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No Jobs for Calligraphy Grads

When Wang Lifeng entered the calligraphy department at Shanghai Teachers University four years ago, he didn't expect to end up with a job making french fries at KFC.

But with other potential employers blowing him off after spotting the major on his resume, that's where he ended up, making about 1,000 yuan (US$120) a month as an assistant manager.

"What I do for a living now has nothing to do with what I have learned," Wang sighed.

Most of his 20 classmates, the city's first group of graduates majoring in calligraphy, are in the same situation. Three found jobs teaching the ancient art form at local middle schools and one has gone on to study for her masters, but the rest are either unemployed or stuck working soulless McJobs.

In 1999, Shanghai Teachers University set up the only calligraphy department in the city, aiming to pass on the traditional Chinese art by training professionals in calligraphy, Chinese painting and seal-cutting.

Twenty students from all over the country are enrolled each year.

Surprisingly, the number of students applying to enter the department is increasing every year, with most of them good at the art form but who fared poorly in the college entrance exam.

This year, some 150 high school graduates from Shandong Province competed for five positions in the class, university officials said. That's despite the fact calligraphy majors pay twice as much tuition, about 10,000 yuan a year, as most students.

"Many prospective employers promptly rejected me after checking my educational background. They just have no interest in the major, thinking it is totally out-of-date," said Wang.

"This kind of bias really exists in the modern computer world, which poses great difficulty for us," admitted Zhang Xin, dean of the calligraphy department.

The Shanghai Education Commission has urged schools to add handwriting courses to the curriculum, but most teachers can't find time to teach the art.

"After all, students have to sit for exams and face fierce competition in modern society," said a local secondary school headmaster who says it's more important to spend class time on math, science, English and other key subjects.

Many students in the calligraphy department have started studying a second major, such as English, to help their future job search.

"It is not enough to rely only on your major if you want to find your position in society. Also, we should ensure that what we learn is in pace with the times," said Gao Jie, another calligraphy graduate.

(Xinhua News Agency Novermber 19, 2003)

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