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Schoolfellows' Old Belongings Tell Chongqing University Moments in History

By XINYI LIICHONGQING|May 13,2022

Recently, two precious documents were delivered to Chongqing University from Seoul, South Korea, after a half-month journey. They are the “transcript” and “transfer certificate” of a fellow once studying at Chongqing University named Yu Yizhi. The two documents are in good condition, with information clearly recorded. They were issued in the first teaching building of Chongqing University in 1946. The owner carried them to Seoul, South Korea. Over 70 years later, they have finally been returned to the university.

Yu Yizhi’s transcript (Photo provided to iChongqing)

Since its establishment in 2015, the Special Collections Department of the Chongqing University Library has obtained 70,000 collections, such as precious manuscripts, publications, and gray literature (non-public publications), which can be traced back to the 1930s.

Old things from the other side of time

Wang Yanli, Director of the Special Collections Department, learned that two pictures were posted on social media. They are the cover of a transcript and a transfer certificate from a fellow once studying at Chongqing University. Besides them, it was written: “It is my grandpa’s transcript (relic) issued by Chongqing University in 1942. He was born in Jiangxi. Does anyone know if Chongqing University still exists? Is it a good one?”

The post on the social media (Photo provided to iChongqing)

A reply followed, reading, “Chongqing University is located in Chongqing, a municipality directly under the Central Government. It is included in Project 211, Project 985, and Double First-Class Initiative, which means it is an elite university. It is known for the discipline of civil engineering. Your grandfather must be an outstanding student.” Some people online suggested a donation of these items to Chongqing University.

The express from Seoul, South Korea (Photo provided to iChongqing)

Wang Yanli spent hours on social media in order to get the two precious documents, which were finally delivered from Seoul, South Korea, to the Office of the Special Collections Department.

Wang Yanli received the two documents and then sorted them out. She found that Yu Yizhi’s grades for eight semesters, from the first semester of the 33rd year of the Republic of China period (September 1944 to January 1945) to the second semester of the 36th year of the same period (February 1948 to June 1948), were recorded in on this transcript.

The student workbook inside the express (Photo provided to iChongqing)

The donator said, “I think it is the best place for my grandpa’s transcript to be kept, and I think grandpa would be happy about this.” The donator did not know much about his grandfather’s school days and wanted to see if there were some relevant materials.

Unfortunately, Wang Yanli looked through the archives but did not find any information about Yu Yizhi after he left Chongqing University. Wang Yanli said that there should be a long story about the two old things. The owner was one of the countless ordinary people in that era who witnessed and felt the force of history.

A life record

The Special Collections Department has had three volumes of transcripts from the 1940s. In addition to Yu Yizhi’s, the other two belong to schoolfellows Shao Lu and Ye Fengnian. The collection of information about Shao Lu was well planned, unlike that mentioned above.

Shao Lu’s old photo when he studied at the Chongqing University (Photo provided to iChongqing)

From April to November 2020, the Special Collections Department collected more than 1,000 documents from a second-hand bookstore. These documents recorded the story of Shao Lu, an old student in the Department of Mechanics at Chongqing University, for dozens of years from his school life to his death.

At first, Wang Yanli just wanted to find things like transcripts from these documents, but she found many photos taken when Shao Lu was studying at Chongqing University. One photo is marked with many names, such as Liu Zizhen, Xue Qinmin, and Chen Fumin. Familiar with the history of the university, she knows about these people who played an active role around 1949.

The old photo of Shao Lu and his schoolfellows (Photo provided to iChongqing)

They were ordinary students at that time and became ordinary employees in society. Wang Yanli remembers their names because they repeatedly appear in a volume of original materials she read when she compiled the book Chongqing University in Literature 1929-1949. The Institute of Chemical Engineering, to which these names belong, is one of the first three laboratories established at Chongqing University. Li Zizhen was once a teaching assistant under Professor Le Yilun, formerly an associate professor at the Department of Chemical Engineering of Chongqing University and the founder of the discipline of macromolecular medical materials at Sichuan University.

Mr. Shao Lu wouldn’t expect to see his belongings back in a place he was so familiar with a hundred years later.

History revealed from the collections

It has been seven years since the Special Collections Department was re-established. Wang Yanli is searching for collections every day and enjoys its fun.

Collections of the Special Collections Department are now primarily donated by alumni, provided by various colleges, and purchased from salvage stations. Wang Yanli pays close attention to both the websites and flea markets.

The Office of the Special Collections Department of Chongqing University Library (Photo provided to iChongqing)

The Office of the Special Collections Department of Chongqing University Library (Photo provided to iChongqing)

The Special Collections Department has been pushing forward a large-scale collection plan since 2015. Professor Gao Min, who had already retired, heard about it the next year and came from Mianyang, Sichuan, with many precious photos of the electronic version collected by many teachers in the 1980s about Chongqing University before liberation, well as many records of major events in the 1940s. Professor Gao Min is also the designer of the emblem of Chongqing University. He examined the online system and facilities of the library and its preservation and management system many times before he decided to give the prototype of the emblem to the Special Collections Department for permanent preservation.

It is stated in the requirements for the Special Collections Department: “Never throw away any piece of paper!” Wang Yanli would carefully study every piece of the collection she obtained. In her eyes, manuscripts, photos, badges, certificates, and videotapes all record the stories and deeds of the deceased. The countless stories and deeds constitute certain moments of a great era and will finally reveal to us the whole history. As for “an individual,” it is enough with their traces discovered by others from the preserved materials in the long course of history.

For students today, “flames of war” has become a historical term in textbooks, and there is probably only the “bombing monument” on the campus with which to ponder on the past. The colors on it have already gone with the passage of time, and the past will be inevitably hurled into oblivion no matter how hard we try to remember it.

“I try my best to bring back as many fragments as possible and to piece them together to restore the image of the campus of Chongqing University seventy or eighty years ago.”

Because, in Wang Yanli’s view, a world-class university is built upon the ability to trace its root and origin.

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