By Benjamin Reitz (Qingdao, China ’13)
My first point of contact with Chinese culture was watching Bruce Lee use kung fu to crush the evil man with the metal claw in the Hong Kong/Hollywood mixer Enter the Dragon. I instantly became a big fan of Bruce Lee's movies and soon branched out to Jackie Chan movies, Steven Chow's kung fu comedies, Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer, and the old-school Shaw Bros’ kung fu movies.
Now, as a Master of Chinese Pedagogy student at the Ohio State University, I have decided to take my education full circle. I will approach the genre of kung fu movies through an examination of their literary roots, the martial arts novel.
During the CLS Program, I was exposed to Ohio State University's unique curriculum based on the novel 春草 by 裘山山 (Spring Grass by Qiu Shanshan), which we learned by studying the text and watching the dramatized TV adaptation. Having gained confidence with my reading skills after getting through most of the novel (the first Chinese novel I had ever read), I decided that I was ready to try my hand at reading a Chinese martial arts novel.
I asked a few of the language partners what martial arts novels they liked and soon found out that there was a clear consensus that 射雕英雄传 by 金庸 (Louis Cha's The Eagle Shooting Heroes) was one of the best. Inspired by OSU's 春草 curriculum, I applied for and received a CLS Alumni Development Fund award to approach 射雕英雄传 by reading the text, watching the 1983 TV adaptation, and taking lessons on Skype through the Associated Colleges in China Distance Learning Center.
In the early lessons, I found the reading to be challenging because Louis Cha's writing uses language that mixes in elements of literary Chinese. In the past several months, however, I have gotten more comfortable with the reading. I have finished most of the first volume of the massive four-volume novel and have dipped into several parts from later chapters in the book. The plot has many twists, and the story includes a large cast of characters, as well as a foreign historical background. This meant that it took a while to get the hang of reading. The videos and discussions regarding the story and text with my teacher have been greatly beneficial in helping speed up my comprehension of the details.
One of my greatest gains from this project has been that I have identified a set of the most frequently reoccurring elements of literary Chinese and can now understand what their equivalents are in Mandarin. In the future, I plan to conduct a more extensive research project on potential pedagogical uses of these elements of literary Chinese in the wuxia novels of 金庸.
Through my experiences with 春草and 射雕英雄传I have found that using the three-pronged approach of text, video, and tutoring/class is a particularly effective way to assist and expedite comprehension of difficult readings. I would recommend using this method to other advanced Chinese learners who are working on reading difficult texts.