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Hunan First Normal University, a renowned teacher-training institution in Central China's Hunan province, has been the focus of national attention following a recent visit by President Xi Jinping.

Established as Chengnan Academy during the Southern Song period (1127-1279), the university has a rich cultural legacy spanning centuries. Its distinguished alumni include numerous revolutionaries and scholars, among them, Chairman Mao Zedong, who spent eight formative years studying and working at the institution.

On March 18, Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, visited the university during an inspection tour of Hunan. He toured an exhibition dedicated to Mao's youth and learned about the university's historical evolution and its exemplary utilization of resources related to the CPC's history.

Xi said that for a country to be strong, good education matters. He said that Hunan First Normal University is a perfect place to educate on patriotism and pass on the traditions of the Chinese revolution, urging efforts to protect the university's resources related to the Party's heritage and put them to effective use.

Hunan First Normal University has a rich cultural legacy spanning centuries and is known as the alma mater of Chairman Mao Zedong. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Luo Chengyi, Party secretary of Hunan First Normal University, says the president was moved by the university's motto, formulated by Mao, which reads "being the people's pupil before becoming their teacher".

Since the president's visit, the number of tourists to the university has more than doubled, according to He Zhongding, a guide at the exhibition hall.

Known as the alma mater of Mao, the university receives a large number of visitors every year, and saw 200,000 to 300,000 last year, according to the guide.

They are eager to pay tribute to the late Chinese leader and be inspired by him, he adds.

In 1161, Zhang Shi, a renowned scholar during the Southern Song period, founded Chengnan Academy, the precursor of the university.

In 1901, the government of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) implemented new policies to replace old-style academies with new schools. Two years later, Chengnan Academy was renamed the Hunan Faculty of Education and started to provide teacher education.

In 1949, it was renamed Hunan First Normal School, and in 2008, it adopted its current name, officially becoming a university.

After the old buildings of the school were destroyed in 1910, Kong Zhaoshou, then headmaster of the school, had new teaching buildings and dormitories rebuilt by simulating the style of the Tokyo University of the Arts.

During the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), the school was destroyed again. In 1966, it was restored to its former appearance at its original site.

A sculpture of a youthful Mao Zedong stands in the university, marking his early years of studying and working there. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Mao studied at the school from the spring of 1913 to the summer of 1918. After graduation, he served as the executive principal of the school's attached primary school and taught Chinese in its teacher-training department.

During his eight years at the school, Mao set the ambition of "transforming China and the world".

He studied with great eagerness and achieved a firm foundation of knowledge, undertook arduous physical exercise to strengthen his will and spent most of his school breaks on study tours across the country, conducting extensive research on society, especially on workers and farmers. He founded the Xinmin Institute in order to explore the way of saving the nation.

The social practices had laid the foundation to nurture his influential ideas — knowledge begins with practice — and were important to deal with problems in rural areas.

The classroom where Mao attended lectures was restored, and the well where he used to take cold showers in winter to toughen his spirit has been preserved.

At his dormitory, Mao proposed three rules with his roommate: They would not discuss money, trivial family matters or relationships.

Now students at the university can watch a TV series about Chairman Mao in the first week of college life, according to Yang Dan, head of the exhibition hall.

A team of about 150 student volunteers serve as tour guides to cope with the large visitor influx.

He Xinrou, 16, joined the team last year. She is studying for a six-year free undergraduate degree to teach in rural areas.

The government pays for her tuition and accommodation fees, and offers monthly subsidies. She is expected to return to rural areas in her hometown in Loudi, Hunan.

She says she wanted to become a teacher since childhood, and serving as a tour guide has reaffirmed her determination to become a rural teacher.

Liu Xiangzi, 15, is also a volunteer guide. As she learns more about Mao's life, she is more determined to serve the country by teaching students in rural areas in her hometown of Hengyang in Hunan.

"Many people believe that conditions in rural areas are not as good as in urban areas, but I believe it can help strengthen my mental prowess, and I can also make a difference there," she says.

Source: https://enapp.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202404/11/AP6617a810a310115ef06707f2.html

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