In November 1952, Jiang Nanxiang (1931-1988) was appointed by the Central Government to be the Dean of Tsinghua University. As a Marxist educator and a well-known leader of the Chinese Youth Movement, he headed back to Tsinghua.
Jiang Nanxiang has always harboured deep feelings for Tsinghua. It is not only his alma mater but also where he first started his revolutionary career. In 1932, he was admitted by Tsinghua’s Chinese Department and later joined the Communist Party in the autumn of 1933. He gradually became an important student leader and participated in the December 9th Movement in 1935. After the outbreak of the war, Jiang stayed at the front of the battlefield and was committed to youth work.
Tsinghua experience and his own revolutionary work laid solid and important foundation for his future career in education. He formed and practiced educational thoughts during his 13 years of work at Tsinghua. Under his leadership, Tsinghua conscientiously implemented the party's education policy and through exploration of integration, he added in unique approaches of multi-disciplinary education curriculum with socialist characteristics.
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, education began to take on the Soviet model and practice became a major feature. Jiang agrees since he believes that a school is not only about giving one food but above all, it should be about giving one a shotgun so that they have continuous access to food.
Therefore, Jiang Nanxiang has always attached importance to basic theory work and learning. Jiang placed great emphasis on the basic skills of students training and the ability to solve practical problems. When the students first enter into Tsinghua, Jiang would tell them that as a Tsinghua student, one need to “learn and use knowledge. One need to have both brain and hands and not only be good at theory work but also excel at creating new experience through hands-on practice. You need to be the master of a weapon and not the slave of a book!”
Jiang has explicitly highlighted the point that “we must merge both theory and practical work”. In 1958, after years of exploration, Tsinghua University along with the party’s education direction began to propose the combination of both theory and actual practice. They asked graduate works to be a reflection of a “real battle”. It is not only about accomplishing research and practice tasks for the nation but also about comprehensively improving Tsinghua’s overall political, business and high work-level abilities.
It is with such an educational philosophy that Tsinghua students have fully grown as individuals and dedicated themselves to the building of their motherland. Such solid foundation has been laid.
A decade for one tree and a century for one individual – Jiang’s educational concept has had great influences on generations of Tsinghua students. Students often recall the famous words of this former Dean: “You go to university to learn knowledge and to improve competency. Like someone who is trekking through a forest, you need to give him food but most importantly, you need to give him a shotgun so that even if he has finished all the food, he can still find more and be self-sustainable.”