Head of School's Corner
Weekly Message from Head of School 2017/11/5-2017/11/12
On Tuesday evening last week, we hosted our second Education Salon of this academic year. Our invited speaker was Professor Zhang Yiqing. We do, of course, have many speakers visiting Keystone regularly, not only for these pioneering salons. Two days later, for example, Professor Morton Schapiro, President of Northwestern University in Chicago, spoke to an enthralled gathering of Grades 11 and 12 students and teachers.Northwestern is a remarkable university, and one to which I hope Keystone students are drawn, now and in the future. Our Grade 12 students are in the middle of their college applications, and so the practical yet profound experience and advice of Professor Schapiro were apposite, and welcome.
But back to our salon. Professor Zhang is the Director of the Department of Standard Chinese and Linguistics at the Ministry of Education Institute of Applied Linguistics, and Associate Professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He graduated from Peking University’s Department of Linguistics and has spent the past 20 years researching the origins and development of Chinese characters and promoting traditional culture. His topic was: Decoding the Beauty of Chinese Characters.
The evening was opened by a young Keystone student, Yuhan (Yoyo) Song, playing a short piano piece by the Russian composer, Glinka. It was The Nightingale. Yuhan is only 11, in Grade 6, but she was recently placed fourth in the Osaka International Music Competition in Japan, which is for pianists under 17 years old. Yuhan played like a beautiful and bright bird, and provided the perfect curtain raiser for Professor Zhang.
The sharp professor picked up on the harmony of Yuhan’s playing by suggesting that there were comparable beauties in music and in Chinese writing. He took us back to the origins in bones and tortoise shells 3,000 years ago, and marveled at the survival of essentially the same written language despite the evolution of many different sounds and dialects. Professor Zhang spoke of the development of abstraction, complexity, and nuanced meanings from pictographs that were originally quite concrete and literal. It was an exciting historical journey, especially when he focused on the multiple possibilities of our name Ding Shi. One of its many meanings, he suggested, referenced the building of something new and transformative. I like that.
After his talk, most of the questions came from younger students. I like that, too. They were urgent to invite him to explore his topic further and, in some cases, to respond to their own eccentric interests that were at times not that closely related to what he had said.That’s quite OK. The spontaneous enthusiasm and unabashed individualism of children can be charming. What are the weaknesses of Chinese characters? Are there sometimes too many meanings in one character? What is computerization doing to our writing system? How is a written character like a personality?
At the end, Professor Zhang was mobbed on stage by young primary school students, eager to ask more questions. I tried to get through to him to say thanks and goodbye, and that took some time. I have not been to a school other than Keystone where a linguistics professor, master of a discipline often considered remote and dry, can be treated like a pop idol or sports star. There is indeed an impressive display of curiosity and an enthusiasm for learning here at Keystone.
Head of School
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