Assistant Professor at School of Humanities, Tsinghua University,
Teacher Of The General Course "Classics of Modern Chinese Literature", Xinya College
Good afternoon, everyone.
Today, I'm honored to attend the opening ceremony as a teacher of Xinya College. Although I have served as a teacher here for two years, this is the first time that I attend a ceremony of the college. I kept thinking about what to say. This problem has bothered me for several days. I kept thinking until this morning.
Why is it so difficult to give a brief speech? I think it's partly because Xinya College is a very special place. For example, on today's opening ceremony, the speakers appeared on the stage in such a sequence: students, teacher representatives, Director of the Admissions Office Yu Xiaoxiao, andDean Gan Yang. I think the sequence should be reversed in other departments of Tsinghua University and even most other universities across the country. This is an evidence of the special atmosphere of Xinya.
Of course, the most special thing about the college lies in its general education. You should have known this when you applied for the college. Since I began to give classes to Xinya students, I have repeatedly heard the stories as follows. After Xinya students return home in winter and summer vacations, they are often asked questions from relatives, friends and even passers-by: Xinya College? General education? What is that? What can you do after you graduate?
Frankly, it is not easy to answer these questions. Of course, since you have chosen Xinya College, you must have got some general ideas and recognition of general education. Now, you may have a clearer understanding, for example, through the speeches given by your seniors just now, and through deep communication with your teachers and classmates. But based on my two years' experience of teaching, I believe after you officially start your learning at Xinya, you will keep asking yourselves: Who am I?Where am I? What am I doing? Why do I have to learn so difficult mathematics and physics? Why do I have to read so many works of Austin?
The uncertainty universally felt by Xinya students is directly related to the vanguard position of Xinya's general education in China's university education system today. Chinese universities have long been established on the basis of highly refined division of majors, and Tsinghua University is the leader in the system. In this sense, Xinya, as the youngest college of Tsinghua University, is not of typical "Tsinghua style". In other words, it is very different from Tsinghua University in the public's traditional cognition.
Of course, I'm not going to give you a very clear answer today. I just hope all of you can open your mind as much as possible and embrace the uncertainty offered by Xinya.
Uncertainty isterrifying. It often means no clear goal, constant exploring, failing and re-exploring, and constant doubting and questioning about personal abilities, endowments and moral characters. This process will be accompanied by plenty of frustration and anxiety. As Tsinghua students who have been standing out among the peers since childhood, you may have rarely experienced such deep self-doubt or anxiety.However, I also think uncertainty is wonderful. It means breaking the boundary of knowledge, the boundary of vision and the boundary of yourselves to discover a brand new world in which you can develop abilities or characters that you never imagined.
It is traditionally believed that universities are the palaces of the highest-level knowledge. However, we are today in a society of information explosion. Through ubiquitous social media, images, sounds and words present the world in an increasingly clear and detailed way. The Internet also makes knowledge acquisition easier. Today, many people can easily obtain a lot of knowledge through online open classes or "pay for knowledge" without attending top universities such as Tsinghua University, Peking University, Harvard University and Yale University. In the classroom of Xinya, you will also encounter a lot of completely strange and challenging knowledge. But I want to tell you the acquisition of knowledge is not the most important. I don't expect you to remember what Lu Xun wrote in classical Chinese or whether Mao Dun had a debate with Trotskyites. Strange knowledge from different courses will challenge the familiar world picture formed by a flood of knowledge fragments in your mind. We hope extensive reading makes you reflect on the origin of knowledge and the structure behind it, so as to reflect on this familiar world we are living in and the familiar ourselves shaped by the world. I think this is the true meaning of college education. At the opening ceremony of the University of Tokyo in this April, Professor Chizuko Ueno said that the knowledge from which knowledge is derived is called meta-knowledge, and that the University of Tokyo is a place where meta-knowledge is taught. I would say that Xinya is probably not a place where meta-knowledge is taught. It is a place that makes it possible to create meta-knowledge.
I just said that Xinya looks, at first glance, very different from Tsinghua University in the traditional cognition of ordinary people. However, deep in my heart, I always feel that Xinya's spirit is consistent with that of Tsinghua. For me, the soul of Tsinghua is the idealism that has never been defeated by reality. It was because of this idealism that before the founding of the People's Republic of China, young men from rich families left their comfortable twin room dormitory where servants washed clothes once a week to serve the land and the people, and countless engineers were willing to silently build up the industrial system of the country where they were needed.
In recent years, the society has much discussion about and criticism of the class solidification in higher education. You may have heard of the famous survey by Teacher Jin Jun from the Department of Sociology. He found that more and more Tsinghua students come from families with high economic and social status. I feel the increasing "middle-class attribute" of Tsinghua, on the one hand. But on the other hand, I always think that the "elitism" of Tsinghua is not simply in the sense of social strata and economy. I once spent one year as a jointly cultivated doctoral student at Harvard University in the United States. At the place where I visited in my summer vacation, after the locals heard that I was studying at Harvard University, they did not say "you are so smart!" or "you are excellent!", but "wow, your family must be rich!" When told that I was supported by a scholarship of the Chinese government, they replied, "Your local government is so kind to you!"
In contrast, Chinese society and Tsinghua students have not recognized themselves this way. On your way to Tsinghua by train, plane or taxi, what you heard most from your neighbor or the taxi driver is probably still "you are a pillar of the society", rather than "your family must be very rich". As "a pillar of the society", you are receiving the best higher education in China and meanwhile should take more responsibility for the country and the society. Now, we are living in a turbulent world. Knowledge and expertise generated in the past are not enough to clearly identify today's problems and propose solutions.If we cannot clearly recognize the world we now live in and create new meta-knowledge, we will not be able to face our times and even ourselves. In this sense, Xinya has the same idealism as Tsinghua: cultivating noble and complete men, imagining a better world and striving for it.
Almost every college graduate regards college life as the best days in their lifetime. So do I. Everyone has a different definition of beauty. For me, the beauty of my college life was making me deeply feel that the world was uncovered in front of me in a brand new way, and that I have grown up and developed some characteristics that are completely different from those in the first 18 years. I wish you all enjoy and cherish every day in Xinya College and Tsinghua University. You will spend different four years in your lifetime! Thank you all!