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Huo Songlin and The Ode to SNNU



Before Teacher's Day in 2008, I read on the "University Life" section of Guangming Daily the full page feature of "Entering Famous Universities". This reminded me that I could solicit some pieces to publish a special edition of Entering Shaanxi Normal University on the newspaper, making SNNU stand side-by-side with other famous universities. A small section of this special edition is titled "University Spirit", in which odes written by leading officials, famous scholars or alumni of these universities were published. Prof. Huo Songlin is a master ode writer reputed in China. In 1997, he wrote the Ode to the Return of Hong Kong, which was inscribed on a stone stele and has been highly praised by Chinese and overseas poets and writers.

However, Prof. Huo is in his eighties and I would not bother him unless I had to. I hesitated for a while but finally decided that I had no choice but to ask him for an ode to the university, as not anyone else could possibly do the job. So I called him for the ode. Prof. Huo said that although he had been declining any requests for inscription, foreword or review due to his seniority, he would gladly accept the job and do his best to write an ode, as long as it was meant to be beneficial to SNNU.

It was a Wednesday afternoon that I went to Prof. Huo's home with some reference materials: Shaanxi Normal University History published on its 50th anniversary, the most updated SNNU profile and Guangming Daily's special edition on Beijing Normal University ..... Three days later, I received a call from Prof. Huo when I was entertaining colleagues from Beifang Univesity of Nationalities at dinner, "Weidong, I've finished your assignment. You can come and pick it up now." I was overjoyed as I had not expected him to finish it in such a short time. Leaving the guests at the dinner table, I hurried to have the first look at the work. Knowing I was entertaining guests, Prof. Huo handed me the printed copy and the materials I had brought to him and urged me to go back to dinner table, lest the guest felt deserted. Before I left, he told me to double-check the work to see if it was appropriate and forward it to president Fang Yu for his opinion.

At about nine o'clock that evening when I was talking with BUN guests, Prof. Huo called again. He read the Ode "Sixty Years of Educating Great Talents" from beginning to end, shared the highlights and explained the allusions, teaching me a class of verse writing and appreciation. My phone battery ran out of power and I had to borrow a phone from the guests to call back. The guests were also listening to his explanation and analysis with great interest and delight. Learning the senior literary master spared no efforts to write the ode to publicize SNNU, they were quite moved and envied that the SNNU was so fortunate to have such a great master and I myself to have support like this.

I learned more about Prof. Huo's masterly scholarship from his writing and interpretation of the ode, in addition to the reading of his verses, ditties, odes and songs. Just as he said on the phone, "My odes have three characteristics: the first is rhythm, the second allusion and the third parallelism." This Ode to SNNU won wide acclaim. President Fang applauded and asked me to thank Prof. Huo after closely reading the entire ode and said many of the parallel sentences could be used as couplets during special campus activities. Guangming Daily editors said it was the finest and most elegant ode they had ever published. Many readers called in to express their appreciation of the ode after it was published on the special SNNU edition of Guangming Daily on December 5, 2008. It was later reprinted in the Collection of Tangyin Chambers published by Thread-Binding Books Publishing House and the Selected Works of Huo Songlin published by Shaanxi Normal University General Publishing House. Later, I brought to Prof. Huo a three-meter long mounted hand scroll and hoped he could handwrite the ode, which then could be made into a special SNNU souvenir. But for a senior man like him, this was too much work to do, as he just said "this is not an easy task ..."

On the new year's day of 2013, I accompanied President Fang to visit Prof. Huo, who agreed to modify and handwrite the ode. One day before Teacher's Day (September 10), Prof. Huo called me with a little excitement, "Finished. I didn't expect that I could finish writing the ode in just one handwriting. It's like writing it in one breath. Ten four-chi (1.33 meters) sheets. I thought I was too old and did not have the strength to finish such a strenuous job ......" Hanging up the phone, I went straight to his home to have a look at the handwriting. What a spectacular sight to see the 1,140-Chinese-character Ode to SNNU handwritten on ten four-chi sheets spreading on the floor. Even if we leave the height of literary attainment or the level of calligraphic art of his handwriting out of discussion, wasn't it his great affection for the university he had worked for all his life time that he had handwritten this monumental masterpiece at the age of 93? He was writing to encourage the younger generations to inherit SNNU's academic and cultural spirit of "Hold strong to the right path and never stray,Have pride in learning the great wisdom of yesterday and today".

Several days later, President Fang visited Prof. Huo and acclaimed, "SNNU may not be as good as those famous Chinese and foreign universities, but I believe this Ode to SNNU composed and handwritten by Prof. Huo is the only and unique one." He expressed his gratitude to Prof. Huo and hoped he could take good care of his health and become a healthy centenarian among SNNU scholars.

On May 26, 2015, the Stone Stele Pavilion of Ode to SNNU was unveiled on the lawn south of the library on SNNU's Chang'an campus. The foreword of the ode says, "On the occasion of Shaanxi Normal University's 70th anniversary, we establish this pavilion of Ode to SNNU to commemorate it. ... The ode was composed and handwritten by Prof. Huo Songlin, SNNU professor, Tangyin Chamber owner and master of classic Chinese literature."

As SNNU Council vice chairman Prof. Wang Tao, who was one of Prof. Huo's students, said at the unveiling ceremony, "Prof. Huo's Ode to SNNU has cultural and calligraphic charm, documents generations of SNNUers' devotion and hard work in its 70 years of development, exhibits their proud ambition to explore the future, as well as their pursuit and dream to build a first-class university in China through dedication and reform."

    The Ode to SNNU says, "Teacher education is a sacred mission. The eight-character motto represents the schools spirit: Being a teacher, one must be virtuous and a good learner; Setting examples, one must have aspiration and take actions. ...... Like a gardener, you raise students like fruitful peaches and plums. Like a ladder, you help students scale new heights. Inhaling the fresh air of Zhongnan Mountain, listening to the morning bell of Big Wild Goose Pagoda. Embracing the perfect framework of harmonious society and looking forward to the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Filled with boundless pride, we stride forward triumphantly."

Text by Li Weidong, Feng Wei

Photo by Feng Wei

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