Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, March 23, 1999

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Christie Yu-Ling Chang uses a bottle of scent to help bring
a Chinese story alive to a group of students at Star of the Sea School

New way to
learn Chinese

Hawaii teacher gives traditional
texts an American character

By Betty Shimabukuro


Art Once there lived an old man whose house was at the foot of a mountain. He grew tired of having to walk around the mountain to get to the other side, so he decided to move the mountain. Shovel by shovel he worked, eventually committing his children and grandchildren to the task.

This is where children typically call out, "Why don't they just MOVE?"

The traditional Chinese tale is supposed to teach persistence, patience and loyalty to the family home, but American kids don't get it, says Christie Yu-Ling Chang. Yet the story is typical of those found in Chinese-language textbooks.

Chang, a native of Taiwan, is a University of Hawaii doctoral candidate in linguistics and a Mandarin teacher. She estimates she has taught at half of Oahu's 11 Chinese-language schools.

The schools use textbooks from Hong Kong full of stories that are culturally incomprehensible to most American-born Chinese students, Chang says, and this results in difficulty getting students to focus on their language studies. "They just don't see why we are learning Chinese in America."

Chang has teamed up with Flora Lu of the Lucoral Museum and several other Chinese-speakers to produce a new-generation textbook pertinent to American-born Chinese.

Thus the program's name -- Project ABC. Chang is principal investigator; Lu is administrator.

Their aim is to produce a book of stories in Chinese about Hawaii's Chinese people. Chang has begun by interviewing some renowned seniors -- Dr. Francis Lum, Hawaii's first Chinese surgeon, and former U.S. Sen. Hiram Fong, among others.

"Kids need local stories they can read and relate to," she says. "If we can give them stories, especially local stories about people here, maybe children can draw personal experience from these stories."

And in doing so, learn Chinese.

Chang hopes to finish a first draft of the book by the end of the year. She also wants children to contribute stories and illustrations about growing up in Hawaii and hopes they will interview their own grandparents for information.

The finished product then will serve not only as a language text, but an important collection of stories preserving the history of the Chinese in Hawaii.

"Basically, we see ourselves as a bridge," Chang says. "We connect generations and we connect American-born Chinese with their Chinese heritage."


Different strokes

The Chinese name of Christie Yu-Ling Chang's book will be "Wo Shi Zhong Wen Ren," literally, "I Am a MiddleNation Person." This is the way she often hears Hawaii students identify themselves as Chinese. The wording is actually wrong, though, as the character "wen," as they typically write it, actually means culture or literacy, not nation.

"I've always remembered the term as a creative usage, rather than an incorrect one," she says. And it is fitting for Project ABC with it's emphasis on literacy, not national or political identity.

To participate in Project ABC, or if you know someone who has stories about growing up Chinese in Hawaii, call Chang at 395-0246 or e-mail; or call Flora Lu, 922-1999.

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