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RENMIN UNIVERSITY


One would expect Beijing's Renmin University, to be easy to find. You get a tram to the Zoo, and then take a trolley heading towards the suburb of Hai Dian. The university is on the Hai Dian road, the conductor always yells out the name of the stops, and you have carefully memorised the university's Chinese name. So what's the problem?

Unfortunately the locals never use the full name. Chinese love abbreviations, and the full Zhonguo Renmin Daxue inevitably ends up as Ren Da. Two quick syllables that are very easy to misunderstand when they are bawled out in the local Beijng dialect in a crowded trolley bus.

The Beijing dialect sounds very different from the elegant Mandarin that is taught in the West. You can forget all that nonsense about the Chinese not being able to pronounce the letter 'r'. You don't get any 'flied lice' jokes in Beijing. The Beijingers role their 'Rs' as if they hailed from the English West Country.

Why was I there? Partly because I was following a degree course at the Polytechnic of Central London, and attending at least one Chinese University summer school was mandatory, and partly because I had been fascinated by Beverley Hooper's Inside Peking which describes life at a Chinese University during the Cultural Revolution.

The Cultural Revolution had passed into history and the university I was to study at specialised in 'Western' subjects such as economics and commerce. This was the first year Renmin University had put on a summer school, and they were in competition with the Foreign Languages Institute which had been doing it for years. Most of the students in our group were from the UK with a sprinkling of Germans and Scandinavians, and there was also separate course being run for Japanese students.

Our time was highly organised. Apart from the tuition, there were also lectures by specialists in Chinese history and culture. and organised visits to communes, schools, the Great Hall of the People, research establishments, medical facilities, the cinema, Beijing Opera (Ba Wang Bie Ji), and of course a host of tourist attractions such as the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. We certainly got our money's worth.