From Dashed to Realized, My College Dream

I grew up wanting to go to college, and when I took the junior high school exam in 1964, I enrolled in all three of the university affiliated schools: Tsinghua Affiliated School, Peking University Affiliated School, and NPC Affiliated School, wanting to get to the edge of college early, and got into Tsinghua Affiliated School as I had hoped. However, in the Cultural Revolution, this dream was destroyed step by step.

At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, the society broke the Four Olds. The so-called four old, is “old ideas, old culture, old customs, old habits”, that traditional things are reactionary and regressive, must be destroyed and smashed. The standard of what is new and what is old, at that time, there were “supreme instructions” on the six standards of fragrant flowers and poisonous herbs, and there was a natural and correct understanding of the red five categories.

Since schools were dominated by the “revisionist education line” and the “bourgeois intellectuals” during the 17 years before the Cultural Revolution, school textbooks were bound to be among those swept away, and my junior high school textbooks unfortunately suffered from this calamity. I returned to the school dormitory from outside and found that the room was filled with smoke, my washbasin was put on the bed, the washbasin was full of paper ashes, when asked, I learned that the Red Guards of the class came to the dormitory to break the Four Olds, following the example of Qin Shi Huang burning books, as I was not in the dormitory, my junior high school textbooks became his first trophies, language, mathematics, English, chemistry, biology, history, geography, etc., all burned up.

The Red Guard who came to burn the books is usually honest, simple and introverted, living at home and not in school, and not much interaction with students, I did not expect the wilting man to do something big, taking advantage of the absence of people, burned all my textbooks. My anger and sadness need not be said, but when you think about it, with the leader’s will and the authority of the Red Five Red Terror, I was present, whether I dare to rescue, and how many of them can be saved? But the problem is, I still want to go to school, how can I do without books? Looking at the ashes in the washbasin that had not been completely extinguished, I had some kind of ominous feeling that the dream of college seemed difficult to achieve. But I still didn’t want to believe it.

Some days later, we went to the outskirts of Beijing to work in Liangjiadian and stayed in the house of a youth in the village. A youth who had gone to the countryside two years before said to us, “Don’t dream, you will have to go to the countryside in the future, just like us. I didn’t think so. But there was always a lingering shadow in my mind. My father wore two big hats, “reactionary academic authority” and “filial son of the landlord class”, and although he was the first person to discover uranium in China and one of the largest uranium deposits in China, in a time when birth determined everything, I could still realize my dream. In a time when birth determines everything, could I still realize my dream?

In September 1966, we went to the rural area of Doudian, Fangshan County, on the outskirts of Beijing to help the production team grind peanuts. When we passed a landlord’s house on the way to and from work, the students pelted the pigs in their pens with stones to show their class feelings and revolutionary indignation. Although I also followed the throwing stones, but more blocked in the heart, the pig from a bad background is still so, the people from a bad background is not worse? What kind of future there will be really dare not think, only to feel a confusion and obscurity, want to escape, hide far away, and do not know where to escape, and even want to let go of this life, there are broken ideas, and a few students to the Minister of Reclamation Wang Zhen wrote a letter, requesting to go to Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps as a farmer, but has not waited for a reply.

My premonition was unfortunately guessed. In the next ten years or so of my life, I was not only farther and farther away from college, but also almost all the good things that people generally think are not available to me.

In January 1969, I went from Beijing to Liujiawan Village, Guanzhuang Commune, Yanchuan County, northern Shaanxi Province, and spent four years in the countryside, without any university admissions. When I was in the countryside, I wrote an application to join the group, but the reply from the youth officer of the commune was, “This person lacks the hipness of young people. I was baffled, not knowing where the “hipness” came from. When I returned to the melon shed where the production team had sent me to watch the melons, I felt in a trance under the stars that it was probably because this man had come to the melon field the other day and I had not let him eat for free.

After being recruited into the Haihong Bearing Factory in Mianxian County, Hanzhong at the end of 1972, I worked hard and soon after my apprenticeship I became a turner shift leader, joined the league, and was elected secretary of the workshop branch, but my value seemed to lie only in the work. At that time to go to college by recommendation, the so-called recommendation, not by the masses, but by the workshop leaders to the factory recommendation, and then by the factory leaders to determine. Each enrollment recommendation, whether it was a regular university, factory-run university (then called seven twenty-one university) or junior college technical school, I was actively enrolled, but always even the workshop could not pass this hurdle. The final recommendation was mostly the sons and daughters of factory cadres.

Once the university enrollment, and my classmate Xu Ling in a team was recommended by the workshop, the factory announced two lists have her, but the last list was brushed off, by the factory cadres of children to replace. Xu Ling was a worker, a member of the Communist Party, active in her work and loyal. Her fate is still so, I dare not think about the university, so I had to fight for secondary school, but also never get recommended. I asked Chen Yucheng, secretary of the party branch of the workshop, why he did not recommend me. He said from the bottom of his heart, “I didn’t know you were willing to go to junior college, or I would have recommended you. But at that time I was already 25 years old, 25 years old was the highest age line for going to college and secondary school as stipulated by the state at that time! I signed up, when did I ever say no?

Once 25 years old, my heart was completely cold, I felt that this life is only so, the dream of college completely destroyed, discouraged to the extreme! Since childhood, we all sing together “we are the successors of communism”, but now I know, who can take over the class and who can not, but absolutely depends on your relationship with the power far and near. In elementary school and middle school, we were taught by our leaders to “grow up in the three major revolutions: class struggle, production struggle, and scientific experiments”, but now I realize that I can only passively accept the arrangement and engage in production work that the powerful people do not want their children to do, instead of actively choosing my own future through hard work. I could not choose my own future through hard work.

My diary at that time was full of grand words about “liberating two-thirds of the world’s suffering people”, but how could I talk about liberating others when I was a slave to my own fate! From then on, until much later, I regarded bad luck as the norm and happiness as an accident. Unlike some people, I had the foresight to persevere in my studies and prepare for the future under any circumstances.

When I couldn’t see the future, I gave up English and Japanese which I had insisted on for several years, and stopped going through mechanical and hydraulic books which had always been of great interest. At the same time, Zhang Yifeng, a high school student from Tsinghua High School who had joined the factory, gave lectures on mathematics, physics and chemistry in middle school after work, but I did not want to learn either. There is no greater sorrow than death, although I was still working seriously, but it seemed to be just a habit, a conditioned reflex out of survival and conscience.

For more than a year, I was reluctant to talk to people, reluctant to read books, and even more reluctant to smile. My colleague Sheng Zong Yi said my face was pulled like a donkey’s face. How can I have a good face when my future is bleak and I don’t know how to fight against fate? Because of the bitterness in my heart, I often climbed the mountain behind the factory on Sundays, lying on a big rock, and sighed long and hard.

In the second half of 1977, my family wrote to tell me that the university entrance examination might be resumed, so that I could be prepared. I half believed this news, but in any case, it was a straw when I was about to be extinguished, as long as there was a ray of hope, I had to seize the opportunity.

The disadvantages are obvious: I only went to the second year of junior high school, a lot of knowledge has not learned, that is, learned more than a decade without touching the books also forgotten almost. Opportunity favors the prepared mind, and I due to extreme discouragement, self-loathing, secondary school knowledge over the years have not been self-study, certainly not the favor of God; and the lack of secondary school textbooks, no one to tutor, and no one to ask.

Shaanxi Province in 1977, the enrollment conditions stipulate that people over 25 years of age must have outstanding work achievements and some inventions to apply, and the factory party committee made a resolution: there is no one with outstanding contributions among workers over 25 years of age in this factory; as our workshop has the most applicants, the factory deliberately organized our workshop workers to do a big job (unpaid, but must participate) for two hours after work. Then the whole group study was organized for two hours for the cadres of the group.

I was the head of the turner class and the secretary of the workshop league branch, if I did not participate in the big work and the whole league study, not only was it difficult to mobilize others, the factory would also say that I was not politically qualified and would not be allowed to register.

In this case, probably to motivate us, and probably to reduce the factory’s resistance to our application, workshop technician Yang Shupu let the wind out: “Let them report, if these junior high school students can also get into college, I use the palm of my hand to fry eggs.” Later, the shop to apply for the examination are boys, perhaps the girls are thin-skinned, afraid of other people’s jokes. I was thinking, what the hell, jokes on jokes, anyway, has been at the bottom, what else?

I took the college entrance examination twice, and failed in 1977. Due to the shortage of time, a lot of knowledge was too late to learn. In that year’s language paper, there was a poem in ancient style by Ye Jianying: “Worried Yuan Yuan remembers his deceased father, red flags floating in the air. The dim crows are three turns to confuse the dead trees, and the returning geese are traveling back to the old traces. The equatorial carved bow can shoot the tiger, the coconut forest dagger dares to slay the dragon. Jing Sheng’s father and son are all guinea pigs, but the revolutionary merit is still the basis for their revolutions.” I asked for a translation into vernacular. I had not read the poem at all, and I did not know the allusions, so of course I could not translate it. But the total score of the 4 exams also reached 256 points, with an average of 64 points.

If I was under 25 years old, I could be admitted with an average score of 60, but in Shaanxi province that year, the score of candidates over 25 years old had to be much higher to be admitted, thus I was not admitted. That year, only two high school students, Zhang Yifeng and Liu Jingchang, got in, while none of the junior high school students got in. I was a little discouraged for a while and doubted my ability to go to college, but later, with the encouragement of Liu Jingchang, I still prepared for the 1978 college entrance exam.

There are difficulties that can be overcome, the lack of books, the family sent some, we also exchange each other; no teachers, we ask each other, as long as they understand a problem, to test others; in order to enhance the psychological tolerance, Mi Xiaoping and I deliberately bad words, if the other party in the test can not answer, immediately sent a: “stupid, this can not, and still want to get into college? ” The factory does not allow the examination, we went to the Hanzhong District Admissions Office to ask for the sword above.

But what was hard to overcome was the lack of time. For each person, there are only 24 hours in a day. To squeeze in time to study, since working hours can not be reduced, but also increased, there is only compressed rest time. In order to master the knowledge of 6 years of secondary school in just a few months, and in the greatly discounted spare time, it is only compressed rest time. I gave myself a detailed study plan, if not finished not sleep. Clothes have not been washed for months, dirty clothes are piled up on the side of the bed, every few days from which to pick a clean piece of change.

Later, because time is still too late, simply take the “random sleep method”, come back from work to lie in bed and read, the bedside lamp has been turned on, read the book to see themselves asleep, wake up and then read, do not look at the table, no matter what time it is. A few times the dormitory power outage, I ran to the communication room, borrowing the horse lamp there to see. But after all, people are not made of iron. Ten days before the exam, I was so tired that I couldn’t hold on anymore, but fortunately a female doctor at the factory hospital took pity on me and gave me several sick days, which saved my life (I bow deeply to this female doctor here).

On the day of the exam in July 1978, I found the cleanest one from a pile of dirty clothes and put it on, but it was a thick double-sided card cover-up for winter. In the sweltering heat of Hanzhong before the rainstorm, wearing such clothes for the exam was like sweating like a torture. However, there were so many female students in the examination room, and I was too embarrassed to take it off because there were no other clothes inside. So, after three days of exams, I had a big blister on my lips.

After the first day of exams, I felt especially good, I felt that this time there is the door, back to the dormitory happily smoked cigarettes, and is two at a time, side by side, a pack of more than one, too excited to sleep, to two o’clock in the middle of the night still not asleep, too scared to look at the table, lying eyes closed, almost no sleep, to 5 o’clock to get up to take the bus to the exam.

The next day the first test is mathematics, encountered a geometry proof problem, look very familiar, a few days ago also did a similar, but this time the brain does not seem to turn, is not the bottom of the proof, how to pat the brain also useless, but pat out a handful of cold sweat. After the exam I hate that which, took out a cigarette a pout threw away, lighter also threw away! If I can’t go to college because of math, I’ll have to hold a grudge for the rest of my life!

Fortunately, I did well in the other subjects, with a total score of 376.5 in 5 subjects and a passing grade in math, so I was able to get on the last train to university and was admitted to the history department of Northwestern University. And I quit smoking for 10 years since I joined the army.

After two college entrance exams in 1977 and 1978, my dream of going to college finally came true. When I was a teenager, I wanted to study radio at Tsinghua University, but the Cultural Revolution made this dream a failure; I studied acupuncture and agriculture when I was stationed in the rural areas of northern Shaanxi, and also imagined going to school for further study, but it was always just a fantasy; after I went to the factory, I learned mechanical and hydraulic knowledge, English, and Japanese, and wanted to go to the factory-run July 21 University and junior college, but I always had no chance to get a recommendation. At a time when my dreams had been shattered and my motivation to move forward in life was gradually cooling, there was a chance to pass the exam to go to school.

At that time, my family was helping me to contact the China Meteorological Bureau to transfer back to Beijing, but still as a worker. I thought about it, Beijing can still strive to transfer back later, while the university, if not this time, after perhaps never have the opportunity. So I decided to go to college first. The two college entrance exams, the factory where the enrollment from Tsinghua High School, whether it is high school students or junior high school students, 100% of them got in.

Unfortunately, there are two girls from the same grade or class in Tsinghua High School, I always thought they were very smart, I do not know why they did not apply for the exam twice. I know that getting into college does not depend entirely on my ability, many people smarter than me did not go to college, I just met a good time to resume the college entrance examination and seize the last chance. When I was already desperate, I found hope again.

On October 6, 1978, when I walked through the doors of Northwestern University, it was as if I had walked out of a nightmare, but for a long time I couldn’t believe it was real. I’ve always been reluctant to look back, and every time I look back, I feel like I’ve been in a different world. I often felt that I was still, in many ways, 15 years old, the year the Cultural Revolution broke out.

Later, whenever I walked into my daughter’s high school campus, I was so envious that I wanted to retrace my steps in life and taste what high school was like. So I hardly felt dull and tired when I went to college and graduate school, and I felt that college was the best place to be. I have told my daughter about this feeling many times, but she always seems to listen to it as a story, and I don’t know if she can appreciate it now.