Building Bridges for the Future
I’m studying in a city that’s famous for its walls. People who visit my city are amazed at the imposing sight of its walls, especially when silhouetted against the setting sun with gold, shining streaks. The old, cracked bricks are covered with lichens and the walls are weather-beaten guards standing still for centuries.
Our ancestors liked to build walls. They built walls in Beijing, Xi’an, Nanjing and many other cities, and they built the Great Wall, which snakes across half our country. They built walls to protect against enemies and evil spirits. This tradition has survived to this day: we still have many parks and schools walled off from the public.
For a long time, walls were one of the most natural things in the world to me.
My perceptions, however, changed after I made a hiking trip to the eastern suburbs of my city. My classmates and I were walking with some foreign students. As we walked out of the city, we found ourselves flanked by tall trees, which formed a wide canopy above our heads. Suddenly one foreign student asked me, “Where is the entrance to the eastern suburbs?”
“We’re already in the eastern suburbs,” I replied. He seemed taken aback, “I thought you Chinese had walls for everything.” His remark set off a heated debate. At one point, he likened our walled cities to “jails”, while I insisted that the eastern suburbs were one of the many places in China that had no walls.
That debate had no winners, but I did learn a lot from this student. For instance, he told me that some major universities like Oxford and Cambridge were not surrounded by walls. I have to admit that we do have many walls in China, and as we develop our country, we must look carefully at them and decide whether they are physical or intangible. We will keep some walls but tear down those that impede our development.
Let me give another example.
A year ago, when I was working on a term paper, I needed a book on business law and found a copy in the law school library. However, the librarian coldly rejected my request to borrow it, saying, “You can’t borrow this book, you’re not a student here.” In the end, I had to spend 200 yuan to buy a copy. Meanwhile, the copy in the law school gathered dust on the shelf.
At the beginning of this semester, I heard that my university had started to think of unifying its libraries and linking them to libraries at other universities, so my experience wouldn’t be repeated. Barriers would be replaced by bridges. An inter-library loan system would give us access to books from any library. With globalization and China integrated into the world, I believe many of these intangible walls will be knocked down.
I know that globalization is a controversial issue, and it is hard to say whether it is good or bad. But one thing is for sure: it draws our attention to China’s tangible and intangible walls and forces us to examine their role in the modern world.
And how about the ancient walls of mine and other cities? Should we tear them down? Definitely not. My city, like Beijing and other cities, is actually making a great effort to preserve the walls. These walls attract historians, archaeologists, and many schoolchildren who are trying to study our history and cultural heritage. Walls have become bridges to our past and to the rest of the world. If the ancient builders of these walls were still alive today, they would be proud to see such great changes in the role of their walls. They are now bridges that link East and West, South and North, and all countries of the world. Our cultural heritage will survive globalization.