Yu Dan. [Photo: Chinadaily.com]
Yu Dan, a 41-year-old veteran media scholar at Beijing Normal University, is described as "a mix of unmixable elements" by her friends.
As the dean of the TV and Cinema Studies Department of the School of Media and Arts of the university, Yu is better known by TV and movie professionals as an experienced media strategist and consultant for a roster of mass media groups including China Central Television (CCTV) and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp (China).
But Yu calls herself "a big fan of pop music idols" such as Jay Chow and the Nanquan Mama, an enthusiast of Chinese history and classic literature and a good performer of the Kunqu Opera.
On top of that, she is unofficially recognized as "the chieftain of the fun-seeking club of the School of Media and Arts at Beijing Normal University."
She still manages to find time for suburban hiking activities with her students despite her "nerving-stretching schedule."
Previously a behind-the-scenes media expert, she has now attracted nationwide attention for her popular televised lecture series about the Analects of Confucius.
During the National Day holidays last month, for the first time, she appeared on the Lecture Room a popular but controversial programme aired on channel 10 of CCTV.
Encouraged by the warm welcome of TV audiences and a large number of netizens who have given bountiful kudos to Yu's "enlightening lectures" in their blogs and online forums, Wan Wei, producer of the Lecture Room, decided to rerun Yu's well-received lectures over the past week.
At a book signing and book launch ceremony yesterday in western Beijing, Yu stunned the media and the public with a new book about her readings of the Confucian bible, released in a run of more than 600,000 copies the largest number of copies run on the Chinese mainland in recent years.
Yu Dan. [Photo: Chinadaily.com]
Reinterpreting the classics
The new book includes both the content of the TV lectures and the original text from the Analects of Confucius.
The book is another item on her long list of academic papers and books about movies, TV programming, TV station operations, news anchors, TV new reporting and media competition strategies.
"My book is far from a highly academic publication with precise word-for-word explanations of the Confucian classic. It is only a collection of my personal readings of the ancient sage's thoughts which I have accumulated over decades," Yu told China Daily.
"I am not an expert in Confucian studies, but rather, a media scholar. It is only that, as a great fan of Chinese classics such as the Book of Songs, the Analects of Confucius and Zhuang Tzu, I am willing to share with people my understanding of these centuries-old pearls of wisdom."
Yu's televised lectures won the hearts of mass audiences who uploaded the video clips and quotes from her lectures on their blogs and online forums.
Yu Dan's New Book. [Photo: Chinadaily.com]
Wang Yiwang, a Chinese netizen who has a blog on www.baidu.com, posted: "What professor Yu said in her TV lectures is just like a remedy for our soul... Many people today are losing their way spiritually when confronted with a rapidly changing world... From her talks, I have learned to look at my life and the status quo in a new perspective."
For another netizen posting his blog on www.mediachina.net: "Yu's reinterpretation of the more than 1,500-year-old classic drags me away from online magic-realism novels during the National Day holidays.
"Listening to her lectures each day was the happiest moment of the day during that period of time.After watching the TV lectures, I have suddenly found that what Confucius said are simple truths that are not at all lofty but can be applied to my daily life."
Li Yan, editor-in-chief of China Publishing House, told local media they knew the book would be a hit.
"After doing careful market research, we have decided to publish 600,000 copies of the book. We believe Yu Dan's personal charisma and her novel readings of the Confucian classic, which is no doubt hard to decode for average readers, will certainly boost the book's popularity," she said.
In fact, before lecturing to TV audiences this October, Yu, who studied ancient Chinese literature for her bachelor's degree in the mid-1980s, has already shared her thoughts with many teachers and students at Beijing Normal University and other colleges in the Chinese capital over the past decade.
Apart from her role as a doctoral tutor for students majoring in TV and cinema studies, Yu teaches undergraduates about classic Chinese literature at Beijing Normal University.
Almost every September, freshmen newly enrolled at Beijing Normal University would meet a "pretty and graceful female teacher" at a spacious auditorium where she would give mesmerizing orientation lectures, Xu Shanshan, a graduate of the university, wrote in her blog.
"Four years from now, I will be able to recall the warmth and excitement I felt when listening to her lectures," Xu wrote.
"She impressed me so much with her deft use of news stories, folk tales, anecdotes about daily life, a bulk of quotes from such classic as the Analects of Confucius, and, more importantly, her personal but insightful ideas about life and society. Looking at her from a distance, I was deeply moved by her passion and courage."
Living by simple truths
"At first, I shared my thoughts only with my students in the classroom. When I was first invited years ago to give a lecture to some 800 audience members in my university, I was not sure what their reactions were," Yu recalled.
"After I ended my first speech, I was greeted with thunderous applause, and, to my surprise, I found that many of my audiences were clapping their hands excitedly with tears in the eyes. That scene is always fresh in my mind and it gives me a strong sense of commitment."
Happy about the warm responses from her audiences, Yu keeps rearranging her lectures about classics and life. Each time she delivers them, she would add something new to make them more appealing.
"What attracts my audiences is not my personality but rather, the wisdom hidden in those dust-laden classics," Yu said.
At the beginning of a new century, many people are facing too many choices and value conflicts. They are simply disoriented. They must find something to live by, Yu said.
"I have found that an increasing number of contemporary Chinese scholars, writers, artists, business people and common folks are all seeking wisdom from traditional Chinese culture. This phenomenon may partly reveal the reason for the unexpected popularity of my lectures about the Analects of Confucius," she said.
In her eyes, Confucius the Sage is "an amiable elderly intellectual who is always in action to actualize his idealistic ideas about life and society."
Yu claimed that she has been living by all she has learned in history books and Confucian and Taoist classics.
"Those philosophical, inspiring ideas and arguments about human existence and societal life, as I see it, should not be regarded merely as interesting quotes, glistening with wisdom but of little use for day-to-day living. Instead, they are simple truths that can penetrate the barrier of time and space and shed new light for the future direction of every living human," she said.
Every one of us will have sorrows, setbacks and frustration in our daily life, but we cannot always take control of these situations, she said.
"More often, we can readjust our way of thinking and tactics so that we can survive the annoying situations while maintaining a peaceful mind. For that matter, those simple truths can help us a lot," said Yu, who began learning Confucian classics at age 4.
Yu admitted that she lived a lonely and somewhat painful childhood along with her grandma in a courtyard in Beijing when her parents and grandpa, victims of political turmoil in the 1960s, were exiled to rural areas thousands of miles from Beijing.
But now, Yu is grateful for the early education she got during those lonely years.
"As the only daughter to politically incorrect parents, I failed to find my friends among small kids. I had to pour all of my heart into reading books and reciting excerpts from Chinese literature, including Confucian classics and Tang Dynasty poems. Besides, my grandma taught me to sing the Kunqu Opera and to write calligraphy with a brushTraditional Chinese culture took root in my heart from that time on," Yu recalled.
Though always impressing people with her memory and eloquence, Yu admitted that she remained reticent until she enrolled in Beijing No 4 Middle School, where she was encouraged by teachers to express herself and befriended her classmates in the dormitory.
"Perhaps, what I am doing now as a talkative media consultant and lecturer on TV is guided by an unconscious urge to make up for my quiet and unhappy childhood," joked Yu.