Monday, April 16, 2007

What sixth graders were reading about fifty years ago

I'm almost finished a revision of what has felt like an interminable chapter--and for part of that translated the following lesson from the sixth grade, second semester Guoyu textbook published in late 1956. Thought I'd post it to give a sense of what sixth-graders in Taiwan were reading in their Chinese classes about 50 years ago.
Air Force Martyr Yan Haiwen

On the morning of August 17, 1937, in the blue and cloudless skies above the Jiangsu-Shanghai area, a Chinese bomber was surrounded by the enemy's antiaircraft shells and was clearly in great danger. Because of the concentration of the enemy’s antiaircraft guns, countless shells burst around this plane, bringing heavy smoke and blocking its movement. Suddenly, black smoke burst from the plane's tail; then a tiny dot jumped from the plane's cockpit, becoming a beautiful parachute, perfectly round and white, which floated down.

There was immediate commotion among the enemy, and the enemy soldiers climbed from their trenches; a clamor coming from their mouths, they headed over to where the parachute landed.

A Chinese pilot appeared in front of them.

Young--not much more than twenty--he stood on a piece of high ground.

Dozens of enemy soldiers began to surround him. Although he was only one man, he showed not a trace of fear, and in his hand he held a handgun, raising it imposingly.

An enemy officer ran over to him, trying to persuade him to surrender. He used his gun to reply to this great insult: bang, bang, bang--the gun sounded three times, and that officer and two enemy soldiers fell. There was a clamor among the rest of the enemy soldiers, and they dropped back. From behind, a Type 38 rifle sounded, and hundreds of enemy soldiers holding weapons once again surrounded him.

At this point, he only had one bullet left. He looked around him--the enemy was everywhere, a turbulent yellow wave. Above was the fatherland's beautiful blue sky; underneath, the fragrant grass of the fatherland. This young soldier's heart felt great pain; his hot blood rushed upwards, and when the enemy was no more than fifty meters away, standing on the field of the fatherland he raised his gun to his temple and fired, a young warrior who finally died for the fatherland.

The enemy, honoring his bravery, buried him and set up a memorial for him that said: "The Grave of Yan Haiwen, a Brave Soldier for China."


Speaking: How did China's Air Force defeat the enemy? Why did the martyr Yan Haiwen have to jump out in a parachute? How did he appear to the enemy? How did he treat the enemy? Why did the enemy bury him and set up a memorial for him? Who was China's enemy at that time? Now what enemies do we have?

Writing Characters: Listen and write the following words and phrases:
轟炸機 (bomber), 高射礮 (antiaircraft gun), 渾圓 (perfectly round), 騷動 (commotion), 亂嚷 (clamor), 威風凜凜 (imposing, or awe-inspiring), 洶湧 (turbulent), 殉職 (die at one’s post)

Composition: Write a narrative about bombing the enemy country.
The story of Yan Haiwen has shown up in at least one movie (1977's 筧橋英烈傳 "Heroes of the Eastern Skies"), which I haven't yet seen.

This textbook includes another martyr tale--a two-part story about Wu Feng, who was said to have sacrificed himself in order to persuade Aborigines to stop headhunting. That the Guoyu textbook of that time contains violent tales of martyrs isn't particularly surprising, considering the government's project of trying to condition young people to be willing to sacrifice themselves for the cause of retaking the mainland. I was surprised, however, by the composition exercise that asks students to write about bombing an enemy country. I'd really be interested in seeing what sixth-graders came up with in response to that kind of prompt. (Doubt I'll ever run across anything like that, though.)

I'm also curious about how long this story of Yan Haiwen was used in elementary school language textbooks. I haven't seen any earlier Guoyu textbooks from Republican China, so I'm not sure if this story was retained from that time. And it would be interesting to see when it went "out of fashion", too.

(Source: Guomin xuexiao Guoyu keben gaoji disi ce 國民學校國語課本高級第四冊--this was the textbook for second-semester sixth-graders, published in December 1956)

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