Most universities in Shanghai recently opened for the new semester. A majority of university presidents spoke on how they define a university and their expectations from students, topics that stray from the norm for opening ceremonies.
Yang Yuliang, president of Fudan University, emphasized the university's role in developing students' moral character.
He quoted Cai Yuanpei, the first president of Peking University, saying that universities should take the responsibility of enlightening students, instead of merely indoctrinating them. "It's about much more than training skills," he said.
Zhang Jie, president of Shanghai Jiaotong University, also quoted Cai's theory. He noted that universities are now the center of society as a moral and spiritual higher ground.
"Universities are the last bastion of social justice and conscience," he said.
Qian Xuhong, president of East China University of Science and Technology, asked his students to complain less and work more. He expects them to be remarkable, not cynical.
"One who really wants to make a change will turn grievances and pressure into impetus, releasing them in another way," Qian said.
"Why are you here?" Yang asked his students. "If you came for power or money, you will not be praised."
Yang admitted that utilitarianism is eroding most universities, making it harder for universities and students to stick to their obligations. "Students' obligation is studying."
He told his students not to focus on competing. "An overly competitive attitude will influence you when you assess yourselves objectively," he said. "I hope you can be confident enough to keep a proper distance from mainstream thinking, and just develop yourselves in a relatively isolated position."
East China Normal University's new president, Chen Qun, said that there are two kinds of madness that are most terrible: a reckless willingness to do anything, and a fear of doing anything at all. "So I hope you can learn to choose what to do and what not to do wisely," he told his students.
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