Compulsory classics get a mixed welcome

Medical students admitted to Chinese University this autumn will learn medical principles from a Chinese doctor who died about 2,000 years ago.

This is part of a new curriculum the university says 'will help students reflect on the meaning of life'. When degree courses are lengthened to four years next academic year, all the university's students will have to study the Chinese and Western classics.

The university will make sure the courses are related to the student's major. For example, a medical student will study medical principles put forward by the ancient Chinese physician Hua Tuo in The Book of the Later Han. He is the first person in China known to have used anaesthesia during surgery. Other students will read books by authors like Adam Smith, Charles Darwin and Karl Marx.

Leung Mei-yee, director of the university's general education foundation programme, says it will help students reflect on the meaning of life. She said this programme differs from liberal studies in secondary school, which only emphasises current affairs.

Professor Ho Che-wah, chairman of the department of Chinese language and literature, says students will appreciate Chinese literature better.

But Mervyn Cheung Man-ping, chairman of the Hong Kong Education Policy Concern Organisation, has doubts about the new curriculum. He opposes making such courses compulsory.

'The idea of introducing literature sounds a bit remote for me. But it will do no harm to introduce such courses as electives,' Cheung says.

Third-year medical student Prisca Yeung Wan-han will not be affected by the new curriculum but has doubts about the extra courses.

She says that since many of her classmates do not read Chinese, because they are from overseas or did not attend a local school, it would be difficult for them to study the Chinese classics.

'I have heard of Hua Tuo. But I do not know any details about him,' she says. The courses in medicine already give students enough stress, she feels, so students can do without the additional burden.

But fellow third-year medical student Avery Chu Kai-man says although many of Hua's medical principles differ from modern ones, it would be useful to know more about them.