Seminar eyes disciplinary growth of foreign literature

By LI YONGJIE / 04-18-2024 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

A forum on the research and education of foreign literature in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province Photo: BNU (ZHUHAI)

ZHUHAI—In March, a forum took place in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, focusing on the theme of “Teaching, Research, and Talent Cultivation of Foreign Literature from the Perspective of New Liberal Arts.”

Disciplinary reform

The Notice of the General Office of the Ministry of Education on Recommending Research and Reform Practice Projects in New Liberal Arts has comprehensively outlined the development concept, disciplinary optimization, talent training, and other elements of the new liberal arts. Liu Ning, dean of the School of Foreign Languages at the Zhuhai campus of the Beijing Institute of Technology, said that both the external environment and internal structure of China’s higher education are undergoing changes. In particular, due to the growing emphasis on practicality in foreign language education, literacy training standards have been lowered. Some higher education institutions are allocating more resources towards practical English teaching, such as business English and English for cross-border e-commerce, while diminishing the importance placed on pure quality education, like the study of foreign literature. This trend of prioritizing practicality over quality warrants immediate attention.

In recent years, the boundary between disciplines has become increasingly blurred, with a noticeable trend toward cross-integration. Zhang Bing, a research fellow from the Institute of Russian Culture at Peking University, believes that interdisciplinary research not only aligns with the internal logic of knowledge generation but also represents an important paradigm and development aspect of contemporary academic research. Solving complex problems requires the integration of interdisciplinary professional knowledge, a fundamental requirement for shaping the new liberal arts. In the context, the study of foreign literature can significantly benefit from the theories and research tools of social sciences like area and country studies.

The rapid development of artificial intelligence has profoundly impacted contemporary society, particularly in higher education, including foreign literature education. In the opinion of Luo Yirong, a professor from the School of Literature at Shandong University, the field of foreign literature, as a part of humanistic education, should invest greater efforts toward nurturing students’ capacity for innovative thinking in the face of AI challenges. This also entails cultivating skills such as questioning, critiquing, and fostering divergent associations. Such an approach aims to cultivate individuals who possess innovative thinking abilities, psychological resilience, and a robust value system in the new era.

Talent cultivation

Chen Yongguo, a professor from the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Tsinghua University, has advocated for the fusion of literature and liberal studies. Chen cited the large number of general courses offered by the department, as well as the renowned “five-foot shelf” at Harvard University, highlighting the importance of integrating literature with other disciplines. In addition, he illustrated the blending of reading and writing in the context of multidisciplinary studies by citing the writing style exemplified in Civilization Classics by Chongqing University. 

Zhang Yan, a professor from the School of Foreign Languages and Literature at Beijing Normal University (BNU), expounded on the classical approach to talent development in foreign languages, which emphasizes close reading, theoretical perspectives, and cultural vision, particularly emphasizing a return to textual research. Central to literary research has always been the exploration of the thought connotations of literature and culture. Accordingly, the teaching of literature should also be grounded in this principle, inspiring and guiding students to move from surface inward, progressing from textual interpretation to a more profound cultural inquiry.

Luo Gang, a professor from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at Tsinghua University, unraveled the relationship between literary theory and foreign literature teaching and research. Luo emphasized that the analysis of literary works with literary theory should concentrate on the degree of fit. He proceeds from the “four elements” of Meyer Abrams’ The Mirror and the Lamp, introducing various literary theories developed on this basis, and probing their value and significance.

Liu Hongtao, director of the Institute of Comparative Literature and World Literature under the School of Chinese Language and Literature at BNU, recommended that Chinese researchers begin from a Chinese standpoint, within a Chinese context, and address Chinese issues, selectively drawing experience from the writing of Western literature history.

The forum was co-hosted by the Chinese language department at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Comparative Literature and World Literature at the School of Chinese Language and Literature under BNU.