Selected Modern Chinese Essays: Never Give up the Pursuit of Learning

◎ Hu Shih

Dear Students of the Graduating Class,

As you are leaving your alma mater, I have nothing to offer you as a gift except a word of advice.

My advice is, “Never give up the pursuit of learning.” You have perhaps finished your college courses mostly for obtaining the diploma, or, in other words, out of sheer necessity. However, from now on you are free to follow your own bent in the choice of studies. While you are in the prime of life, why not devote yourselves to a special field of study? Youth will soon be gone never to return. And it will be too late for you to go into scholarship when in your declining years. Knowledge will do you a good turn even as a means of subsistence. If you give up studies while holding a job, you will in a couple of years have had yourselves replaced by younger people. It will then be too late to remedy the situation by picking up studies again.

Some people say, “Once you have a job, you’ll come up against the urgent problem of making a living. How can you manage to find time to study? Even if you want to, will it be possible with no library or laboratory available?”

Now let me tell you this. Those who refuse to study for lack of a library will most probably continue to do so even though there is a library. And those who refuse to do research for lack of a laboratory will most probably continue to do so even though a laboratory is available. As long as you set your mind on studies, you will naturally cut down on food and clothing to buy books or do everything possible to acquire necessary instruments.

Time is no object. Charles Darwin could only work one hour a day due to ill health. Yet what a remarkable man he was! If you spend one hour a day reading 10 pages of a book, you can finish more than 3,600 pages a year, and 110,000 pages in 30 years.

Dear students, 110,000 pages will be quite enough to make a learned man of you. It will take you one hour to read three tabloids a day, and one and half hours to finish four rounds of mah-jong a day. Reading tabloids, playing mah-jong or striving to be a learned man, the choice lies with you. Henrik Ibsen says, “It is your supreme duty to cast yourself into a useful implement.”

Learning is the casting mould. Forsake learning, and you will ruin yourself.

Farewell! Your alma mater is watching eagerly to see what will become of you ten years from now.