Education from Role Models
“How did the scholarly couple Qian Zhongshu and Yang Jiang educate their daughter, Qian Yuan?” a journalist once asked Qian Jingru, whose grandfather, Qian Jihou, was the twin brother of Qian Jibo, Qian Zhongshu’s father.
“They hardly ever had to worry about her,” Qian Jingru waved her hand as she replied, “Qian Yuan was so cute. You know, she was a sight for sore eyes.” Qian Yuan was two years older than Qian Jingru, and they played together while taking refuge in Shanghai against the backdrop of the escalating anti-Japanese War.
It was the first time Qian Yuan had been to China since her birth. When the whole family landed from their ocean trip, Qian Zhongshu headed straight for the National Southwest Associated University, while Yang Jiang arrived in Shanghai with their one- year- old daughter, staying alternatively at Qian’s home or Yang’s.
“She didn’t know how to greet people, or even how to speak. She could only move sideways with both hands bracing against the wall, walking with a fast pace,” Yang Jiang expressed her guilt in describing Qian Yuan at that time in her prose collection We
Three , “As her mother, I think I should be responsible for her weaknesses. I was too bookish to discipline her.” In fact, Yang was really just too busy to take care of her daughter because of her position as the principal and the third grade English teacher at Suzhou Zhenhua Middle School Shanghai Branch. Qian Yuan wished to play with her mother, but anytime she went to her mother, she always seemed to be grading a thick stack of papers. In response, little Qian Yuan would “stick out her small fat fist as if she was going to hit those papers, tears swelling up in her eyes.”
Regardless of her mother’s lack of discipline on her, she was very self-disciplined. Shortly after her arrival in China, she contracted dysentery due to contaminated food. After that, she never touched what adults told her not
（摘自《环球人物》2018 年第 16 期）
to eat, and just remained seated in peace to the side, watching everybody eat. As she got a little older, she could climb up stairs to have fun with her cousin. There was a small desk, two small chairs, and the two kids would sit face to face. While the elder cousin sister read the two-volume primer Learning How to Read Based on Pictures , Qian Yuan listened carefully. Yang bought a copy for her when she learned that little Qian really loved reading. One night, the moment Yang was back home, she was asked to check out how “the round- headed” ( Qian’s nickname) read the book. Qian was holding the book upside down, but went over the page without making any mistakes. Her funny reading habit was formed from her daily practice—the book was placed between the two girls, with the elder cousin reading top down and Qian following her bottom up, upside down!
After Yang Yinhang, Yang Jiang’s father, learned the story, he exclaimed, “She is such a lively case of photographic memory!” Qian was the apple of her grandfather’s eye. She always slept on the same bed with him during afternoon naps, and used her grandfather’s most treasured pillow. Even his own children, including Yang Jiang, never have the privilege of sharing the same bed with their father. When little Qian’s parents took her back to their hometown Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Qian Fujiong ( Qian Zhongshu’s grandfather), Qian Jibo was surprised at Qian Yuan’s talent, and gladly concluded that Qian Yuan was a born book lover in their family. Both her paternal and maternal grandfathers cherished her dearly.
Qian Zhongshu always said that Qian Yuan was as upright as her maternal grandfather and was an adamant educator like her paternal grandfather. His description was true, as could be demonstrated in two facts: Qian Yuan became an English professor at Beijing Normal University—as in Qian Jibo’s own statement, acting as a teacher enlightening children had been the tradition in his family for generations. Qian Yuan once honestly claimed in a conference that her father didn’t recommend a certain expert’s works, just as her maternal grandfather once
saw his name on the list of a welcome ceremony for a certain warlord, and he immediately made a public announcement to the newspaper that he didn’t attend the ceremony.
Nevertheless, Qian Yuan probably most loved to follow her parents’ examples. After she passed away, her friends recalled, “She never put on an arrogant air for her family background, but always felt grateful to her parents for their good examples. She told me a story about her education at home. When Qian was in junior middle school, one night there was a power outage in her home located in Zhongguancun. In the dark, her parents discussed poetry, to which Qian was so attracted that she came to believe ancient poetry was full of charm. The following day she started a poem collection by the Tangpoet Du Fu (712-770), but found the poems were not interesting as such. She asked her father about something beyond her understanding, but he replied, ‘ My silly little creature, how can a poem be explained!’ Qian once said, ‘ Whenever I had some problems with English, my father never answered my questions directly, but he would recommend a dictionary instead. I learned to solve problems and answer questions on my own. Unless I failed to work out the difficulty after consulting books, my father would not help me out. Therefore, I developed a habit of independent thinking during childhood.”
The article “In the Twilight Years—the Interview of Professor Yang Jiang, the Centenarian,” documented a series of questions and answers. Among them, one goes, “How do you define ‘a good education’?”
“As I see it, ‘a good education’ should kindle students’ interest and spontaneity, develop their motivation, and provide guidance for them to make constant improvement. In this way, students can become well educated, naturally and unconsciously. It is fundamentally important for parents to act as a role model, for educating by deeds is far more effective than by words.”
(From GlobalPeople, Issue 16, 2018. Translation: Wang Wen)
1981年杨绛与钱钟书和钱瑗摄于三里河寓所 Yang Jiang (left), Qian Zhongshu (middle) and Qian Yuan (right) in their flat in Sanlihe in 1981