49 pages • 1 hour readHa Jin
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A letter arrives for a Professor Pan Chendong, at the English Department of Beijing Humanities University. The letter writer identifies himself as Zhao Ningshen, the chair of the “Foreign Language Department at Muji Teachers College” (149). Zhao writes that they have met at a conference before, and that he once sent Professor Pan a paper he wrote.
Zhao writes Professor Pan in response to an inquiry Professor Pan made regarding another teacher, Professor Fang Baichen. Zhao claims that in the following pages he will provide some facts about Mr. Fang, from which Professor Pan might draw his own conclusions.
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Zhao arrives at Muji Teachers College as a student in 1977. Against his wishes, Zhao majors in English. Mr. Fang dictates the comprehension test on Zhao’s first evening on campus. While many students prove extremely strong in English from the very first day, Zhao hardly knows any English at all. He places in the lowest class, and often skips class.
He likes Mr. Fang’s teaching style. Mr. Fang tries to get all students to speak in class to bolster their confidence.
One evening, Mr. Fang unexpectedly knocks on the door of Zhao’s room. He asks Zhao why he did not come to class that morning.
By Ha Jin