now an almost equal number of verses from the subtle school and the unrestrained school ШШЩ- From the few points above, it is evident that in the selection of literary compositions in rhyme f£l3t, the new textbook had a more holistic understanding of literary history and had selected more representative works.

Modem Fiction: Lu Xun’s Kong Yiji -FLZ.E,, Huang Chumning’s Fish Й, Tie Ning’s %кШ Oh, Fragrant Snow fflf, Wang Zengqi's Vi Ц Ш Chen with the Small Hands Li Rui's Choosing a Thief Ш®, Liu Su’s ШШ Possessed Xi Ni Er's The Mask of Seriousness (ЛЙШД, and Li Zishu's

Spring is Ever-Present were selected. Other than The Mask of

Seriousness, the rest of the fictional works were all newly included. Compared with 2006: 1) Two more fictional works were added; 2) Three more works from Malaysian Chinese authors were included, thus increasing the ratio; 3) Authors from China selected were both representative and varied. It is relatively regrettable that the previously included excerpts from Louis Cha's martial arts novels were removed from the new textbooks as both teachers and students felt that they were hard to teach and read. Thus, what was once a bold teaching attempt saw a pitiable end.

Modern Poetry: Xu Zhimo's By Chance Yu Guangzhong’s Folk Song К Sft, Dan Ying's Ш;Ш Inside and Outside the Umbrella Xi Murong's

iSIsiSr A Flowering Tree —IFTFFtiffjW, Shu Ting's ffiW Longing ЩЙ, and Liang Weru Fook’s Echo [н1г= were included. Of the eight poems, "By Chance” and “Echo” were works that had been included in the 2006 textbook while the rest were new additions to the 2013 textbook. However, compared to the 2006 textbook, the poems selected for the new textbook were relatively monotonous with most of them being about love. Although this might make it easier to inspire the reading interest of secondary school students, it nonetheless limited the scope of their literary reading.

Generally speaking, the announcement of the 2013 syllabus had a significance as its aims and emphasis fulfilled the characteristics of "literature” by giving the cultivation of literary appraisal and appreciation more importance; the removal of literary history content lessened students’ burdens; selected works were appropriate and representative. For example, the works selected for the Classic Litera- nire section were not only classical but also a good reflection of literary history. They were conducive to strengthening students' understanding of traditional literary culture and were also an excellent way to teach Singapore’s younger generation about the treasure trove that is Chinese Literature; at the same time, the Nanyang characteristics and localness of works selected in the modem literature section were more pronounced. Be it in terms of poetry or the style of fiction, they all strove to be more varied and comprehensive. This in turn enabled the teaching of literature in Singapore’s secondary school to move towards the path of independence.

With the push towards this beneficial wave of reform, the Ministry of Education’s Curriculum Planning & Development department continued to review the syllabus of Chinese literature. In August 2018, a new syllabus was announced. Its main aims were: Cultivating students’ reading interest in Chinese literature, strengthening their appraisal and critical reading ability towards Chinese literature, improving their humanistic perspectives, and strengthening their understanding and identification towards Chinese culnire. Specific details of the goals include: [1]

presented by certain writers or poets via their creative style or artistic techniques, among other factors.

3. Being able to interpret the themes of literary works

Students should be able to profile and summarise the core events and contents of the literary work. With such basis, they should be able to extract the main idea and interpret the theme of literary works via in-depth reading and exploration of the messages revealed within those works.

4. Being able to share their thoughts

During their process of learning about literary works, students should be able, via conversations, discussions, and written communications, among other methods, to share their ideas and views with others. Through such exchange, students would have a better understanding of those literary works.

5. Being able to create their own literary work

Through a foundation in appreciation of literary works, students should be able to use the literary techniques taught to attempt literary creations.

In comparison with the goals of the 2013 syllabus, the new syllabus added an overall new goal of cultivating the “critical reading ability” of students; under specific goals, there is also the addition of two new aims, "thought sharing” and "creation”. This is the beginning of an emphasis on the cultivation of students’ expressive skills towards literature. This is an important adjustment to the goals of the literature syllabus, which requires students to be able to make use of what they learn while being able to combine the skills of appraisal and creation. While this may not be considered as a drastic change in teaching goals, a "bold change” was made to the text selection.5 Firstly, nine works of Classical Chinese Prose featured in the 2013 textbook were removed. As an extremely important learning component within the literature syllabus, Classical Chinese Prose has now been consigned to the history books in the development of Chinese Literanire textbooks in Singapore while prose of any kind, formerly part of the four main literary genres, was removed from the syllabus of literature in secondary schools. Secondly, Classical Poetry was reduced from 15 pieces in 2013 to four, which include Li Bai’s A Farewell at the Jingmen Gate ПШЯУ, Du Fu's Happy Rain on a Spring Night Su Shi’s Water Song тКгйФА (When will the moon

be clear and bright Щ Я ABj’W), and Li Qingzhao’s Lyrics to a Dreamy

Chant (Last night the rain drizzled and rough winds blew

Ш). With this revamp, there were few classic literary works left. Thirdly, a local novel. Exile and Pursuance was included. This was the first time

that a novel was included in a literature textbook for secondary schools. Fourthly, other works selected serve to highlight the variety across regions of Singapore, China, and Taiwan. Fiction selected included Lu Xun's Kong Yiji, Wang Zengqi’s Chen with the Small Hands, Xi Xi’s ffi Bj (original name Zhang Yan Щ.Ш) A Girl Like Me Lee Yung Ping's ^ЖТ‘ A La-Tzu Woman fi

-рЙ, and Xiao Han's The Waiting Station that One Cannot Return To 0^ Poetry selected includes Xu Zhimo’s By Chance, Yu Guangzhong’s Pearl Necklace Tor Lam Huat’s Lamp Passing ff ff, and Lin

Denan's Coloured Windows ШШ- Such modifications were made after

considering the actual Chinese language abilities of students; at the same time, it was hoped that the syllabus would stimulate students' interest in literature by appealing to their local identity.

This round of syllabus revamp is extremely noteworthy. Firstly, with regards to teaching goals, it corrected the previous problem of over-emphasis on knowledge reiteration while ignoring the training of skills by encouraging students to express their understanding of literature through oral or written means. This would in turn enhance their ability to create literary works while clearly communicating what is core or key to literary education. Additionally, the ratio of works by local authors increased while classical literary works from China were drastically reduced, highlighting the localness of Singapore Chinese textbooks. Education policy makers have in so doing tied their ideal for an independent literature syllabus more closely to social reality. From now onwards, Chinese Literature textbooks for secondary schools in Singapore stand on their own before the world.

  • [1] Being able to appreciate and understand the connotations within literaryworks Smdents should be able to immerse themselves in the world describedwithin the poetry or work of fiction. They should also be able to combine itwith their own personal experiences so as to fiilly appreciate the connotations within those works. 2. Being able to appreciate the characteristics of literary works Smdents should be able to understand and analyse different characteristicsfrom different types of literary work. These characteristics may be uniquecultural ones from a certain time period. They may also be the uniqueness
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