Mainland media have sounded a note of cautionary approval over a decision by a Liaoning girl to walk away from a scholarship offered by the University of Hong Kong in the hopes of attending Peking University.
Liu Dingning won a full scholarship, worth HK$720,000, to HKU after scoring top marks in the National College Entrance Exam. She enrolled in HKU's School of Chinese in the autumn, but just weeks into the semester took a leave of absence and returned to Benxi.
There were many reasons for her decision. According to the Chengdu Economic Daily, she had difficulty adjusting to life in Hong Kong. She did not understand Cantonese, had trouble with her eyesight and was not used to sitting at a computer for extended periods. She found the city's hot, humid weather uncomfortable compared to the northeastern climate of her hometown. But she was most bothered by the courses which were different from how she perceived classic Chinese literature.
Liu's father told the Chengdu Economic Daily she had long dreamed of studying classical language at Peking University. But her parents spent a night persuading her to go to HKU instead. She reluctantly obeyed them, but said on a television programme on Hunan Television she would go to Peking University eventually.
HKU admitted 303 mainland pupils this year, from a record number of 12,513 applicants. Among them, 16 received top scores at the provincial or municipal levels. The university told the newspaper that Liu had been told she could return for studies and would still be entitled to the scholarship.
A HKU spokesperson earlier told the Sunday Morning Post: "Ms Liu Dingning has expressed her wish to take leave of absence from her study at the Faculty of Arts. We will also offer any assistance, on matters of academics and others, where needed. We have been liaising with Peking University with a view to working out possible arrangement for her to pursue the studies that she is most interested in."
Peking University told the Liaoshen Evening News that it would welcome Liu but she would have to go through the usual admittance process.
Liu's decision triggered surprise on the mainland. In a commentary, the Guangzhou Daily said Liu was free to make her own choices, but she should consider that adjusting to life at Peking University might prove difficult also.
A university degree only accounted for a small part of the pursuit of classical literature and the Chinese department at her new school might not fit her vision of "pure Chinese".
"I urge Liu to be patient and try to adjust her attitude before making any decision. It is too early to tell whether you can easily adapt to life in a new city given your stay in HKU was only for a little while," the paper said.
The Changchun Daily thought otherwise and praised Liu for chasing her dream. "She is following her yearning to attend Peking University and is brave enough to disregard material gains. Her purity and persistence is moving and admirable," it said.
The newspaper added: "We should respect her privacy and right to choose and wish that her dreams come true. That should be the attitude of our increasingly open and tolerant society."
Another commentary published on Eastday.com expressed admiration for Liu's parents' open-mindedness and lauded her maturity in taking responsibility for herself.
The commentary asked that society in general, especially the media, leave Liu alone as she sought entrance to Peking University. People should not judge Liu in future, no matter if she succeeded or failed, it said.
China Science Daily urged Peking University to make an exception for Liu and allow her to be directly admitted. The university had made exceptions in the past, it said, and should show such wisdom again.