Through Our Door | Xin Luo: Professor of the Center for Research on Ancient Chinese History, Peking University

Professor Xin Luo started his Peking University journey in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature in 1981. Later he changed his academic focus to the History Department in his postgraduate and doctorate years. Upon graduation, from a student to a teacher, Professor Luo has now spent more than 40 years in and with Jingyuan. He shared his stories living in this yard, about the beauty of seasonal rotation throughout the year, as well as a heart-warming anecdote with Mr. Feng, the then academic secretary during his undergraduate years.

Luo Xin (left in the front row) and Mark C. Elliott, the Vice Provost of Harvard University and professor at the Department of East-Asian Studies and the Department of Chinese, together with other professors from Peking University at the door of Jingyuan Courtyard 2.

Q: You have studied and worked at three different courtyards in Jingyuan: 2, 5 and 6. Are there any stories you would like to share with us about Jingyuan?

A: Yes. It was in Jingyuan courtyard 5. So in my school years, students and teachers were then rather restrained in their feelings and reserved in communicating. Except for only a few who were actively raising questions in class, students kept a distant but polite relationship with teachers. As a result, almost no one would remember your name after graduation. I was so surprised that one time when I returned to Jingyuan, Mr. Feng, the then academic secretary at the Department of Chinese Language and Literature, called out my name so naturally upon seeing my face, “Hi, Xin Luo. Glad to see you back!” It was only a greeting, yet it made me feel like home. The distance suddenly disappeared.

Q: What’s your favorite place in Jingyuan?

A: I would say the yard between Jingyuan courtyard 4 and 5. It hasn’t been used to hold major events for my undergraduate department, but it was much favoured among students. We used to have talks with friends there. I remember that there was a Chinese toon, a plant species rarely seen in other places at Peking University. That’s also why it impressed me most. In spring, I used to climb up the tree and help collect sprouts for elderly teachers.

Q: What’s your favorite season in Jingyuan?

A: Jingyuan looks beautiful throughout the year. It comes without saying that it is a fascinating place, being colourful and bright in both spring and autumn. What might differ from others is that I found it attractive in winter too. When I was a student, I always passed by Yannanyuan on the way back to the dormitory after studying until midnight. In winter, trees in Yannanyuan, though leafless, had their bare branches looking lovely against the dark blue winter sky. I realised for the first time that there was also beauty, with those artistic curves, in bare trees.

Q: There are comments on the BBS, claiming that the spirit of Peking University lies in Jingyuan. What do you think the spirit of Peking University is?

A: I think the answer may differ for different generations. When I was a student in the 80s, reflection and critical thinking was the spirit of Peking University, which also represented the overall theme of the 1980s. In my opinion, this spirit is the top priority in the humanities and social sciences. Personally speaking, that spirit was also embodied in the so-called ‘Triangle Area’ at Peking University, where we listened to street speeches with food from canteens nearby. No matter what the topic was, the audience, who were also just passers-by, would interact and resonate with you, be it compliment or objection. These opinions have subconsciously benefited your mind and spirit. I would say this also echoes what the former President Yuan-pei Tsai has said: “be free in thinking, be inclusive in action.”

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