井底之蛙

4/3/2006

What is a professor?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:13 pm

The importation of new professions into China has always been something that has interested me a great deal. Perhaps the most interesting of these is academics, one because they are so fascinating in general and because the transfer of that particular social form involves a lot of overlap with the way traditional Chinese scholars were supposed to behave.

A good example is Liu Wendian. He was trained as a biologist, but his best known publications on the <i>Huannanzi</i> and <i>Zhuangzi</i>, making him a philosopher, and for his writing on the histories of the Northern and Southern dynasties, making him a historian. He was best known for his lectures on <i>Dream of the Red Chamber</i>, which drew overflow crowds, and thus was in the Department of Literature at Lianda, although he does not really seem to fit modern disciplinary boundaries very well.

In fact, he seems much more like a fairly eccentric traditional scholar. He was fond of saying that there were only three and a half people who truly understood <i>Zhuangzi</i>. One was Liu, one was Zhuangzi, one another Chinese scholar and the half a Japanese scholar. A good traditional scholar might well reject the entire modern world, and to some extent Liu did. He loathed the new literature of the May Fourth period and everything to do with it. He completely rejected bourgeois concerns like showing up for class. Presumably he did not keep office hours. He also rejected at least some of his duties as a good Chinese nationalist, as he regarded his wartime move to Yunnan as a great opportunity to sample the local opium, and he spend a lot of the time he was supposed to be teaching up in the hills sampling the product.

            He was at least something of a patriot however. He taught at Lianda, which was a refugee university built around the need for resistance to Japan. During one air raid he was supposedly running for a bomb shelter when he spotted Shen Congwen, one of the leading proponents of the new literature doing the same. Supposedly informed Shen that “I am running to preserve the National Essence. The students are running to preserve the promise of the next generation. But why the hell are you running?” At the very least he fit himself into the narrative of the nation, even though he denied that the May Fourth types were part of it. He is rather similar to Liu Dapeng in that sense.

            He also seems to have accepted the academic enterprise. When Shen Congwen came up for promotion Liu said “Chen Yinque [Lianda’s most distinguished historian] is a real professor. He is worth four hundred dollars a month. I am worth forty dollars, Zhu Ziqing is worth four dollars. But I wouldn’t give forty cents for Shen Congwen. If Shen Congwen is to be an associate professor what will I be?” I suspect that a lot of traditional scholars welcomed the modern German-style research university, not only because it provided an iron rice bowl (After Liu was booted from Lianda he moved next door to Yunnan University) but also because it provided a context for ranking and understanding their relative status.

 

All this is from John Israel’s <i>Lianda: A Chinese University in War and Revolution</i>

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