Nana’s Textbook: Building a
National Literature in Chinese Middle School

By Joseph R. Allen

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 27, no.1 (Spring 2015), pp. 109-66

This essay is formally about the “national literature” (guowen) curriculum in Chinese middle schools during the first half of the twentieth century, with references to post-1949 curricula in Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China. Informally, it is about a teenager’s journey through that literature in the fall of 1948. Allen focusses on materials from the 1930s to the 1940s, including textbooks, curriculum standards, and related debates. In addition to conventional primary and secondary academic materials, he uses a source of a third kind: the handwritten notes, including doodles and sketches, made by a student in her second year of upper middle school. The notes that fill her guowen textbook allow it to emerge from a sea of inanimate objects to become a living thing. From a close reading of her textbook and notes, Allen seeks to engage the larger issue of the formation of what became identified with the Chinese “nation” (guo) and with “literature” (wen) in the twentieth century.