The Untrammelled Journey in Chinese Culture
The Chinese language is one of the major intangible cultural heritages of the world, with an uninterrupted history of more than 3,000 years. Cheryl Chiu was admitted to the Department of Chinese Language and Literature four years ago. To Cheryl, language and literature are the keys to explore the infinite possibilities of culture in our finite lives. ‘I’ve been a keen learner of the Chinese language since I was a secondary school student. I’m fortunate enough to have been admitted by the Department to enjoy my untrammelled pursuit in the literary heritage.’
The undergraduate curriculum affords Cheryl a close examination of the characteristic features of the Chinese language, an in-depth introduction to both the theories of linguistics and modern and contemporary literature and traditional study of ancient documents and classical literature. ‘We offer both foundational and professional courses in the undergraduate programme; the former courses are compulsory with an aim to provide the basic knowledge of language and literature, whereas the latter courses are elective and cover such areas as linguistics, classical studies, novel and opera studies, modern and contemporary literature, etc. This allows students to broaden their horizons, make in-depth analysis, and develop their research ability. The curriculum content is as rich as it is specialized, which imparts comprehensive knowledge and lays a solid foundation for students,’ said Prof. Tang Sze Wing, Chairman of the Department.
The Department launched ‘Creative Writing in Chinese’ in the 2016–17 academic year. The specialized training helps the students develop their writing expertise. They will acquire advanced skills in both creative and professional writing, enhance their knowledge of various literary genres and other closely related arts, sharpen their literary sensibility, and build their creative vision. Professor Tang said, ‘In addition to imparting comprehensive knowledge and laying a solid foundation for research, we also promote creative writing actively. Appealing words definitely enhance temperament and broaden our views. The “Literary CUHK”, a large-scale writing competition that targets all students, colleagues, and alumni, is organized every year and may hopefully raise their language ability.’
The study atmosphere in the Department is what Cheryl treasures the most. ‘Most of my classmates are highly motivated and curious learners. The faculty members are always supportive and keen to answer students’ questions. Their passion motivates us to discover the richness in Chinese language and literature and go beyond our limits.’ She enjoys the time with her classmates, whether it be academic exchange or simply chit-chatting. ‘Our interaction isn’t limited to analyzing the classics or tracing the development of some Chinese linguistic features, but is also about our personal issues and some frustrations in life. I’m blessed to have developed such genuine friendships at the Department.’
Modern Chinese is replete with idioms, allusions, and analogies that derive from traditional Chinese culture. Classical cultural references—often cited in wenyan (literary Chinese)—are often adopted by government officials, diplomats, politicians and other public figures in their speeches or messages. Therefore, Cheryl found her studies in the past four years tremendously helpful in building her cultural literacy to decode the messages she comes across in daily life. ‘I’ve built up the capacity to recognize allusions and references in written and colloquial Chinese, and to detect the subtleties of irony, humour or sarcasm the speakers intended to convey.’
The graduates from the Department are proficient not only in language skills, but also in their sound understanding of Chinese literature and the relevant intellectual development. The knowledge, skills and cultural literacy they acquired help them excel in diverse fields. According to a survey the Department conducted in late 2015, their graduates in general landed jobs in the teaching, administration, publication and academic sectors. ‘With formidable language skills, our graduates will be able to work, study, and live with greater ease in future. This is what makes it a pleasure to study language in the Department,’ said Professor Tang.
Founded in 1963, the Department is one of CUHK’s academic departments with the longest history. In addition to offering a wide range of study programmes, it also organizes academic conferences and invites visiting scholars to deliver speeches and lectures to promote academic exchange. The Department has never ceased in pursuing excellence. Professor Tang said, ‘The Department adheres to academic traditions but is not constrained by them. It aspires to meet societal needs and global challenges and make new innovations in language research and teaching. In recent years, there has been a clear position in our development that sets a foothold in Asia with a global vision. With this in mind, we work hard to uphold our heritage while forging ahead.’
Published: Summer 2017
Last Updated: Summer 2018