Maria Holland

Chinese Proverbs

In Uncategorized on October 7, 2011 at 9:33 pm

One of the cool things about studying Chinese and living in China is that, after you return to America, you realize how often Chinese language and culture is appropriate in our culture.  Prominent examples include tattoos and proverbs.  Please check out Hanzismatter for the former if you haven’t yet, and for the latter – I’m sure everyone can list at least one thing that “Confucius say”.

On my first day of class here at Stanford, I went to my Linear Algebra class in the Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center in the new engineering quad.  It’s a very nice new building in an whole area of new development, and the whole thing just screams “design”.  It definitely gives the impression that every element of each building was carefully thought out and intended to convey some idea. 

So as I approached the doors (in the lower left-hand corner of the picture above, I was surprised to notice that, of the 6 doors in the front of the building, only the doors on the farthest left and farthest right have handles and are able to be opened.  Interesting, I thought, I wonder what the designer was thinking when he came up with this

I asked a few students their thoughts, but we came up with nothing conclusive.  On the way out after class, though, I noticed a quote engraved on stone set into the patio directly in front of the unopenable doors. 


“Teachers open the door but you must walk through it yourself.”
– Chinese proverb

Now that really made me think about the conscious choice to make it impossible for students to open 2/3 of the doors.

Seems odd to me for a school like Stanford to encourage students to think that doors (in the figurative sense of the proverb) can only be opened by teachers.  I’ve been told several times that in a PhD, you teach yourself – open your own doors and walk through them, if you will.

Maybe it’s just a subtle reminder of how selective the school is – the teachers here have left some doors open, but only for some students.

Or maybe they just googled “door chinese proverb”.  (At least they chose the one from the first two results and not the third . . .)

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