Jinan -by Chen Zhonghua

In August 1979, a long waited letter came from the national university recruiting office. In it was a cover letter and a letter of acceptance from Shandong University. The Foreign Language and Literature Department of Shandong University had accepted me into the English language and linguistics department. For three days, I cried, hid in my room and refused to eat.

Shandong University was not bad, my father tried to tell me. As usual, my mother was the one who understood me. She took me to the Wulian No. 1 High School to appeal the university appointment. However, we came home with the decision that Shandong University would be where I was going. The principal, a friend of my mother’s had explained to her that an appeal could possibly mean that no university would accept me.

The logic was simple and we didn’t have any other means of protest. Two weeks later, my father sent me on my way bound for  Jinan to my most disappointing start in life.  To ensure that I got there safely, but mostly to ensure that I didn’t change my mind, he went as far as Gaomi where I took the train. The university people would be waiting at the other end of the line.

At this point, life ended for me. As a young man finishing high school and going into university life, I was extremely idealistic. I wanted my effort to  change the world and I believed I would achieve it. The world should accept my ideals and give me a fighting chance. But no, the number one English graduate in a province of seventy-six million people couldn’t go where he wanted. If a mistake could happen to this man, what chance was there for a fair life?

With a rank of number one in English both in a written and oral test, I proudly applied to the Beijing University of International Trade as my first choice and Beijing University as my second choice. There were three choices a student could make but I was so proud and confident that I only filled out two. There couldn’t be any need for a third choice!

How did I ever end up at Shandong University? That was a question that would be answered much later in my university years.  I felt my life was totally ruined. However, there was nobody to blame. An error was made somewhere. I didn’t know who made the error or how it was made, but nobody really seemed to care except me. The consequence for me was very grave. It was my life and it would end in Jinan.

There was an ancient folk story about an old man in a border town. It tells of how the old man lost his only possession the family horse one day and all the neighbors came to console him. He put on brave face and said that it wasn’t a bad thing that the horse was missing. In a few days, the horse came back with a mare. Now he had two horses. The neighbors came again to congratulate him on his good fortune. He dismissed his neighbors by saying that it wasn’t good fortune to have two horses. Just one more horse to feed, he declared. One day his son was trying to ride the mare. He fell off the horse and broke his leg. Again neighbors came to say how bad they felt about this terrible accident. Too early to say if it was good or bad, the old man declared. Sure enough a war broke out and all the young men were drafted to the army. The old man’s son got to stay home because of a broken leg.

It is a Taoist story that says fate can change and one is not to judge the meaning of an event as he sees it. As it turned out just like in the Taost story of the old man and his horse, my perceived misfortune of ending up in Jinan wasn’t what I expected, but it wasn’t misfortune either!

Explore posts in the same categories: Chen Zhonghua, Daoism, Life Experiences

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