It is in universities that I am usually overwhelmed by the complete break between India and China. In China universities, learning, invention, are now deemed to be so important that they stand outside firewalls, and several other such compulsions of day-to-day politics. Universities were destroyed within living memory, and had to be built up again. Younger colleagues speak of the difficulty with which their senior colleagues, now a generation which is swiftly passing into history, kept the sciences barely alive. The beginning of Cixin Liu‘s famous science fiction novel, The Three-body Problem, accurately captures what I have heard of about those dark days of the Cultural Revolution. The Renaissance (I capitalize this word with intent; how is it that no one has recognized it yet?) has been planned and executed so thoroughly that it is overwhelming to come in touch with it. It will take me a book to write about it, not a blog.
So it was with some relief that I came on this ordinary sight of a “end-of-year giveaway” of used books in Hefei’s University of Science and Technology of China. It reminded me of my own student days when departing seniors would get rid of all the books that they no longer needed. Like the give-away you see in the featured photo, they were not sales, but places where books would be left out for others to take. I took a closer look at what was on offer. There were good textbooks, but a lot of it was preparatory material for the GRE and SATs. Another clear parallel with India.