Wang Qunxiang is a junior college graduate of the 2014 Chinese language class at QingFeng Radio and TV University. Though one year has already passed since he left school, his story is always fresh in my mind. He entered the RTVU at 71 and graduated at 74. Of the approximately 5,000 graduates in the 33 year history of the university, he is the oldest, and the one with the most stories. Those who know Wang Qunxiang say that he is more like a teacher than a student.
Story 1: Enrollment
On the first morning of enrollment for the autumn semester of 2011, an old farmer came straight to my desk and asked, “I want to study in the RTVU. Will you accept me?”
I looked him up and down, stood up and asked with a smile, “Are you joking, Grandpa?”
The old man answered, “Am I not in the highest educational institution of Qingfeng County? Why would I come here to make a joke?”
Before I could reply, the old man officially introduced himself. He said, “I’m Wang Qunxiang, aged 71, and I’m a farmer from Caiguzhuang Village, Gaopu Township. I graduated from Beijing No. 14 High School. Because of family reasons, I was ineligible for the college entrance examination. But over the past 52 years, I’ve never given up my university dream.”
I asked, “What was the family reason?”
The old man said, “It's a long story, but I can assure you that I have no criminal record.”
“Do you know the Radio and TV University?”, I added.
The old man said, “I’ve read The Questions and Answers on Enrollment on your door several times. This university suits me quite well. I wonder if you can accept an old student such as myself.”
“If you can really come to our school, we will gain, not a student, but a teacher.”
As soon as I stopped, the old man stood up at once, took my hand and kept saying, “Good, it’s very good! Thanks a lot! Today I came just to inquire about the possibility, tomorrow I will come and enroll.”
I said to him, “Over the last few days we have been going around the township for household recruitment. If you mean what you say, we’ll visit your family first tomorrow. Just wait for us at home.” “I mean what I say. Yes, I mean it. All my family supports me,” said the old man as he stood up, “Let’s agree that I’ll wait for you at home tomorrow. I won't leave the house until you come!”
Story 2: Family Visit
At 9 o’clock on the next morning, two enrollment teachers and I arrived at Wang Qunxiang’s home as promised. We were warmly received by Wang Qunxiang and his wife. They treated us with watermelon and offered us cigarettes. Wang Qunxiang began explaining, “Why didn’t I sit for the college entrance examination after finishing high school? Yesterday I said it was because of a family matter. The reason was that my father had been a division commander under Kuomintang Army Officer Sun Dianying, which also implicated me. Not only was I restricted from sitting for the college entrance examination, but, according to the policy of the time, I also had to move out of Beijing. I still clearly remember the earnest words of Mr. Wang Zan, one of my high school teachers. He had been a philosophy lecturer at the Buddhist Academy of China. When he saw me off at the station, he said, ‘Yes. Beijing is not a place for you to stay long. Go back to your hometown in the countryside. Find a wife there and live a happy life. No matter how hard the life is, keep on learning. Wait until you have another chance to attend university.’ This is the very reason why I'm enrolling in university even though I am well over sixty." He went on as he took a pile of notebooks from a box, “I have never forgotten my teacher’s words. Though I have been away from college, I have kept on teaching myself over these years. I have never missed one broadcast of Lecture Room, and have kept on taking notes. You see……” Scores of notebooks were placed before us.
We looked through one notebook after another and realized that they were all notebooks that had been previously used by primary school students. The front of the pages were filled with the assignments of students and the backs of the pages were filled with his notes. We marveled as we read, “How extraordinary!” It was past 11 before we knew it. “We must hurry up and register you for classes, its already time for us to go,” I said as I stood up. Right away, Wang Qunxiang also stood up and spread his arms out to stop us at the door. He said, “Please stay here for lunch, and we'll get down to business after that.” He wouldn’t take no for an answer and shouted to his wife, “My dear wife, serve lunch please!” Before he had finished speaking, his wife came out of the kitchen with dishes and added, “He went to town for a lot of food early this morning. If you refuse to eat, it will break our hearts.” Since they left us little choice, we each took our seats. Seeing this, Wang Qunxiang felt relieved and said, “You did the right thing. I don't normally drink, but I will break my rule and have a little bit today. Let me formally take you as my teachers!” He said as he took up a bottle of old liquor, “This bottle of Kouzijiao liquor was produced in 1983. It’s 28 years old. Let’s drink it all today.” Then he proposed a toast for each of us.
After the lunch, we helped Wang Qunxiang with the entrance procedures. On the way back, we were still moved by Wang’s tolerance, honesty, warmth, and his love for learning.
Story 3: Giving a Speech
It’s the tradition of Qingfen RTVU to hold an entrance celebration ceremony for new students each year, and it’s expected that representatives of the new students will deliver speeches. Who would give the speech on behalf of the new students of the autumn semester of 2011 during the 30th ceremony of Qingfeng RTVU? I held a meeting with the new students in order to select a representative, but none of the young students were willing to do it. In the end, Mr. Wang volunteered to do it, and said: “Let me make the speech!"
On the morning of September 25, 2011, the 30th entrance celebration ceremony of Qingfeng RTVU was held as planned in the meeting room of Qingfeng Vocational and Technical School. Seated on the stage were a Deputy County-Governor, a Vice Chairman of Qingfeng People’s Congress, President and Vice President of Qingfeng RTVU, and other leaders, and off the stage were about 300 new students, not a single one was missing. It was a grand and solemn event.
The chairperson announced, “Item 5: Let’s give the floor to the new student representative, Wang Qunxiang.”
Wang Qunxiang stepped up the speaker’s lectern in a composed manner. Before he spoke, the meeting room was in an uproar, “Look, it's an old man!” After the noisy outburst, the meeting-room finally quieted down. Wang Qunxiang began his unscripted speech in his Beijing accent.
“I’ve seen and heard as well. All of you feel it’s strange for me, an old man aged well over 60, to go to university. Yes, you have many doubts as I expected. That’s why I asked to give the speech. I'm not trying to impress anyone, I just want a chance to express myself and to be understood and accepted by my classmates. To this end, I’d like to explain three reasons why I'm here.
"First, I want everyone to know that I have dreamed of attending university for half a century. I graduated from Beijing No. 14 High School in 1959. My only dream at that time was to go to university. However, things didn’t go my way. Due to my family circumstances, I lost the chance to take the university examination. Though I never had a chance to attend university, I never gave up on my university dream. I have kept the dream for over 52 years. Today, this dream has finally come true.
"Some of you may wonder why I want to go to university at such old age. This brings me to the second reason. I still have much to gain from a university diploma. Like what?
"For one thing, I am the volunteer cultural teacher for my village. In their leisure time, my neighbors like to hear me talk of scientific farming, national and international affairs, historical stories, and so on, whether they are young or old. With the increased cultural knowledge I can absorb in the university, I can be of even better service to the local people.
"Furthermore, although I can’t do much for society at such an old age, I can be an example to encourage young people to cherish their educational opportunities and to keep in mind word of Maxim Gorky: It’s never too late to learn!
"Besides that, I want to do it for the sake of my offspring. I’d like to leave them my university diploma ---- my cultural and spiritual wealth as the result of my studies as an old man. This is more valuable to them than a bank account.
"The third reason is that I want to have a race between me and my young classmates. Yes. I’m old. I’m not as smart or strong as the young, and my memory isn't as good. There is nearly half a century between us. However, we are at the same starting point. I have the confidence to run side by side with you to the finish line ---- to graduate from university! How can I make it? I can make it by working hard, by imitating the fortitude and endurance of the tortoise in his race against the hare!"
The speech of Wang Qunxiang was profound and humorous, lively and concise, winning bursts of applause.