Hey everyone! My name is Hannah Treasure, and I’m a rising Gallatin senior concentrating in education, creative writing and social justice with a minor in Mandarin Chinese. This summer I’m researching the recent emergence of creative writing programs at Chinese and Hong Kong universities, and what this classroom pedagogy can tell us of free expression.
I developed this project after reading Workshops of Empire, which suggests the emergence of creative writing MFA programs in the US was a means of protecting and cultivating individuality during the Cold War. As China and Hong Kong’s MFA programs all popped up around the early 2000s, I was curious if there was a larger political or cultural phenomenon as to why this was China’s creative writing moment.
For June, I was based in Shanghai, conducting interviews with professors and students at creative writing programs. Immediately I saw many positives to workshops, such as creating a community of trust within the classroom, increasing one’s confidence through close readings of their work in class, and leadership skills from the horizontal structure of learning where the students lead critiques rather than professors leading a lecture.
I was initially discouraged by the lack of collaboration in mainland China between creative writing programs, as well as lack of opportunity for students to engage in a creative writing community outside of the university. Public readings and open mics were very uncommon, which I think can be attributed to language barrier. Because these creative writing classes are happening at city universities, the larger community also engulfs a portion of expats. Reading groups I discovered were either all older, experienced Chinese poets (not so many younger student poets) reading all in Chinese or expat groups reading all in English. However, NYU Shanghai as well as Fudan University were able to host bilingual readings, where a translator was able to work with a local poet for the event.
Overall in the first month I saw these classes change the narrative of both Chinese education and of China as a country. In the West, we often only hear stories about standardized testing pressures and STEM-crazed teachers. Focusing on a non-traditional classroom like that of a workshop shows that creative communities and their career options exist in China! Additionally, as some of these programs as taught in English or are bilingual, it gives students a chance to write their experience growing up in mainland without the third party of a translator or a foreigner writing about them.