Ads for soft drinks and fashion magazines have crept onto Chinese
campuses - not only spoiling the ambiance but undermining the very
essence of education in the arts and sciences.
Fashion Maker, a young advertising company owned and operated by
a team of college undergraduates, has bought up ad space in the
dining halls of 46 colleges and universities in Shanghai.
Fashion Maker has also covered 40 colleges in other cities with
advertisements and is approaching others for ad space, according to
the Jiefang Daily on Tuesday.
Indeed, these young people are admirable for their
entrepreneurship. Their ambition, however, has been misdirected to
halls of learning.
Universities are not proper places for commercial ads.
Defined by English statesman Benjamin Disraeli as "a place of
light, of liberty and of learning," a university should be a home
to liberal pursuits in humanities and sciences, a temple of the
The Chinese term for university is Daxue. Da means "large or
great," and xue means "learning." A Daxue per se is a place for
studies on great, elevating and enlightening subjects. Commercial
advertisements, on the contrary, do not fall into the category of
great or enlightening subjects.
Some may dismiss this as exaggeration. They may thus question
the efficacy of wholesale bans. That's no more than a partial
There are, tragically, quite a few colleges and universities
that are infatuated with opening themselves to waves of
Prestigious colleges and universities overseas, by contrast,
have more confidence in their role as home to the mind in an age of
money. For them, it is not necessary to boycott the presence of
ads. Thanks to their time-honoured tradition, the presence of
commercial advertising on their campuses is virtually
"Elite universities in the US, such as Yale and Princeton, have
most impressive campuses," said Professor Sun Xiangchen, vice-dean
of the school of philosophy at Fudan university. "The spaces are
tranquil and solemn, steeped in history and ideas of enduring
Professor Sun was a visiting scholar from 2003 to 2004 at Yale
University. He described with delight the neo-gothic Common Room of
the Graduate School of Art and Science, the lunch times and coffee
breaks there, when students, teachers and scholars shared their
views and thoughts in refined conversations.
"All these would be nullified, if you raise your eyes and see an
ad for Coca Cola on the wall of the Common Room," he said. His
words remind me of Irish poet W. B. Yeats, who wrote in his
letters, "I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and
remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people
to sing instead of speaking. It's all ... like an opera."
The beauty would be damaged, if this opera were interrupted by
the jarring notes of commercial ads. "Education takes place not
only in lecture rooms," Sun added. "But in daily campus life as
Since every part of a university space is significant for
education in daily life, the space of dining halls should not be
seen as a somewhat "worldly" space on campus. Like libraries or
lecture rooms, dining halls should not be commercialized at
If students listened to lectures on literature, politics and the
sciences in auditoriums - and then were beguiled through ads
presenting cheap pleasures of mass consumption at their refectory
tables - the "being" of universities would be turned into a
"misbeing" of self-contradiction.
When ads occupy dining halls, it would be very difficult to hold
the line at libraries and lecture rooms.
The self-contradiction would thus lead to the self-destruction
of universities as places of undisturbed learning.
(Shanghai Daily March 10, 2007)