Shanghai childhood

The passage below is written by an English adult, Christopher Banks, describing his memories of growing up in Shanghai with his Japanese friend, Akira


Comment on the style and language of the passage.

At the rear of our garden in Shanghai, there was a grass mound with a single maple tree rising out of its summit. From the time Akira and I were around six years old, we enjoyed playing on an around that mound, and whenever I now think of my boyhood companion, I tend to remember the two of us running up and down its slopes, jumping right off where the sides were at their steepest.

From time to time, when we had won ourselves out, we would sit panting at the top of the mound with our backs against the trunk of the maple tree. From this vantage point, we had a clear view over my garden and of the big white house standing at the end of it. If I close my eyes a moment, I am able to bring back that picture very vividly; the carefully tended ‘English’ lawn, the afternoon shadows cast by the rows of elms separating my garden and Akira’s; and the house itself, a huge edifice with numerous wings and trellised balconies. I suspect this memory of the house is very much a child’s vision, and that in reality, it was nothing so grand. Certainly, even at the time, I was conscious that it hardly matched the splendor of the residences round the corner in Bubbling Well Road.

Organising your response

Think of the key terms you have learned to describe language, and write them down. You should have something like this:


  • writer’s purpose and audience
  • tone
  • language features, for example vocabulary, figures of speech and structure.


Now take each of these key terms and try to match them to the passage. Don’t think yet about your final answer, just jot your ideas down in note form.


Sample commentary plan

Writers’s purpose

 This is to entertain and perhaps amuse by his explanation of the confusion in the boy’s mind about the size of his house.


This is nostalgic, looking back.


Think about and write comments on the following words and phrases: ‘mound’, ‘worn…..out’, ‘panting’, ‘close my eyes a moment’, ‘bring back that picture’, hardly matched’.


The central picture in paragraph 1 is the grass mound on which grew one maple tree. A wider picture is given in paragraph 2 because the writer’s vantage point is extended to include the garden and the house. It is as if a camera were panning out from a small focus to a larger one. Each paragraph starts with the writer’s view as a child and goes on to qualify that childish view with his adult opinion. In terms of punctuation the colon in the second paragraph introduces a list of memories. The inverted commas around ‘English’ show that the boy’s parents were consciously trying to have an English type of garden, but perhaps not succeeding.

Sample commentary

The writer’s purpose is to look back on childhood in a nostalgic, sometimes rather comical way. It is congruous to describe a ‘mound’ as having a ‘summit’. This shows that to small children a slight incline in a garden seems like a mountain. The writer concedes that his memory is exaggerated in the phrases ‘even at the time’ and ‘hardly matched’: he acknowledges the ‘splendour’ of the houses round the corner, which are described as ’residences’ rather than merely houses.

A comical picture of little boys is created. Their game is only running about in a garden and yet they are ‘worn….out’ and are ‘panting’, in need of a rest. The gap between childhood and adulthood for the writer is shown in the words ‘around six years old’; he does not have an exact memory because it was a long time ago. Nostalgia is created in his closing his eyes ‘to bring back that picture’, consciously trying to evoke the past. His parents’ nostalgia for the England they have left behind is shown in their weak attempt to re-create an ‘English’ lawn; the inverted commas show their attempt is not entirely successful in the climate of Shanghai.




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