June 24th, 2012 | Global Times Student elite seeks fortune more than social ideals
The history of Peking University has been marked by enthusiastic student movements at several turning points of the nation. All alumni of the university are familiar with its history and proud of the spirit of seeking balance between idealism and practical solutions.
Today we often hear arguments, both on and off the campus, that this spirit has greatly declined, and Peking University is no longer the force it once was. My response to this is complex.
Pragmatism has prevailed in Chinese society since the late 1970s, and universities are also increasingly involved in this dominant mentality. Today it seems impossible for any university to be an insulated ivory tower. On the contrary, university is a mirror of social realities. My point is that if you can’t find something in the general social reality, do not expect to find it in a university.
This partly explains why nowadays Peking University students do not organize or join in activist movements. Rather than some people’s argument that these college teenagers are unable to get involved in student movements due to the strict administration of the school, I believe the reason is more that they are simply not interested.
Today’s college students are much more diverse than before, not geographically but in respect of their personal interests and concerns. The nation is not struggling for its survival as it was once. It is rather difficult to focus all the students’ appeal and idealism on one goal.
Nevertheless, the students have other ways to interact with the reality. One thing that every student does show great enthusiasm for is to fight for a decent job offer.
In Peking University where students are expected to become part of the social elite, such awareness is especially strong.
I’m often amazed at my classmates’ resumes, where you’ll find very rich experiences leading student societies on campus or taking on internships.
Idealism, despite its decline, still glimmers in this university. Peking University was once well known for “the Triangle,” a central spot where leaflets and posters were posted and where emotional and inspiring speeches were delivered. A couple of years ago, this democracy wall was pulled down, and replaced by an electronic board.
Many heavily criticized the university board for removing “the Triangle.” Honestly, I felt it was a huge pity too, and I did appreciate the very direct interaction at this place. Now if you want to publish anything on this electric board, including organizing a lecture, you have to go through the application procedure at the university’s administration office. Its role as a speakers’ corner has been lost.
But debates are being electrified everywhere. Today I know a group of students, including some of my friends from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature and the Law School, who regularly post on online forums of the university, and get involved in debates about political topics. Some of the criticisms are no less sharp than the previous ones at the democracy wall.
The atmosphere for debates is still there, but in a different form. To a certain degree, interaction is more convenient and timely than before. And opinion leaders emerge in a more equal and rapid manner.
As a young person myself, I often hear people complain about how the macro-environment limits the chances for young people to become socially and politically involved.
But really, how much initiative have we really demonstrated? If you must pick up someone to blame for the so-called decline of the Peking University spirit, I don’t think the students, who lack initiative, can be totally exempt.
The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Chen Chenchen based on an interview with Hao Tian, a recent graduate of Peking University.
By Hao Tian