New hope for writers blocked by lack of education

New hope for writers blocked by lack of education

China's first degree in creative writing from Shanghai’s Fudan University should boost and nurture the talent pool in the country
MFA in creative writing
The university is hoping that more talented writers will emerge from its gates.

Shanghai's Fudan University recently announced China’s first masters degree in creative writing. Called “創意寫作,” it is literally translated from the English title “creative writing,” and aims to put Chinese literature on a par with other nations.

For someone who’s not talented, even Harvard’s creative writing course cannot make him a writer. But, I’m sure for young people who love literature and writing, having Lu Xun or Wang Anyi read their writings would be something extremely inspirational.— Yan Feng (巖峰), writer and scholar

Professor Chen Si, dean of Fudan’s Chinese department, helped to set up the course. He tells Xinhua News that it will be a two-year full time program, and successful students will be awarded a Masters of Fine Art degree (MFA). However, becoming a “master” in creative writing doesn’t necessarily mean one can be a master writer. Arguments have proliferated in Chinese cyber space: can you study to be a good writer?

Many Chinese writers lack advanced degrees

From Lu Xun (魯迅) to Yu Hua (余華), it's hard to find celebrated writers from mainland China with graduate degrees let alone a masters in writing.

People.com.cn recently proposed the question: "Does one need a degree to be a writer?" The article looks at the correlation between the success rates (awards) of writers with advanced degrees in writing and those without. Representing the local government and universities' response, Professor Chen explains, “Although life experiences are essential to writers, it is also important to master language skills, and this degree course is to teach students these skills.”

Writing courses are normally offered to Chinese majors at Fudan. However, according to Professor Chen, the traditional writing courses for Chinese majors only teach students how to be high school writing teachers while the new MFA course hopes to train students on how to write.

“Many universities in English speaking countries offer this degree, and successful writers such as Bai Xianyong (白先勇), Yan Geqin (嚴歌芩) and Ha Jin (哈金) all have degrees in creative writing,” says Professor Chen. “We are going to hire these writers to teach this course.”

That said, Professor Chen also admits that, “the course is not to train writers, but to nurture people who are talented to write, and to better develop their knowledge and quality as writers.”

Professional opinions

Wang Anyi (王安憶), the well-known novelist based in Shanghai, will be teaching some of the courses. Clearly a supporter of the inciaitive, to Xinhua News she says, “I wish I had an opportunity to have a writing education like this course when I was younger.”

Yan Feng (巖峰), another Shanghai-based writer and scholar shares his experience of his failed attempt to sit in the creative writing course at Harvard on his blog. He comments, “For someone who’s not talented, even Harvard’s creative writing course cannot make him a writer. But, I’m sure for young people who love literature and writing, having Lu Xun or Wang Anyi read their writings would be something extremely inspirational.”