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Evgene Trivizas x Cao Wenxuan: Good Versus Evil: Challenging Stereotypes and Challenging Children

At 7:30 p.m. Beijing time on Friday, November 27, the 16th event of the 5th China-EU International Literary Festival was held as scheduled. Evgene Trivizas, a Greek writer, and Cao Wenxuan, a Chinese writer, started a dialogue on the theme of ” Good Versus Evil: Challenging Stereotypes and Challenging Children”. The moderator, Frances Weightman, is Associate Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Leeds, UK, and the Director of The Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing.


Evgene Trivizas is a Greek sociologist and writer of children’s books. For his contribution as a children’s writer he was a finalist for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2006. He has published more than 200 children’s books and is one of the most popular Greek authors. He has written short stories, fairy tales, picture books, novels, poems, television series, songs, plays, and even opera librettos for children. His international appeal is clearly evident in his best-known work, The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig (1993), illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. His clever twist on the classic fairy tale of the three little pigs took the world by storm through numerous translations, and sales reached a million copies in the United States alone, earning it a second place on a list of best sellers for children. As an academic, Dr Trivizas teaches criminology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Reading.


Cao Wenxuan (1954) was born in Yancheng, Jiangsu, and graduated from Peking University. He is best known for his children’s literature and in 2016 he became the first Chinese author to win the Hans Christian Andersen Award for children’s writing. The International Board on Books for Young People’s jury, announcing the award, said Cao “writes beautifully about the complex lives of children facing great challenges. He is a deeply committed writer, whose own difficult childhood has been deeply influential on his writing in which there are no easy answers.” His best-selling books, which have been translated all over the world, include The Goat Never Eats the Grass in Heaven, Bronze Sunflower, Feather and The Wooden Fish. He is currently vice chairman of the Beijing Writers Association, director of the Contemporary Literature Teaching and Research Association and committee member of the China Children’s Literature Writers Association.


In order to encourage children to participate fully in literature, writers realize that they must constantly strive to challenge young readers, deliver unexpected things, hit real resonant themes, and avoid platitudes. In today’s event, two respected writers, Evgene Trivizas from Greece and Cao Wenxuan from China, discussed how to deal with the challenges faced by these children’s literary creations.


This dialogue is closely related to the theme “Recovery / Reflection” of the Fifth China-EU International Literary Festival. In this sharing, the two writers discussed their works, the methods of literary creation, and how to maintain children’s interest and enthusiasm for their works. The host first asked the two writers a question: “what role has children’s literature played in solving the concept of good and evil?” Cao Wenxuan thinks that he tries to break the stereotype in his works, because there are many stereotypes in the past literature, but most people are complex and cannot be summarized simply. So, he will show the complexity of the characters in my works, so that readers can realize that good and evil cannot be generalized. He pointed out the different classification of children’s literature, and stressed that the author should take into account the cognitive ability of readers’ age and adopt different narrative strategies, and briefly reviewed the development history of Chinese children’s literature and summarized the attempts made by Chinese children’s literature writers in expressing good and evil.


Cao Wenxuan believes that “in order to touch the aspect of evil more forcefully, we should not avoid evil. At the same time, considering the readers of children’s literature, the author should pay attention to the propriety.” Evgene Trivizas then gives an example: “for example, in the traditional impression, people think that wolves are evil, and pigs are kind, but is that necessarily the case? I’m afraid not. Stereotype tends to lead to potential violence or discrimination, which is what the writer needs to see.”


Cao Wenxuan pointed out that “the evil of the wolf may not be the same as the evil we are discussing now. Because for some evils, readers already know that it is fictional and not horrifying, but in Bildungsroman, some evil is terrible, which makes children feel that it may happen in reality. At this time, the writer shall distinguish the basic good from the evil, with a kind of compassion, writing the characters who punish the evil and promote the good. So what is children’s literature? Children’s literature is to provide a good foundation for human nature. ”


Evgene Trivizas then added: “I particularly agree with Cao Wenxuan that children’s literature should embody the complexity of human nature. At the same time, I hope to help children build up confidence and overcome difficulties through children’s literature. I express the limitations of human beings in children’s literature, but I leave hope and praise those who overcome difficulties. These all contain my own writing ideas.”


In the Q&A, a reader used Golding’s Lord of the flies as an example and asked if the two writers agree with the nature of human nature as good or human nature as evil, and if there are relevant recommended works. Evgene Trivizas answered that because he is an expert in criminology, he is also considering the issue of human nature, but it’s too complicated for him to generalize. Cao Wenxuan said: “Golding’s Lord of the flies is a work I have studied. This work is a classic text about good and evil. Lu Xun is the most influential writer for me. ”


The China-EU International Literary Festival has been held for four times to date. During the annual exchanges, Chinese and European writers have conducted in-depth exchanges and discussions on various aspects of life and society, presenting a series of high-quality ideological collisions. At the 5th China-EU International Literary Festival, many outstanding Chinese writers and writers from 27 European Union member states will continue the literary dialogue between China and Europe.


At the end of the event, the two writers expressed their thanks to the organizers of the China-EU International Literary Festival and wished that this literary journey could go further and further and help more readers appreciate the beauty of words.


By Zong Cheng

Translated into English by Helen Qiu