Liu Xiyun, a 17-year-old at Chengdu No. 7 High School, recently published a English philosophical sci-fi novel, sparking online controversy. Sichuan Online and West China City Daily spoke to Xiyun, her father, Liu Xun, her teachers and schoolmates.
Liu Xun, a professor at the Chengdu University of Technology, said he has not read his daughter's book.
In response to her frequent questions about life and the universe, he never once refuted her ideas, replying that he doesn't know or suggesting that they refer to books.
"We have a common belief that 'anything is possible'," he said, adding that Xiyun is an independent child who makes her own decisions such as staying on-campus.
She did not tell anyone about sending scientific articles to professors overseas. Liu Xun found out only when he realized she was stretching her allowance for postal fees. A Cambridge professor replied.
Liu Xun shared three parenting tips.
Firstly, give your child time, in terms of her personal time and time spent together. When Xiyun was obsessed with reading in the first year of senior high, scoring just 12 points for Math, her mother was troubled. Xiyun only grew more stubborn with her mother's nagging. Liu Xun took the soft approach by advising her to manage her time well so that she would not neglect her academic foundation.
On weekends, he accompanies her for walks, watching films, going to bookstores and seldom rejects her requests for any of the above activities. The father-and-daughter duo watch a variety of films, from comedies to abstract ones, and talk about them. Liu Xun finds that the recent social realist film, Guanyin Shan, shot at the Lingyan Guanyin Mountain in Sichuan's Dujiangyan, reveals that everyone has a deep-rooted joy in their hearts despite the transience of life.
In-charge of receiving books that Xiyun buys online, he is sometimes stunned to see titles by renowned neuroscientists such as Max Benett. Liu Xun is not ashamed that his daughter reads more widely than he does and sees understanding her as part of his familial responsibility and personal learning.
Secondly, answer all her questions. However, he feels that she is too bookish and not socialized and street-smart enough to cope with studying overseas, as much as she wishes to, for her undergraduate pursuits. Instead of saying 'no', he told her she can go ahead if she gets a scholarship.
Lastly, give her a chance to experience. At sixth grade, Xiyun was entranced by tales of the desert and grassland after reading Wolf Totem. A popular novel at that time, it was an account of a young Beijing student settling down in the Inner Mongolian countryside during the Cultural Revolution. She pestered her parents to move to the prairies, yearning to be a free-spirited descendant of Genghis Khan. Liu Xun did not say much but signed her up for the West China City Daily young journalists' team reporting trip to Inner Mongolia. After experiencing the exhausting journey, Xiyun never talked about moving to such vast landscapes again.
Liu Xun stressed the importance of encouraging your child to take bold actions. He is supportive of Xiyun going to the States or the UK, after learning about her mailing scientific articles to foreign professors.
Giving her freedom of thought helps her to be independent in character, he concluded.
Although Xiyun is at the bottom of her Math class, her teacher Du Xiaowen finds her remarkably studious.
"Each year, each province produces a top scholar from gaokao (the national college-entrance exam), but we do not see geniuses annually," Du said.
In the classroom, Xiyun participates actively and asks questions even after lessons. Undeterred by embarrassment for giving wrong answers, Xiyun never hesitates to raise her hand in class. Once, Du noticed she made a query with tear-filled eyes.
Her way of thinking is not entirely rational and she has spent limited time on Mathematics, resulting in her difficulties with the subject at senior high school level, according to Du.
Gaokao is important but it's not worth it to kill a student's imagination over the pursuit of academic excellence, said her form teacher, Zhou Hong.
Zhou pointed out that Xiyun is accumulating plenty of knowledge, although she may be not a genius and is seemed to be wasting time based on the exam-oriented approach of education.
Her interests differ from most students as she considers Marxist philosophies seriously while writing her essays for Politics class. Teacher Yuan Ying saves Xiyun's mobile contact as 'Liu Zhe Xue', loosely translated as 'Liu Philosophy'. Yuan knows of Xiyun's keen interest in philosophy and her dreams of reading Philosophy at Trinity College, Cambridge.
"She actually questioned dialectics," said Yuan, "Some of her ideas sound inconceivable initially but she is sincere in bringing her viewpoints across systematically."
In between lessons, when her thoughts are most active, she runs from the first floor to the fifth and across each storey. Xiyun's behaviour is deemed as weird and outrageous, mainly because the pressures from gaokao has caused most students to be deadpan and passive, reasoned her Language teacher Hong Kun.
They see her someone who is knowledgeable and cheerful, but with few friends as she likes being alone.
"She has foresight and plans her path clearly. We admire her for having more than just enthusiasm," quipped a schoolmate.
Another added that she was low-key about publishing the book, without revealing any plans before.
Xiyun is the chief editor of the school's Science Club magazine "Dreams of the Future". However, some of her counterparts had no idea that she was so obsessed with science to the extent of publishing an English book.
One of them said that Xiyun is probably more suited for studying overseas. A schoolmate surnamed Fan feels that Xiyun does not have a complete understanding of some theoretical basics.
Answering netizens' queries
Question: Was the entire 200,000-word novel written in professional terms? Are there a lot of grammatical errors?
Luo Yang, English teacher: Grammatical errors are unavoidable for senior high school students. Some scientific terms were not expressed professionally but it doesn't matter as long as readers understand. "A Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawkings was also written in conversational language.
LXY: There isn't a lot of jargon used, except when relating to scientific theories. I didn't have to keep referring to the dictionary, given my grasp of vocabulary since learning English at nursery. I'm working on the corrections now.
Question: Since you find senior high school Mathematics tough, how do you understand quantum mechanics?
LXY: There isn't much related between the two. The purely physical aspects of quantum mechanics confounds me. However, my research is focused on philosophical aspects, such as consciousness.
In ancient Greece, there was no clear division between philosophy and natural science. Edison and Nietzsche did not score well for Math in school, but that did not affect their subsequent contributions to academia.
Netizens who commented on the article are supportive of her father's parenting approach, adding that technically-skilled talents are aplenty in China, whereas those who know what they want and are determined to achieve accordingly are few. One netizen also voiced the need for teaching students in accordance with their aptitude in Chinese schools.