BEIJING, March 15 -- Yu Dan, 42, a media expert and professor at Beijing Normal University, shot to fame in October 2006 for interpreting Chinese classics on television in a simple way for the benefit of the viewing public.
More than 1 million copies of Yu's new book, "Analects of Zhuangzi," were printed in the first print run, and on a single day last week when she signed copies for readers at a Beijing bookstore, the book sold more than 10,000 copies.
In December, 2006, Yu stunned the media and the public with her book about her readings of the Confucian bible "Analects of Confucius," which had a print run of more than 600,000 copies, the largest number of copies printed on the Chinese mainland until then.
Though Yu has tens of thousands of supporters, not everyone has been won over. The professor, nicknamed an "academic super girl," was embroiled in controversy recently after 10 literature scholars from prestige universities in Beijing demanded she quit the show. Last week at her book-signing ceremony, a middle-aged protester showed up in a white T-shirt which read "Confucius is vexatious, Zhuangzi is angry."
A grass-roots heroine willing to defy the culture of elitism, Yu has her unique interpretations of the classics, which may not be precise but are easily understood and readily accepted.
In her lectures and book, the short-haired fashionable lady explains the abstruse maxims using lively stories. The deified Confucius was an amiable elderly teacher and his disciples were curious, sometimes cunning, students.
Guo Qijia, vice chief of the China Confucius Academy and professor at Beijing Normal University, said Yu has done a good job promoting traditional Chinese culture among the public.
Guo, a researcher on Confucius for the past 50 years, has been watching the "Lecture Room" program on CCTV 10 for a while now.
"Personally I don't know her, though we are from the same university. She did not follow the traditional way to explain the analects word by word. A knowledgeable young scholar, Yu was good at interpreting the difficult classics with intriguing stories. Her efforts in kindling people's interest in classics are laudable, though she had mistakes in her interpretation," he said.
"Yu said people should follow the preaching of Confucius at work, to act responsibly and listen to Taoists after work, to live a simple natural life. That's a very vivid interpretation and tells people the basic difference between the two schools of thoughts."
Guo said he teaches "Analects of Confucius" in a different way on campus, which, although more accurate, is unlikely to be popular among TV audiences.
"Few people would watch the program if I gave lectures on TV. If no one watches a program, there's no sense doing it, no matter what great contents it offers. Yu's interpretation may not be good for classroom teaching, but the majority of her TV lectures agree with the mainstream interpretation of Confucius."
Jing Haifeng, a professor at Shenzhen University and disciple of Chinese classics master Tang Yijie, has asked people to be more tolerant towards Yu.
"Some criticized her so harshly that I could even smell a scent of libel. Media also joined the fight and found every fault with her."
"Yu may be groundless in interpreting one or two sentences, but overall she did it moderately. Similar to famous Taiwan author Nan Huaijin, Yu gave 'chicken-soup-style' prescriptions to modern Chinese people to help them better cope with difficulties in life, based on the preaching of classics," he said.
"Taken out of the original contexts, her interpretation is no more academic research and caters to the need of the cultural market. It's a reasonable way to evoke people's interest in Chinese classics."
Jing believes any effort to educate the Chinese public on the nation's cultural heritage is laudable.
"Even for those who learn it in a fad to become 'civilized,' Yu's pop classics have a positive meaning. Anyway, it's unrealistic to ask people to study the classics word for word in this era when mass media offer cultural fast food alongside a thousand forms of entertainment," Jing said.
Mei Yi, a historical novelist living in Shenzhen, said Yu's interpretation may be erroneous at times, but her errors did not detract from her charm.
"Anyone can interpret Hamlet in a different way. Why can this rule not be applied to 'Analects of Confucius'? They call her 'academic super girl.' To me, she has far greater contributions to the Chinese culture than the singers. I would like her better if her interpretations can be more concise," the author said.
(Source: Shenzhen Daily)