It took me a long time to think about my writing materials. There are too many experiences with respect to literature, and I could not find a clue of those relationships. It occurred to me that I should focus on the enormous change in my reading experience, so I decided to use reading Lu Xun’s work as the turning point in my literature experience. Since I had recited so many of his paragraphs, it was easy to connect him with memorization, and it reminded me of my early stage memorization. I believed that linking the content I memorized with my real life would be a good point, and I finally began to write.
I had a framework, but I still had to establish a clear relationship between each piece of my experiences. I had a deep thought into how to establish the relationships, and I think it worked. My literature experiences were almost all in China. That means I used lots of Chinese cultural background. At first I didn’t illustrate it very well so that my paragraphs were confusing. After rereading what was hard to understand, I tried to explain to my readers in a clearer way.
I was not a literature fan when I was young. Even giving me a bar of chocolate as a reward could not keep me quiet long enough to read. If I were asked what impressed me most in my childhood, I would probably think a second and tell you that memorizing a 1,194-word Chinese poem when I was six was a disaster! I can still hear my grandma’s voice and remember how she used all kinds of tricks to make me sit on the little green chair to recite poems. If I were asked why should I memorize, I wouldn’t know either. That’s the way I was taught to read in the culture I embrace. It was not until I grew up that I understood the value of a six-year-old memorizing a poem she could not understand until she reached sixteen or sixty.
Reciting Wang Yinglin’s “Three Character Classic,” the name of the poem my grandma taught me, was very popular among Chinese children. Many parents made their children recite this poem because it contained a lot of stories that reflected Confucianism, and it was easy for young children to memorize. Parents believed that this concise poem was good teaching material for younger children. I was no exception. To help me memorize all 1,194 words, my grandma read the poem to me again and again in her nonstandard Mandarin, and I kept repeating what she said. I just liked the rhythm. I had no concept of what it meant. The line written in old Chinese, “At the very beginning of human’s life, people are good. Their natures are similar, but their habits make them different,” was a mystery. I didn’t worry about it since my focus was on the rhythm of the poem rather than its meaning. I liked it because the three-letter-poem was easy to remember due to its unique pattern, and it sounded melodious. Since I could not read on my own at that time—the words were too difficult for a six-year-old child—I just imitated my grandma’s pronunciation. And I remembered the exact pronunciation until I went to middle school.
Memorizing was also popular in my middle school and high school stage. In China, children find a memorization section on almost every Chinese exam. So, this section results in endless recitation of all kinds of texts or poems that are considered classic by Chinese course educational authorities. Because I hated the meaningless and repetitive process, I grew bored with literature.
When I was old enough for middle school, I was afraid to encounter Lu Xun’s works. Lu Xun is a great writer in China, and many of his writings are widely acknowledged as classics. Consequently, it seemed like whenever we came across his essays, we had to recite at least a couple of paragraphs. This was the most disgusting thing ever. I hated memorizing, I hated Lu Xun, and I hated literature! I hated spending so much time on what I considered a pointless exercise.
Things changed when I entered high school. My Chinese teacher helped us analyze Lun Xun’s work “Medicine,” and I believe it was this essay that changed my view of literature. The story was set in the old Chinese society around 1910. Lu Xun describes the Chinese public at that time as being so stupid that they believed human blood mixed with Mantou, a kind of Chinese food, could cure disease. In order to cure Hua Xiaoshuan, Hua’s father waited outside with the crowd, which was waiting to watch Xia Yu, a revolutionist, being beheaded in public. When the executioner struck off Xia Yu’s head with the sword, Xia’s blood splashed around, and Hua’s father, who was waiting outside for the blood, finally got his medicine—Mantou mixed with blood for his son. Needless to say, Xiaoshuan died. My Chinese teacher, Mrs. Huang, told us that Lu Xun makes his two main characters both die in the end. Hua’s death indicates old Chinese gullibility—they easily believed others. Xia’s death indicates the old Chinese had no realization of the tense social situation—they were colonized by the Japanese even in culture, but they didn’t realize it, and they didn’t know they needed a revolution. Lu Xun tries to arouse every Chinese’s awareness of how important the revolution was. Otherwise, China would die out, just like Hua and Xia (“Hua Xia” means China in Chinese). I was impressed by the essay’s design, and it was at that time that I realized good literature should combine both deep thoughts and social responsibility to provoke others’ thoughts. I came to realize “words are sharper than the edge of a sword.” It was the power of literature that changed the destiny of my country. The impact of literature seemed incomparable.
After this discovery, I knew I would hate neither Lu Xun nor literature anymore. Instead of disliking literature, I gradually came to like it. I went to many places where the great poets wrote their great poems and felt what they felt through their poems and the beautiful scenery. It was at this point that I was finally able to connect meanings to the words of poems that I had memorized so many years before. When I saw the full moon on the Mid-Autumn Festival at Miami University, many of the beautiful lines in Su Shi’s “Shui Diao Ge Tou” that I memorized flooded my mind, making me think of the beauty of the moon, the fairytale about Chang’e (who is waiting for the reunion with a man she loves in the “moon palace.” The Chinese believe the story suggests however far apart we are from our families, our hearts reunite on seeing the same moon and recalling the same fairytale.) My grandma’s nonstandard Mandarin was in my mind; I missed her, and I missed those days we sat down together reciting the “Three Character Classic.”