Peiji Tong: Perseverance is the key to my success

Peiji Tong’s life has been rich in twists that one can often find in heroic fairy tales: self-educating himself along the way from a driver to a doctoral advisor, earning titles from lecturers to professors and being the only professor with high-school background in the entire country.

Peiji Tong, a professor at the College of Chinese Language and Literature of Henan University and a famous Tang poetry expert in China, is praised to lead a legendary life by many. But he believes there is nothing than fruits from unremitting efforts.

Tong asserted that he owed a great deal from his mother who had graduated from Qingdao Preschool Teachers' School. "Since I was a child, I started to learn from my mom to read, write and paint. I even mastered what the second graders learn when I was three."

His life turned into a new chapter in 1955, when he was 11 in the fifth grade. He was required by his teacher to recite a poem every day during his summer holiday. So, he started his recitation of Poems, Three Hundred Poems of Tang Dynasty and Ten Thousand Tang Dynasty Quatrains from the Kaifeng City Library. This summer gave him a change to immerse his young soul in poems, which impacts his future forever.

He was then admitted to Kaifeng Senior High School, the best high school in Kaifeng and graduated at the age of 19. His yearning for knowledge, however, did not stop after graduation.  

When Tong was serving as a motor transport operator in a unit of the former Beijing Military Region under the national military conscription, he virtually spent most of his allowance (approximately 5 yuan each month) buying books and his rare breaks reading those books. Discharged from the army, he was dispatched to Kaifeng High Pressure Valve Factory and worked as a driver, which was a higher-paid job. But to him, this purely means he could buy more books.

One day, on the street, he was introduced to work as a driver for Kaifeng Normal University (now Henan University) by his elementary classmate who was working at the university at that time. Agreeing without even a second thought despite the less favorable pay compared to the previous job, Tong just felt that if he was not able to enroll in university as a student, he could do as a staff. Unexpectedly, the very first thing he did after being successfully recruited was to register a library card.

Working at Kaifeng Normal University not only enriched his choices of books but also gained him valuable chances to meet up with experts and scholars, which to him was a blessing. When driving teachers and experts to work, he took every chance to ask questions and share his opinions with them, impressing the teachers and staff with his enthusiasm for learning.

In 1977, the Nationwide Unified Examination for Admissions to General Universities and Colleges was restored. Peiji Tong decided to grab this one-off chance that can realize his scholar dream. He applied for the Institute of Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. His continuous self-training persuaded the University's leaders to allow him a teaching position in Tang Poetry Institute of the College of Chinese Language and Literature.

Researching extensively, Tong published numerous papers with original ideas such as Discrimination of Border Songs by Gao Shi and Opinions on Reissued Poems in the Early Tang Dynasty, to name a few. A number of books written by him have also been widely recognized, such as Opinions on Reissued and Wrongly Included Works in Tang Poems, Annotations to Meng Haoran's Poems and Selected Works of Xin Qiji.

In 2002, Henan University started to run a doctoral program in Chinese classical literature, of which Peiji Tong was elected to be the first academic leader. In applying his profiles to the Academic Degrees Office of the State Council, he was assumed to leave the form incomplete because the education section merely ceased at high school. Only after the office staff were diverted to the academic achievements which describes his significant contributions to the national literature fields did the staff understood his extraordinary qualities. This then means Tong successfully applied for first the academic leader position in Chinese Classical Literature at Henan University.

Tong is a good example for people to refer to when it comes to perseverance in learning. Now, although he has achieved a certain level of fame and is retired, he is still working effortfully in his mini study where books spread from his desk to the bookshelves beside the wall to the ground.

"I still used my retirement pay on food, my children and a large part on books," he laughed in contentment.

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