The efforts to inculcate moral and ethical values in the younger generation are still very much a challenge for parents and educators alike. But, as the Rev William F. Oldham’s prize pupil, Li Denghui, who became President of Fudan University, pointed out after personal experience, they are likely to fail unless those who teach these values also live by them.
‘AROUND the year 1898, two young Methodist men, James Hooverand Li Denghui, answered Bishop Thoburn’s call for teachers to teach in Malaysia. Both came on the same boat and were assigned to teach at the ACS Penang.
Hoover taught until 1903 before he was appointed to Sarawak to assist the growing Foochow Methodist settlement around Sibu; Li Denghui remained in Penang for about a year, but was drawn by his idealism to become involved in the struggle to bring about reform in China.
He decided to dedicate his life to that cause and by 1905, had become directly involved in the education of the young, first as a teacher in the Fudan Middle School and culminating in 1917 when the school was expanded to become Fudan University, and he became its President.
From its inception, Fudan University was noted for its modern and forwardlooking
curriculum in the arts and sciences, as well as a modern physical education programme. Like at a growing number of other similar institutions, it reflected the ideal “a sound mind in a sound body”, but by the 1930s, Li was dissatisfied with the outcome of this limited approach and voiced concern that modern educational principles had not resulted in an improvement in social conditions in China, nor were there more honest and selfless government officials.
He expressed the view that morality cannot be produced by intellectual education alone, but by the example of the teacher “and the sincerity of his heart which alone can give inspiration and warmth to his teaching, and thus enable him to mould the hearts of the pupils”.
In reflecting on his 40 years as an educator, he related the following incident: “I used to have a teacher of morals in my school some years ago who was supposed to be a builder of character among the students. I happened to visit a restaurant one day and what did I behold, this teacher with a sing-song girl by his side. He was of course full of shame in my discovery.”
Yet this is not an isolated case; it is not an unusual condition in our educational institutions today. I have learned of teachers who spend their evenings at the dancing halls or mahjong tables, instead of preparing their lessons. We are raining students to become hypocrites by our own hypocritical examples.
As a teacher and educator, I wanted to be a strict disciplinarian among the students. I had strict regulations against smoking, gambling and dancing. Severe penalties were imposed upon students breaking the regulations, especially gambling and dancing. I never danced, but I did indulge formerly in smoking and gambling.
Did I ever think that I also was among those who broke the laws of the school?
When my conscience, which is God’s voice within me, was aroused, I felt that I could not conscientiously condemn others when I was doing the same thing.
I felt like the Pharisees to whom Christ said: “Let him who is without sin cast the
first stone.” I was powerless to discipline others, until I began to discipline myself first. I gave up smoking and gambling, and now I can command with some authority.
Since I have joined this new spiritual movement for Moral Re-Armament [initiated by Dr Frank Buchman in the 1920s and 30s], I have realised more and more that the first step towards the betterment of our social condition and our country, which we as patriots so ardently hope for, is with myself.
The trouble with our present chaotic society and international relationship is that the individuals, who are the foundation of our society and international brotherhood, are not free from those selfi sh desires which are the spring and
fountain of destructive social forces. We are not following the divine law of giving.
We are thinking only of taking, grabbing; and the result in our lives is not the
life-giving refreshing water of the Sea of Galilee, but the stagnant water of the Dead Sea which only takes, but does not give.
Up to 10 years ago, my life also had been like the Dead Sea – that of taking more than giving. It was made up of selfcentredness, a life in which only the self was my chief consideration. So, whatever I undertook was to serve my own self interest.
I built up a university, not so much with the spirit of service as with a spirit of competition and personal ambition. I wanted my college to be the best in the country in order that through its fame, I might also share its reputation and gain
honour and prestige in society.
I have since learned that this was a wrong principle, a principle built not on a solid foundation, but on shifting sand. I have now discovered that true success in
life is the attainment of the highest ideal of unselfishness, which is a life of giving and sacrifice.
Throughout his life, Li Denghui remained true to his ideals which guided him as head of the University over which he presided for three decades.’ (Quotations by permission from Qian Yimin, The Story of Li Denghui, 1905-2005, p. 174-176, Fudan University Press, 2005).
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Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.