Pronunciation mistake at top Chinese university stirs discussion

Updated 2018-05-07 10:15:02

An embarrassing pronunciation mistake by the head of one of China's top universities has become a major talking point on social media platforms with many welcoming his apology but others wondering how a prominent academic could make such an error.

Professor Lin Jianhua, president of Peking University, mispronounced "Hong Hu Zhi" as "Hong Hao Zhi" during a speech at the university's 120th anniversary on Friday.

In Chinese, "Hong Hu" means swans and "Zhi" means hopes and wishes. Hong Hu Zhi, literally meaning swans' hopes, is used to describe people who have ambitions.

On the day after the speech, the president posted an apology letter to students on the internal bulletin board system of the university.

In the letter, Professor Lin, a scientist, said that he had not known the correct pronunciation of the word until he made the mistake. He went on to say that he did not have very strong literature knowledge since the basic education he received in primary and secondary school was in the period of the Cultural Revolution. As a result, he didn't understand what the subject in a sentence was until he took his college entrance examination.

"The purpose of the letter is to let you know the real me, instead of defending my ignorance or the mistake," he wrote, "Your president is a person with a deficiency who can make mistakes."

Soon after that, the letter and the school became a matter of open discussion on social media. Judgment about the president, the letter, the school and even how he should apologize has varied.

"Taught me a lot"

"It is very difficult for some people to face their shortcomings," Whisper commented. "I give my respect to the president."

"After reading your letter, I forgive your mistake and imperfections. Your sincerity and courage have taught me a lot," Dan Xiao De Mian Hua Tang wrote. "We should tolerate our parents, who received their primary education during the Cultural Revolution."

"Sincerity is more important than perfection," Ji Feng Cao said.

However, the letter has also created a lot of doubts.

"He really should apologize because the mistake was made on such a serious occasion," Shang Shan Ruo Shui said. "To respect the audience, the script should be carefully prepared before the speech is made."

Professor Lin Jianhua gained his PhD in chemistry in 1986 at Peking University and then taught at the university after graduation. He has since undertaken over 800 research projects and published more than 140 academic papers.

The anniversary ceremony was held at the school's Khoo Teck Puat Gymnasium and was attended by numerous notable figures, including Peter Salovey, president of Yale University, and Li Yanhong, CEO of Baidu, China's top search engine website, as well as current school staff and students.

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