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UPDATED: September 19, 2010 NO. 38 SEPTEMBER 23, 2010
A Century of Exploration

VERY CHINESE: The gate to the compound of the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at Peking University (YU XIANGJUN)

As the academically and socially influential Department of Chinese Language and Literature (DOCLL) of Peking University celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, Beijing Review reporter Tang Yuankai recently interviewed Wen Rumin, professor and former Dean of the DOCLL. Excerpts follow:

Beijing Review: Could you tell us about the development of this department and its contributions to China's education and society?

Wen Rumin: Peking University was founded in 1898 as China's first national university in the modern sense and was originally known as the Imperial Capital University. Back then, the university didn't have a Chinese language department. In 1904, the university was divided into several disciplines; studies of Confucian classics, political science and law, literature, medicine, agriculture, engineering and business. Every discipline had several branches. The literature discipline had nine branches, including the branch of Chinese literature, which could be regarded as the origin of today's DOCLL.

On March 31, 1910, the Imperial Capital University was divided into seven schools and each consisted of several departments. The school of humanities included two departments: Chinese Literature Department and Foreign Literature Department. Both departments offered courses of four years' duration. Schools and departments were relatively independent units of teaching. The Chinese Literature Department enrolled 38 students for its inaugural class. The founding of this department marked the first time Chinese language and literature became a special discipline of China's higher education.

In 1917, after being appointed president of Peking University, the famous scholar Cai Yuanpei recruited many liberal and foreign-educated scholars, including Chen Duxiu, one of the initiators of the anti-Confucius New Culture Movement and founders of the Communist Party of China. These scholars opposed traditional Chinese literature and advocated the use of vernacular literature in the Chinese Literature Department and the school of humanities. Peking University became the battleground between orthodox and new schools of thought, as well as a center of humanities studies and enlightenment.

Over the next century, the development of the DOCLL can mainly be divided into the following stages. The first period was around 1919, which featured the establishment of its own teaching models. The second period was in the 1920s and 1930s, when the synergy between Western researching methods and traditional Chinese researching methods was created. The third phase started in 1937, when Japanese invaders launched their all-out war against China. In the same year, Tsinghua University, Peking University and Nankai University were forced to move to Changsha in southwest China. In April 1938, the three universities moved to Kunming of Yunnan Province in south China and merged to form National Southwestern Associated University. The Chinese departments of Peking University and those of Tsinghua University merged into one. During the fourth period between 1950 and 1966, the Chinese departments of several universities merged into the Chinese Department of Peking University, making this period a heyday for the department academically. The fifth phase was the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), when the teaching and academic studies in the department were disrupted. The sixth phase was in the early 1980s, which featured a liberal atmosphere and active and productive teaching and research. The seventh phase is from the 1990s to today, which features the expansion of our education and research.

Over the last century, nearly 20,000 people have studied in our department if foreign students, auditors and short-term training courses students are included. Our alumni have become elites in all sectors of the society.

Over its development, the DOCLL exerted the largest social impact during the New Culture Movement and the May Fourth Movement, a famous cultural and political movement in 1919. The two most academically productive periods in its history were between the 1920s and 1930s and in the early 1980s respectively. However, students with true scholarship can be found at each stage of the department's history.

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