June 30, 2010

Southeast University Admits Jiangsu Student for Writing Gaokao Essay in Classical Chinese

This boy took a risk on his college entrance exam and it paid off.
Jiangsu's essay prompt this year is "Green Life" (绿色生活)

Translation: 东南大学预录用文言文写作文考生(组图). Originally from Yangtze Evening Post (扬子晚报)

Vice President, deputy secretary Liu Bo (刘波) gives the admission notice to Wang Yunfei (王云飞). Photo by Shi Jutao (时巨涛)

A copy of Wang's essay (Click to enlarge)

11 a.m. yesterday in the Rugao High (如皋中学) conference room, Wang Bugao (王步高), expert in Classical Chinese and Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at Southeast University, printed "Wang Yunfei" on an early admission notice. The notice was then personally handed over to Wang Yunfei by Liu Bo herself, who holds positions of deputy secretary and vice president. Wang Yufei is the first student to be admitted by Southeast University (东南大学) where he will be studying civil engineering.

Deputy secretary visits Rugao to "grab" the special talent

Wang Yunfei who was born and raised in the rural part of Jiangsu suddenly found him the center of spotlight when his college entrance exam essay appeared in the news. The essay, written in piantiwen, has even classical Chinese experts singing high praises. Ever since our newspaper ran the June 26 article about his composition, Wang Yunfei has been continuously receiving media requests for interviews. He was stopped by yet another group of reporters when he came back to the Rugao campus yesterday morning. When asked "what do you most want to do right now," he answered, "Sleep. I am so tired."

The media is not the only group to extend the olive branch to Wang. Many universities have offered him admission. In the end, Southeast University won.

Vice President Liu Bo said that their interest was greatly piqued by the Yangtze Evening Post piece about a Classical Chinese gaokao essay, but it was not until the 26th that they learned the student's identity. It so happened that he is from Rugao High School, the first high school outside of Nanjing to become affiliated with Southeast. Making the university even more anxious to admit this student is the fact that Wang Yunfei plans to major in engineering, and the institution has some very strong engineering programs. Once Southeast verified with the provincial testing agency that Wang Yunfei indeed wrote the excellent essay, Deputy Director Feng Jianming (冯建明) reported the student's information to recruitment and began contacting Wang Yunfei. Southeast eventually decided to early-admit Wang Yunfei into its prestigious civil engineering department and completed all requisite paperwork within a day. "We didn't recruit a student. We got a talent." Feng Jianming declared with satisfaction.

Beida loses out

The reporter discovered that Beijing University (abbr Beida. It is China's equivalent of Harvard) recruiters were also quite interested in Wang. Unfortunately they lost this talent to Southeast who managed to be a step ahead. Besides, Wang is stubborn. Once set on his course, he cannot be swayed. "I made a verbal promise to Southeast. A man should have integrity, and my dreams remain unchanged. I must study engineering, so Southeast is a good choice."

Science and engineering students also need culture

Professor of Chinese Language and Literature Wang Bugao accompanied Southeast administrators to Rugao. He was very impressed with Wang's work. Not only was the central idea sound, but also writing a pensive essay about the man-caused destruction to nature in an hour and half, using classical Chinese, is no small feat. The piece was well-organized and the transitions were smooth. "It is very precious coming from a high school student, because most Beida and Tsinghua students have not reached this level." Said Professor Wang.

Wang Yunfei scored 384 on his gaokao. Southeast made an exception admitting him. "Our university has always been partial to students with unique talents. And we are committed to providing them with a good environment." Liu Bo claimed. In fact, Southeast has had a long relationship with traditional Chinese culture, because it is the only "institution for higher-education to be built in palaces." Its campus sits directly on top of palace grounds that served six dynasties. Both Yongle Encyclopedia (永乐大典) and Zhaoming Wenxuan (昭明文选) were compiled here. It once was the site for the Imperial College (国子监) and has been a place of scholarly learning for more than 639 years. "Students who are accomplished in traditional Chinese culture should be sought out by schools." Liu Bo believed.

Liu further explained that the sentiments expressed in Wang's essay, concerns over mankind's relationship with the environment and its humanitarian implications, are much desired qualities in science and engineering people. She hoped that Wang Yunfei will participate in poetry clubs or even establish literature clubs of his own in college.

  • Reporter's note
From "Death of Chitu" to "Classical Chinese Wizard"

Today's piece puts the perfect punctuation mark to our "Classical Chinese Wizard" series. I am sincerely glad for Wang Yunfei. The string of developments reminds one of the 2001 gaokao essay "Death of Chitu (赤兔之死)," and I too started that news coverage. The two compositions are similar: the former written in ancient vernacular and the latter in parallel prose style. The two sets of news reports also echo one another. We provided the first spark to what were to become unstoppable wildfires that ultimately changed the gaokao fate of two pupils.

Some people likened the young students to Ma Nuo (马诺), attributing their sudden celebrity status to media hype and manipulation. The writer does not deny the power of internet and tradition media, but there are more behind their rise to fame.

Both ancient vernacular and parallel prose style are forms of writing increasing distant from our world. In addition to curiosity, the public's heightened attention to "Death of Chitu" to "Classical Chinese Wizard" came as a result of amazement and admiration--we recognize its beauty even though we are unable to write in such a way. Don't be misled by arguments like "propagandizing these essay means a call to return to the old ways." We do not advocate the restoration of the ancient ways. Even the public has no such intention. Instead people's interest stems from their attachment to and longing for traditions and classics. A nation with a long history cannot be without a love for the classical. So public interest should not be belittled by the comparison to Ma Nuo's case.

Just to clarify, writing in any forms of old Chinese is not the foolproof way to a high score. A couple of years ago, one essay in oracle bone script received a 6 (out of 60).

Regarding Wang's 384 score. At first I though he did badly on all the other parts of his exam because normally the total is 750. Here is what one commenter on sina has to say:
Ever since the gaokao reform, Jiangsu's total score dropped to 480. This year a student wanting to go into science or engineering only needs to have 355 to be admitted into one of the national key universities. Wang's mark surpassed that line by 29. The admission requirement in Southeast is predicted to be 391.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Veggie Discourse - Blogged