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Parlor Talk

By Jeffrey Lott

lott_jeff.jpgThere’s no question that we are in the midst of significant political, economic, and social changes. This issue of the Bulletin looks at change in another era and another country—China. Moying Li M’82 and Linnea Searle ’84 describe their experiences with the Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s and the Beijing Spring of 1989. Li’s memoir and Searle’s journal show that change is not just what happens around us as events unfold, but also what happens to us. And thus our cover, a Chinese proverb that contains four characters—“sun, moon, new, different”—and means “Every day, something different.”

The cover is the work of Haichao Wu ’12, a first-year student from Ningbo, China. Barely an hour after we first met in November, I was driving Haichao to South Philadelphia in search of art paper. There seemed no time like that moment to get started on our project, and Haichao didn’t seem like the sort of person who wastes a second.

Associate Editor Carol Brévart-Demm had learned about Haichao’s talent in the Sept. 22 Daily Gazette, the student online news source. Just a few weeks into his first semester at Swarthmore—and his first month in America—the gregarious student had started a campus club to study and teach Chinese calligraphy. He told the Gazette reporter that he’d practiced the ancient art from age seven and had won national awards in youth competitions. He even wrote his college admission essay about his love for calligraphy. “If you learn to write calligraphy, you can get much more insights on culture,” he said.

Haichao’s spoken English is rapidly improving, but he told us that that writing college papers in English is a laborious process. “And so many papers at Swarthmore!” he exclaimed. In China, most of his schooling had consisted of listening, memorization, and rote, with little of the analysis, synthesis, and writing that is required here. So Swarthmore has been something of a shock to him—a significant change in how he learns.

We told Haichao that we wanted our cover to be a broad message of change—not just “progress” or “improvement,” but fundamental change in the way people look at life: growth, maturation, insight, transformation. We circled around the concept, talking across culture and language. Exploring further, Haichao spoke with some of his fellow Chinese students (this year, the student body includes 17 from the People’s Republic) and consulted with his adviser, Haili Kong, professor of Chinese.

A few days later, he brought brushes and ink to the conference room in our office. He explained how this proverb is the sort of thing you might say upon meeting a friend whom you hadn’t seen in a while. You say, “How are things going?” And she says, “Sun, moon, new, different.” Then, as we watched*, he drew the characters eight different times on several sheets of paper, studying each effort and improving their balance and symmetry. The last one became our cover.

WATCH: Haichao Wu creates the Bulletin cover

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