Distinguished Speaker Series

"Learning to Read in Late Imperial China" by Professor Li Yu, Williams College

Time: March 21, 4:00pm -5:15pm

Location: Modern Languages 201, 532 Kilgo Circle, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322

Free and open to the public

This talk aims to answer the key question of how children learned to read in late imperial China (framed broadly as the Song through Qing dynasties, ca. 960-1911 CE). Drawing on a wide range of primary sources, I investigate the main pedagogical procedures (i.e. memorization, vocalization, punctuation, textual explication, and character recognition) used to train children, mainly boys and sometimes girls, to acquire literacy skills. I argue that prior to the late seventeenth century, aural-oral memorization and vocalization dominated the descriptive and prescriptive discourses on the history of reading pedagogy. However, teachers of later periods discovered the importance of introducing the visual aspect of characters into the reading curriculum. During the nineteenth century, evidential scholars and philologists further developed the pedagogical method by relying on knowledge gained from the field of paleography. Modern scholars of the twentieth century continue to seek inspirations from the reading pedagogy of late imperial China and some of the techniques are well and alive even today. The talk ends with a brief discussion of the implication of this research for literacy education in general in any language.

About the speaker

Li Yu, Professor of Chinese at Williams College, specializes in Chinese language pedagogy and cultural history. She is committed to helping learners achieve proficiency in Chinese and function successfully in Chinese culture. Beyond the Chinese language classroom, she is an experienced teacher trainer and conducts research on the history of reading and reading pedagogy in late imperial China. She has been published in more than a dozen book chapters and peer-reviewed journals. She holds a B.A. from East China Normal University (Shanghai, China), an M.A. in Chinese language pedagogy as well as a Ph.D. in Chinese language pedagogy and cultural history from the Ohio State University.