Cultural Spotlight – Cross-cultural writing: the exchange and combination of writing and knowledge

Despite younger generations reading less in general, Shuyu Kong believes that storytelling and sharing those stories will endure. The Chinese/Canadian Writing Speaker Series, after three successful events, will display the final event June 18 showcasing the benefits of writers crossing cultural lines to create unique and successful works of literature for readers across the world.

“Sharing stories is a good way to understand other people and enjoy them at the same time and find the richness in the different ways of looking at life, which I think is still there,” says Kong, host and facilitator of the series, and an enthusiastic advocate for sharing literature between cultures.

Vancouver has been a hotspot of this phenomenon and keynote speakers and local cross-cultural writers will share their experiences with the audience during the series.

Travels made knowledge gained

The Speaker Series is a collaboration between the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) and the David Lam Centre at Simon Fraser University, where Kong is a professor in the Department of Humanities.

The goal of the series is to display the inspiration, identity and purposes of cross-cultural writing. The series’ title, “Chinese/Canadian Writing,” has as much to do with Chinese-Canadian authors as it does with the benefits of exchanging and combining writing and learning between the two countries and cultures.

One of the main examples of cross-cultural writing success is Jia Shen, a keynote speaker at the first event in the series. Like Kong, Shen immigrated to Canada and found himself at UBC. There Shen discovered historical records from the turn of the 20th century Christian missionaries who had worked in his hometown back in China. The stories were not well-known in China and the UBC documents were a revelation, bringing to light a mostly unknown and intimate history.

Shen went on to write a full-length, Chinese-language book, A Way of Finding What’s True, about missionaries in 19th and early 20th century China. The book was impactful and won an award in China. Kong sees the success of Shen’s book and its research in Canada as exemplifying the value of cross-cultural writing.

“What I saw as a Chinese-Canadian and immigrant was that it was a great learning process for him,” says Kong. “He discovered that history and wanted to share it and felt it was very important.”

Kong believes cross-cultural writing is a novel experience for readers, and the writers that sheds light on things that might otherwise not be known to the public.

“The material they use and the stories they talk about are fresh, and in some ways really open people’s eyes,” she says.

Sharing stories and understanding cultures

When Kong arrived in Canada in 1992 to complete a Ph.D. in Asian Studies at UBC, she read the works of Canadian authors to help her get to know her new home.

Shuyu Kong, host and facilitator of The Chinese/Canadian Writing Speaker Series. | Photo courtesy of SFU

“I benefited so much from reading Douglas Coupland in my first years here. His books really helped me to understand the people who grew up in Vancouver and the West Coast,” she says. “It helped to understand the society here and its concerns and interests.”

The writing series is occurring at a time when readership, book titles and diversity of writing styles in China have increased in the last decade, according to the Chinese Book Market.

“In the last three decades, there have been more Chinese literature translated, and more variety too, as different kinds of writings and stories emerged in China and translated world literature became available,” says Kong.

Kong sees many benefits for people to read the literature of other cultures, both on a human and societal level and that with good translations, Chinese literature can become more popular in North America.

“People still really enjoy sharing stories in different forms, fiction or nonfiction, popular music,” she says.

Kong would like Chinese people to read about immigrant writers’ experience in Canada which has really changed their writings.

“I also see this reading and writing of Canadian stories in Chinese as a way for immigrants to discover the value of living in Canada,” says Kong.

The series’ final event will feature Canadian author Patti Gully discussing her book, Sisters of Heaven: China’s Barnstorming Aviatrixes. The book, widely read in China, has been considered for a film adaptation. It is another example touted by Kong as an example of the success of cross-cultural writing.

For more information on the Chinese/Canadian Writer Speaker Series, visit https://vpl.bibliocommons.com/ents/60552ea2ba1629c503dc54ce

For information about Shuyu Kong, visit www.sfu.ca/humanities/people/faculty/s-kong.html

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