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

YOUTH IN BLACK AND WHITE: Students and professors of the Department of Chinese Language and Literature of Peking University in front of their teaching building in 1950 (COURTESY OF DOCLL)

As the DOCLL is the most prestigious teaching institution of Chinese language, could you tell us the characteristics of its academic style and teaching?

The department's academic atmosphere, highlighting freedom, rigorousness and practicality, has never changed during its 100-year history. The faculty of the department always includes professors who are the most knowledgeable in the Chinese language among their peers. Some of these professors are graduates from Peking University while others are not. They are attracted to teaching positions in the department by its prestige and its free atmosphere, which has become one of our most cherished traditions.

Meanwhile, we give equal emphasis to a rigorous and practical approach to studies. The department's best-known courses, such as history of literature, history of the Chinese language and bibliography and textual criticism, have emphasized the use of materials and accurate evidence.

In terms of our teaching style, our department requires the students to build a solid knowledge base of the Chinese language and then gives them the leeway to explore areas they are interested in. The graduates from our departments work in different fields other than academic studies, and many of them have become very successful. A high percentage of our graduates turned out to be very competitive in their areas.

What are the main teaching contents of the department?

As the name of our department indicates, we mainly teach Chinese language and literature. But we also teach courses on Chinese history, culture and even foreign literature and culture. Courses for bachelor's degree students include ancient Chinese, modern Chinese, theory of literature and art, linguistics, ancient literature, modern literature, foreign literature, comparative literature, Chinese and foreign history and culture. Master's degree and doctor's degree candidates study even more courses, some of which are cross-discipline courses.

Despite opening many literature courses, we don't intend to train writers, as writers are usually not produced by university education. The courses for our students are basic ones to give them excellent writing skills and cultural knowledge.

Except for teaching, what are the DOCLL's major achievements in academic research?

The academic influence of the DOCLL reached its pinnacle during the May Fourth Movement. Back then, Peking University was the base camp for new thinking in China. Important figures of the ensuing New Culture Movement, such as Lu Xun and Hu Shi, were professors at the DOCLL. Many people criticized the May Fourth Movement for severing the links between new culture and tradition. As a matter of fact, the DOCLL was the pioneer in China in the research of ancient Chinese novels, ancient books collation and modern linguistics, which were started by scholars supporting the May Fourth Movement.

Over the century, the teaching and research activities of the DOCLL have always centered an modernization and the formation of new academic guidelines. By combining Western research methods and Chinese traditional research methods, professors of the DOCLL have authored a large number of works that represent the highest level of their fields. I edited a two-volume collection of the most important works of more than 60 famous scholars who once taught at the DOCLL. The book, published in 2007, exhibited these masters' research achievements in the history of literature, linguistics and ancient texts.

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