My generation may look back on our time at a Radio and TV University (RTVU) as the most precious period in our lives.
The Cultural Revolution from May 1966 to October 1976 abolished the college-entrance examination and closed schools, depriving those of us who were school-age then of the chance to gain an education. At the end of 1977, when the examination was revived, it was too late for us, since we had started working.
I was assigned to work as a boilermaker in a wool-textiles factory in Jiaxing - extremely hard work, especially in summer temperatures that reached 40 degrees centigrade, while the hearth operated at over 1000 degrees. I worked 8 hours every day, and my overalls would become soaked with sweat that left a salt efflorescence when they dried.
I like reading and writing, and at that time I often read after work, and thought about studying Chinese Language and Literature at college. During the Cultural Revolution, though I obtained a high-school diploma, I learned next to nothing. I took the college-entrance examination several times, but always just failed to reach the standard due to my lack of learning.
After the reform and opening-up, the state attached great importance to cultivating talent and enhancing worker skills, and along with the resumption of the examination, on-the-job training and education were intensively promoted. For us, it was a great opportunity to compensate for what we had missed.
With the growing popularity of television, the China Central Radio and TV University (CCRTVU – now known as the Open University of China) was established to meet the demand of young people for systematic education. In 1979, the Jiaxing branch of the Zhejiang RTVU was created. Soon after, the Jiaxing university work station was established. At first, Science and Engineering were the only majors, which I was not interested in and didn’t apply for. In 1982, however, majors in the liberal arts, including Chinese Language and Literature, began to accept students, and I was admitted to Zhejiang RTVU by placing in the top 4 of candidates in my factory. For the convenience of the workers, a class was set up at the main factory, so that we could study without our work being affected. Even though it was not a formal full-time university, I was very happy to have this opportunity, since my dream of attending college was being realised.
I began formal three-year studies in the autumn of 1982. The education section of the factory took care of the daily management of the Literature Arts class; more than ten students were formally registered, and a dozen were auditing. The rule was that if audit students could pass the graduation exam, they would be given the same graduation certificates as formal students.
Science and Engineering students had to leave work and attend classes full time, but we were allowed to leave one and a half hours early, without sacrificing pay.
The teaching was quite formal, with teaching plans made every term, and study and tutorial times set aside for every course. Every day, after work, we changed clothes, picked up our school bags, and went to the fifth floor of the main building to attend class.
At the RTVU, we listened in class to recordings of lectures by well-known professors, then taught ourselves, and did homework in line with the teaching plan. Our teachers were Chinese masters, and included Liu Xiqing for Basic Writing, Guo Xiliang for Ancient Literature, and Li Peihao for History of Ancient China, all from Beijing University; we also had Zhang Zhigong for Modern Chinese Language. Though we never saw the teachers, we were always moved by their passionate voices, and learned from them how to write papers, and about the 5000-year history of Chinese civilization, the Chinese poets Li Bai, Du Fu, and Wang Anshi, and famous foreign writers such as Shakespeare, Maupassant and Tagore. During revisions for the final exam, we were able to see these teachers on TV.
I remember that many courses were set up at that time, including Ancient Chinese History, Modern Chinese History, Modern Chinese Language, Ancient Chinese Language, Modern Literature, Ancient Literature, Foreign Literature, Basic Writing, Logic, and other required courses, as well as some optional ones.
Many of my classmates were my age, and some several years older. Every afternoon, at half past three, a person dressed in a blue, wrinkled Chinese tunic would join us in the classroom: Zhu Shanggang, son of the famous Zhu Shenghao, who had translated the complete works of William Shakespeare. Zhu Shanggang had graduated from Zhejiang University in Science and Engineering before the Cultural Revolution, and later worked in Hetian to support the development of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. He had a special interest in Chinese language and literature, and had been waiting for a chance to continue his studies. Sometimes I would go to him for help with phonetic symbols and the intonation in Pinyin of Mandarin Chinese. He knew a great deal, and always answered patiently.
We studied passionately, and absorbed knowledge like a sponge absorbing water. During breaks, we engaged in heated debates about problems that had come up in class.
Most of us were married, and had children already. Some students had to take a make-up exam, either because of the time they needed to devote to their families, or because of the gaps in their education. However, in the summer of 1985, after three years of unremitting effort, nearly all of us in the Liberal Arts programme passed the graduation examination and thesis defense, and received our long-expected junior-college diplomas.
Time flies. Some of us have become successful businesspeople, others government leaders, and others reporters, editors or teachers.
It was the reform and opening-up that allowed us to pursue our dreams. Haven’t we, the students of the RTVU, benefitted from it?
By Ou Futai, Jiaxing branch of Zhejiang RTVU