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Old-time primers revive in modern classroom
( 2004-01-01 15:29) (Xinhua)

Nursery school teachers in China are trying to refine young minds with classic children's primers that lost out to modern textbooks in the early 20th century.

Awkward as they are for tender ears and tongues, the children seem to enjoy the classics that prevailed in China for more than 2,000 years.

At a kindergarten in Lanzhou, capital of northwestern Gansu Province, the children happily follow their teachers chanting centuries-old Sanzijing, or three-character verse, 10 to 15 minutes a day.

The classic textbook on virtue was first edited by Wang Yingling, a scholar of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) who was a faithful follower of Confucius and Mencius, two noted scholars who lived more than 2,000 years ago.

"It's really a hard nut for them to crack," said Yan Xiaohong, their teacher, "But no one is daunted."

Though few children can figure out what the ancient verse is really about, most of Yan's students have learned the 1,000-character text by heart after two months of study.

According to Yan Xiaohong, the complicated ancient literature had not impaired her students' interest in their study. "On the contrary, they are becoming more interested in Chinese culture."

Amid a nationwide craze for traditional culture, many preschooleducation institutions have included Chinese classics into their curriculum, along with singing, dancing, handiwork, science and English.

Textbooks that were used in old style private schools, including Sanzijing, the works of Confucius and the Dao De Jing ofLaozi, have made a comeback in modern classrooms.

Meanwhile, "sishu" -- the old style private schools that were popular throughout China's history until early 20th century, have also revived in China. Nowadays young students and even professionals wish to study what is still considered by many to bethe essence of Chinese culture -- classics that embody the wisdom of Chinese ancestors, as well as courtesy, and writing and calligraphic skills that are essential to cultivating a whole and balanced man.

"It shows the Chinese value traditional culture," said Liang Yiren, a professor with the Lanzhou University. "The move is applauded by teachers and parents alike."

According to a questionnaire by China's Science and Technology Ministry, 73 percent of parents and 87 percent of teachers believereading the classics helps promote traditional culture, while 90 percent of parents and 96.7 percent of teachers say it is good forthe children's personal and intellectual development.

Experts say most Chinese are ignorant of ancient literature, asa result of the retreat of classics and popularity of simplified Chinese in the 20th century. "In a sense, they've been deprived ofnational identity when they lose track of a long-standing civilization," said Prof. Liang.

Chinese scholars called on the nation's educators to promote classics among the younger generation in 1995, in an effort to carry forward traditional Chinese culture. Their call has been answered by non-government organizations in China's mainland and Hong Kong, which have promoted the classics in cities and rural areas in recent years.

To date, several million children have received systematic training on traditional Chinese literature, and at least 5 millionchildren are expected to receive the training by 2010.

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