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    Private university flourishes in Xi'an
Lu Hongyan and Shan Bao
2005-06-21 09:50

May 17 was a red-letter day for the 40,000 students in the Xi'an Fanyi University in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

The famous private institution of higher learning was holding a grand ceremony to celebrate its approval by the Ministry of Education to win a four-year university status.

Starting from scratch in 1985, the former college, now the Xi'an Fanyi (translation) University, has developed into a large-scale higher learning institution covering an area of 147 hectares and educating more than 40,000 students.

The university has been ranked by China's authoritative rating organizations as one of the top 10 private higher learning education institutions in the country.

Both the faculty and the students at the university attribute its success to their president Ding Zuyi. With a great deal of personal charm, the president has brought the university back onto the right track, and one which has led to prosperity, they say.

This charm is complemented by an enterprising spirit and unique personality - a combination of which has led to his inclusion in the 10 most charming gentlemen of Xi'an in 2005 by a leading newspaper in Xi'an, the provincial capital city of Shaanxi.

The Huashang Daily received nominations for almost 1,000 candidates, which were narrowed down to 24.

The criteria for the charming gentlemen were elegance, wisdom, success, health, sense of responsibility and influence.

According to votes cast by voters and an expert panel consisting of fashionable women, the result of the selection was announced and Ding became one of the charming gentlemen of Xi'an in the year of 2005.

President's personality

We wanted to get a closer look at the 66-year-old president's personal life, so we interviewed him in his simple office.

Asked about what made a gentleman, Ding said a selfless, noble character was as important as a successful career.

"I think I must have had some advantages in this selection because of my career. Education is a career respected by others. And I do have a unique character. I am never satisfied with the status quo when I am successful and never surrender to fate when I am in hard times," he said.

"As a man of integrity, I am honest. Because I spoke against the chauvinism of the former Soviet Union in public, I was labelled a 'rightist' when I was a high school student in Nanjing, capital of East China's Jiangsu Province, 48 years ago."

In 1957, Ding, then 18, passed the national college examination and scored more than 90 out of 100 in every subject. But he was rejected by universities and colleges because he was deemed a "rightist."

"I swore that although I could not enter any institution of higher learning, I would strive to be a teacher in one of them some day," Ding said.

He spent three years studying four foreign languages and had his translated works published. He spent another three years doing a university degree part-time that should have taken him six years to finish. He spent a further three years trying to finding a solution to a mathematical problem. His research was encouraged by Hua Luogeng, a famous mathematician.

But with the outbreak of the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), he had to stop his research and studies. He worked for eight years. Later, he became an English teacher in a senior high school and then chief of the foreign languages department at a university.

"As a teacher, my sympathy always went out to those who failed to enter institutions of higher learning for different reasons.

Educational concept

After China resumed the national college entrance examination in the late 1970s, senior high school graduates flocked to enter universities and colleges to receive better education. But competition was cut-throat. At least 2 million senior high school graduates failed it each year.

Now, about 20 per cent of students who pass the admission process set by State-owned universities and colleges are still rejected for various reasons.

Ding has another perspective of these students.

"They are actually very good students. They are like water at between 70 and 80 degree centigrade. All we need to do is to add some firewood to make them boil," he said.

With his aim to help these students, Ding resigned from his post as chief of the foreign languages department. This is when he started setting up the Xi'an Fanyi College.

Construction of the college, now Xi'an Fanyi University, started in 1985. It opened its doors to students two years later with the approval of the Shaanxi Provincial Education Department.

Since the university opened in 1987, Ding has lived in his 15-square-metre office for nearly 10 years, totally preoccupied with his teaching and management.

Without receiving a penny from the government, the university has itself become a rags-to-riches story. It now owns assets totalling 800 million yuan (US$96.74 million) and has an annual income of 200 million yuan (US$24 million).

Despite the university's enormous economic success, Ding is known for his thrift.

He has spent tens of millions of yuan building the university's computer network, library and laboratories.

But he smokes cheap cigarettes without filters for just 0.8 yuan (about 10 US cents) a pack. He owns a simple house, while his students live in decent apartments equipped with central heating, computers, telephones and toilets.

Apart from his "addiction" to smoking, Ding said he has many "elegant hobbies."

He loves reading works by master Russian writers, such as "War and Peace" by Tolstoy. He loves Russian music. When he has time, he sings Russian songs with friends at karaoke bars. He can dance, and play the piano to accompany his favourite songs. He has written essays, poems and commentaries and has had a thick book of them published.

It has not all been plain sailing.

Ding's marriage ended in divorce because he was too preoccupied with managing the university. He says he will never marry again because of this affection for work.

He has carried this ideal onto campus, forbidding romance at school.

"As a teacher myself, I have to be single to show a good example for students," he said.

Ding said he is proud of the pioneering, innovative and strict educational style of Xi'an Fanyi University, which offers full-time schooling and semi-military management.

This may seem rather outdated in this age of opening-up. But Ding said discipline is more desirable in the eyes of students' parents, who hope it means their progeny will focus better on their studies.

Many of the university's graduates welcome this discipline, saying that this discipline also helps them adapt better to the strict requirements of their future employers.

(China Daily 06/21/2005 page1)


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