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Tsinghua University- At First Light

August 25, 2011

上午.shàng wǔ. morning.

Tsinghua University--Quad Area

Tsinghua University--Quad Area

Near the skyscraping machines of industry lights blink piercing the darkness.  A dim glow from the eighth floor view of the international dormitory building at Tsinghua University illuminates several high-rises under construction on the horizon.

Having just arrived several days ago on a direct flight from the United States the magnitude of this travel has not fully settled in, but these virgin days on campus have unveiled qualities and characteristics that are worth expressing.

The University, like its mother city, is massive.  Students and visitors alike can be seen riding on bicycles at any time of the day–a necessity of campus commuting.  Having just celebrated the centennial anniversary the 970 acre campus is now decorated with large art sculptures and flags proudly announcing this recent accomplishment.  As one of the premier Universities of the Peoples Republic, Tsinghua, having survived multiple wars and revolutions, boasts its achievements with great confidence and pride to the world at large. It is all very fitting for a University that initially functioned as a preparatory school called “Tsinghua Xuetang (Tsing Hua Imperial College)” for those students who were sent by the government to study in the United States.

One who visits may initially be confused on many occasions regarding the campus life, activity and movement of people.  Who are the students?  Who are the young workers and security officials?  Who are Chinese tourists visiting?  Where does the campus end and Beijing begin?  All of these elements seems to blend together in one dynamic area formerly known as Qing Hua Yuan (Tsinghua Garden) —a royal garden of the Qing Dynasty.  And there are hundreds, if not thousands who pass through each day, taking photo’s of the iconic spots on a family trip.  Parents, with “dreams that one day their children may attend” such a higher place of learning, wander around and take snapshots in front of the main east gate.

Tsinghua Old Gate. © Global Times, 2011.

Approximately 3,300 Chinese national students were enrolled in the 2011-2012 undergraduate academic year and only those who score in the top 10% of their college entrance exams are even considered for admission.  Just take a walk through any one of the dozen provincial cities that are home to over 10 million people and you will get a feel for just how impossible these pure numbers make it seem.  But only now, for the first couple of weeks on campus will you be able to distinguish these 3,300 young bright minds.  How?  Just open your window around 6am and you will hear them.  From the soccer fields 100 meters away shouting in a uniformed command and performing synchronized physical routines for about nine hours per day.

“Some have to stand for over 1-hour at a time,” says a fell0w-student who had herself participated in this physical training.  “It is for discipline,” she says, as we watch them in the hundreds continue with the military-like training, “we had to go to a military base during our training because the olympics were here.”  In other words, olympians were using the fields for training purposes, not because the University has any intentions to hide its tradition.  If anything it is the opposite–a powerful show of discipline and uniformity that is not only part of the University alma mater, but the nation’s ideology.

As we watch this magnificent display across all the playing fields of the campus I cannot help but to notice how young they all appear.  Many, not even eighteen years of age seem so small and physically undeveloped. Males and females alike, in exacting strides with such youthful expressions of focus–it is eerie and awe-inspiring.  This intense synchronization, in form, in action and expression. Is it voluntary?  A lesson of discipline and unity.  Not from the outside-in, but from the inside. Is such laborious patience and willingness to comply on command a genuine volition?  Sure this fraternization and physical hazing only lasts for two-weeks, but one cannot help but to consider the objective contributive value towards an academic pursuit–especially within these youthful, virgin and malleable encounters of University life.

‘So I lie here on the grass, and that is all. A gentle breeze greets as willows dance through fall.’ 

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