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Virtue by Design

Virtue by Design: Illustrated Chinese Children’s Books from the Cotsen Children’s Library by Don J. Cohn. (29 x 21 cm.). Illustrations. Paperback, 90 pp., Los Angeles: The Cotsen Occasional Press, 2000.

Image of cover of Virtue by Design

The Chinese holdings of the Cotsen Children’s Library consist of more than 35,000 items from mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. The collection comprises the entire range of printed matter a child might encounter in his or her daily life. Primers, textbooks, song books, arts and crafts handbooks, dictionaries, supplementary readers, wall posters and slides from the school classroom, comic books, magazines, newspapers, riddle and puzzle books, board games, cigarette cards, and cram-school manuals for extracurricular reading are all part of the library’s Chinese collection, as are nursery rhymes, fairy tales, science fiction, and adventure stories for bedtime reading. The collection spans four centuries, from the late Ming dynasty (1368-1644) to the present day.


Virtue By Design concentrates on illustrated books, periodicals, and other printed matter, presenting more than 200 pictures arranged chronologically. The principal criteria for the selection of the pictures are visual interest and the power of the illustration to represent a particular period, ideology, concept, or political movement. These pictures chronicle the history of Chinese society, revealing the values, fashions and tastes of the time. They also provide information about social class, discipline, etiquette, family structure, dress, architecture, and cuisine.

One particular aim of the Chinese collection of the Cotsen Children’s Library is to show the impact of politics on children’s books published from the late “Mao Zedong period” (1949-76) to the “Deng Xiaoping period” (1978-present). Both regimes are amply represented in the present book.

Virtue By Design is a small showcase of representative Chinese items in the Cotsen Children’s Library. It is hoped that the present volume will highlight the need for a study of the entire range of printed matter produced for Chinese children.

About the author:
Don J. Cohn studied Chinese language and culture at Oberlin College and Columbia University, and oboe at the Julliard School. Since 1977, he has lived and worked in Taiwan, Beijing, Hong Kong and Auckland as an author, translator and magazine editor. Since 1979, he has run more than 150 special-interest tours to China, India and Japan. His publications include Beijing Walks, an historical guide to the city, and a translation of The Ugly Chinaman by Bo Yang.