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Turning a new page on understanding literary classics

By ZHANG KUN in Shanghai | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-08-25 08:23

Yang Lilan (right), a teacher from the Shanghai No 3 Girls Middle School, is guiding her students through an immersive reading class for Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The Shanghai Translation Publishing House announced a new initiative to make literary classics more accessible to young readers on the eve of the Shanghai Book Fair, which was held from Aug 16 to Tuesday.

The publishing house will work with schools, bookstores and educational experts to introduce digital books, interactive web classes, and hold campus theater shows, to enable middle school students to experience classical literature through new means.

Since it was founded 45 years ago, the Shanghai Translation Publishing House has been a leading publisher of translated literature in China. Over the decades, the company has brought together generations of renowned translators and scholars, and created a series of translated literature that enjoys high prestige in Chinese academia.

"We have noticed that today's young readers have different demands and expectations for classical literature than in the past," says Han Weidong, president of the publisher.

"Now that digital publications have become mature, and the educational environment has changed drastically, we have been wondering whether we can take full advantage of our resources to create new reading experiences for today's students and teachers," he says.

The company's new immersive reading project, sponsored by the Shanghai Cultural Creative Industries' Support Funds, aims to combine online content with live experiences.

On Aug 15, the publisher collaborated with the Shanghai No 3 Girls Middle School on an immersive reading class based on Resurrection, a novel by Russian author, Leo Tolstoy.

The only girls' school in Shanghai, the Shanghai No 3 Girls Middle School was created by the merger of the McTyeire School and St Mary's School. Drama has been an integral part of the curricula through the school's 130-year history.

With task sheets, digital notes and other teaching aids, Yang Lilan helped her students navigate the long novel published in 1899, using role-playing games to help them slip into the shoes of the main characters.

Yang says it usually takes four theater classes to go through a novel like Resurrection and that the class helped students gain a closer understanding of the novel, and the penitence of a Russian aristocrat, inspiring deep thinking and philosophical reflections.

"I used to get easily caught up in the mainstream ideas of the time, and that biased my reading of classical novels. Now that I have to perform them, I need to fully understand the context the characters are in, so that I can understand their motivation, and present the intricacies of their personalities and situations," one of the students said after the class presentation.

"The theater class helped me drop my bias, and better resonate with the characters."

Through the story of Nekhlyudov, the main character in Resurrection, who is torn by shame and a lack of moral confidence, the "students realized that compared to material compensation, apology and repentance can better heal the trauma of victims", adds Yang.

Teachers from other schools, among them Yang Xun from the Shanghai Fuxing Senior High School, were invited to observe the class, and encouraged to introduce the teaching methods and resources in their own classrooms.

Aside from the Russian novel, the Shanghai Translation Publishing House plans to launch comprehensive digital versions complete with teaching aids, for 15 more books this year, including Robinson Crusoe, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and The Old Man and the Sea.

"Our ultimate goal is to lead new generations of young readers to embark on an aesthetic journey and ignite new sparks of innovation and ideas," Han says.

Wu Zongfang contributed to this story.

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