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Experiencing the after effects of The Great Leap Forward


Language difficulties when lecturing in China
Norman Greenwood Scientist
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We were put up in a university residence, in those days that was pretty basic, but the people were without exception very kind, very solicitous, very thoughtful, and they gave us a wonderful time there.

My job was to lecture to the students, but of course in those days none of the under-graduate students were familiar with English. Some of the professors were, to some extent, and so I had to lecture by making a particular point and perhaps writing something on the board. And then after two or three minutes that section would be translated, so a one-hour lecture was certainly a good two to two-and-a-half hours.

But this was made possible by a delightful Chinese custom of having fresh tea, green tea, in little teacups, which were continually replaced. As you sipped something, someone was detailed to keep the cup refilled.

And whilst the Chinese professor was speaking he would be putting Chinese characters on the board so that the students were following. But quite clearly it was limited, the amount that one could transmit in this way, or indeed the level, because I began to feel that the level of the students was not as high as we would have expected perhaps in Western Europe at that time.

Norman Greenwood (1925-2012) was born in Australia and graduated from Melbourne University before going to Cambridge. His wide-ranging research in inorganic and structural chemistry made major advances in the chemistry of boron hydrides and other main-group element compounds. He also pioneered the application of Mössbauer spectroscopy to problems in chemistry. He was a prolific writer and inspirational lecturer on chemical and educational themes, and held numerous visiting professorships throughout the world.

Listeners: Brian Johnson

Professor Brian FG Johnson FRS, FRSE, FRS Chem, FAcad Eu, FAS. Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Edinburgh 1991-1995, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Cambridge 1995-2005, Master Fitzwilliam College Cambridge 1999-2005. Research interests include studies of transition metal carbonyls, organometallic chemistry, nano- particles and homogeneous catalysis. Professor Johnson is the author of over 1000 research articles and papers.

Tags: China, Wuhan University

Duration: 1 minute, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2011

Date story went live: 25 November 2011