News & Events

19 Jan 2021

Fudan Character

Reading for excellence

By Cheng Nanxi

Meet this Fudan student who read over 700 books in the past three years.

Among the 28,896 students from the complete scholarship winners list for the academic year of 2020 released by Fudan University recently, Cao Yujie, who was awarded the China National Scholarship (国家奖学金), the highest honor of its kind, and entitled Fudan University Outstanding Student Role Model (复旦大学优秀学生标兵), impresses us with his “obsession” with reading. Now as a senior student in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature, he has read more than 700 books over the past three years.

Cao poses in front of London’s Tower Bridge

An Excellent Student and Ardent Reader

With the strict academic evaluation standard at Fudan University, getting a 4.0 GPA is by no means an easy task. It requires so much more than learning what is taught in classrooms. To get 4.0, a student needs to get a mark over 90 for every course.

“A nice GPA is not everything,” he says. Cao believes GPA only plays a tiny part in his college life and he enjoys visiting art galleries and playing badminton with friends in his free time. What he really values is whether a course can impart him novel, enlightening knowledge and experience.

Everyday, it takes Cao nearly two hours on commute, therefore Cao is used to reading on the subway. “There was a time when I had seven or eight books in my backpack. I would read one of them on my way to class and another one on my way home,” said Cao.

Cao keeps a good schedule of going to the bed at 23:00 and getting up at 6:30, and a long-term habit of extensive reading and note-taking on a daily basis. “I’m not smart at all. In fact, I often find myself achieving only half the result with twice the effort,” said Cao humbly.

“The more I read, the more ignorant I feel.” The Department of Chinese Language and Literature of Fudan University stresses the importance of studying literature with a tranquil mind, which further encourages him to immerse himself in literature, said Cao.

The undergraduate years are an important period of study for accumulating basic knowledge related to the field of the specialization. Since his freshman year, Cao has been practicing his  “triple review” approach: organize the notes on the day after class or the next morning; read the notes over the weekend; and go over them again before class the next week.

Inspired by both general education and major-oriented courses, Cao is eager to broaden his horizon further, through reading. He quotes Shen Congwen, a respected contemporary Chinese writer, “The world before me is big enough indeed, yet I aspire for a bigger one.”

He has decided to further his study and he has obtained an offer from Fudan to pursue graduate studies in contemporary and modern Chinese literature. As a Chinese major, he fathoms the breadth and width of the world by reading books. Cao’s reading list includes novel, poetry, ancient classics, biography, literary criticism, film criticism and so on.  

When asked what his favorite book is, Cao didn’t give a definite answer. Reading for him is a spontaneous process and a part of the daily routine, as he believes reading opens a window to the infinite world of his inner heart and one can build connections with both the past and the future in books.

“You are not only what you’ve read, but also what you are going to read and feel, as reading provides longings and visions for our lives,” said Cao.

Defining and Cultivating Excellence

Cao, who was a science student in high school, finds himself gain more pleasure from reading a book, a text, a paragraph, a snippet of a verse, or even a punctuation, as he can find a fuller picture of this world in the sea of books.

Cao aims to be a high school Chinese teacher, and he wants to create something extraordinary in an ordinary job with his action and enthusiasm. With his constant effort, he has been selected into a future teacher training project launched by Shanghai Municipal Education Commission and given the opportunity to teach Chinese in his alma mater, Nanyang Model High School. 

Teaching is by no means an easy task, and he conquered many challenges during this teaching experience. Cao holds that “excellence” should be defined with openness and inclusiveness, and only in practice can one realize the multiple meanings of “excellence”. 

He hopes that he can unveil the much bigger world between the lines in textbooks for his future students and explore human nature, society and the world in literary works together with them. 

Cao stands beside one of his bookshelves

Driven by his enthusiasm for teaching, Cao has also volunteered to work as an assistant student counsellor for over 500 freshmen from 6 classes at 3 colleges by offering them advice on study. Cao also volunteered to tutor the children of the front-line medics for many times at the peak of COVID-19. To broaden literary horizons of his fellow students, Cao has helped organized over 10 lectures given by professors and writers from various universities and associations, which has attracted an attendance of over 400.

Cao is eager to read even more books in the future and he is keen on buying books as well––it only took him half a year to fill a new book shelf in 2020. But he has to be prudent about buying books now, “I don’t have that much space at home for new books anymore,” said Cao. When the university library services went back to normal last May, Cao borrowed over 30 paperback books in the first month, which is more than what any other Fudan student borrowed.

Books made Cao more inclusive and open-minded, helping him better understand what the study of humanities means and the responsibility that a humanities major shoulders.