A generation of Chinese students draws inspiration from a hoax about Harvard.

A generation of Chinese students draws inspiration from a hoax about Harvard. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324735104578116960217427102.html

“’Enjoy the Unavoidable Suffering’; A generation of Chinese students draws inspiration from a hoax about Harvard.” By Robert Darnton. Wall Street Journal. November 15, 2012.

Now that China has installed a new Communist Party elite to lead the country for the next decade, we might take stock of the misunderstandings and expectations that are likely to complicate Chinese-American relations. One is the apparent Chinese belief that America in general and Harvard in particular hold the secrets to success. As worthy of praise as many of our institutions are, I was dumbfounded recently by reading a list of “Allocutions on the wall of a Harvard library,” which is circulating through the Internet in China. “Allocution” means a formal address, but the Harvard wall writings, transmitted in millions of messages in Chinese and broken English, read like fortune-cookie aphorisms. For example, Allocution #1: “Nodding at the moment, you will dream. While studying at the moment, you will come true.” An entire generation of Chinese apparently imagines Harvard students grinding over their books, dozing off, and rallying to work harder by reading the writing on a library wall. As the university librarian, I can attest that no such writings exist on any of the walls at Harvard’s 73 libraries. Yet as a cultural historian, I find the imaginary allocutions fascinating. In most versions, they are alleged to contain 20 aphorisms, which some Chinese commentators describe as “commandments” that push Harvard students to ever-greater efforts. Thus we get: “Happiness may not be ranked, but success will at the top.” And: “Only earlier than others, more diligent efforts to taste the taste of success.”

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