SEEKING THE DAO IN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE: READING WESTERN FANTASIES FROM A DAOIST PERSPECTIVE

Open Access
Author:
Yang, Hsiao-Hui
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
March 02, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Daniel Hade & Vivian Yenika Agbaw, Dissertation Advisor
  • Daniel Dean Hade, Committee Chair
  • Vivian Yenika Agbaw, Committee Chair
  • Jacqueline J A Reid Walsh, Committee Member
  • On Cho Ng, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • Taoism
  • Daoism
  • fantasy
  • children literature
  • Chinese philosophy
  • Multiculturalism
Abstract:
Western knowledge and literary theories have dominated the research and teaching of children’s literature. Westernization causes Asian youth to ignore and even to forget their traditional cultures. In the United States, the education of language art teachers remains Western-centered, affirming Western cultural traditions and pride. Fortunately, globalization is gradually changing the field of children’s literature and scholars have started to pay attention to the issue of cross-cultural contact. My study aims to counter the hegemony of Western literary theories by promoting a Daoist (Taoist) perspective in children’s literature education. I argue that Daoist rhetorical theory by Laozi, Sunzi, and Zhuangzi can offer important interpretation and critique of Western fantasies. Founders of Daoism (Taoism), Laozi (571-471 B.C.E), Sunzi (around 500 B.C.E.), and Zhuangzi (369-286 B.C.E.) entertain the unity of opposites and the metamorphosis of contraries. The sages see life as a perpetual cyclic movement. Fortune and misfortune happen by turn and exist at the same time. They also argue that the soft can overcome the strong like water. A selfless and humble person can be compared to water, who nourishes others but locates herself in a lower place. Governing military operation is also like water: an army should stay away from the enemy’s strong points and strike his weak points. The sages use different rhetorical strategies in their treatment of military affairs and educational issues. Laozi demonstrates his mastery over metaphysical philosophy and politics with spare and abstract language. Zhuangzi concretizes Laozi’s philosophy through stories and dialogic conversations. Sunzi puts his Daoist (Taoist) philosophy into warfare practice and applies the Dao (Tao) to various war topics such as making assessments, disposition, momentum, and using spies. My dissertation offers an in-depth Daoist reading of Western fantasies. Based on my teaching experience, I chose the following popular fantasies as my case studies. They are Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, and the 2008 Hollywood movie The Forbidden Kingdom. In my analysis, I seek places in the chosen works that resonate with the core thoughts of the Daoist philosophy. They include the plot, philosophical or moral messages, and the persuasive style. In addition, I highlight the transnational nature of these Western fantasists’ life experiences, which calls for a transnational perspective on Western fantasies. While I acknowledge the contribution of Western literary theories in deepening our understanding of these texts, the Daoist perspective offers unique insights to appreciating these Western fantasies in the age of globalization. My research will help language art teachers and children’s literature scholars recognize the culture-specific differences and the shared commonality in popular Western fantasies.