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November 14, 2010

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Best professor in our hearts

LU Gusun, multi-faceted man of letters, has earned many accolades over 30 years in which he has been "caught in the web of words" and at 70 years of age the wordsmith is still forging ahead.

Lu is a lexicographer, professor of English literature, Shakespeare expert, translator, interpreter, critic -- and today a frequent and often outspoken blogger and social commentator. He still teaches at Fudan University where he graduated, his four weekly classes are packed and the native of Zhejiang Province continues to be voted the "Best Professor in My Heart" by graduates.

"Caught in the web of words," is how Lu has described his career, a phrase also used to describe James H.A. Murray, first editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Lu is best-known for compiling Chinaís first major English-Chinese dictionary, an award-winning 4,212-page tome in two volumes, with more than 200,000 entries and more than 16 million words. Volume II was published in 1991. The second edition was published in 2007. It is widely considered the best bilingual dictionary in the East.

Heís laden with honors and titles, but hardly overawed by them or the people who bestow them.

Traditionally Chinese professors -- authority figures who are supposed to be role models -- are expected to be reserved, to stick to their field and not be too passionate; theyíre supposed to have gravitas. It is said that the more illustrious a professor is and the more honors he (or she) has garnered -- the more neutral and mainstream his or her professed views.

Thatís not the case with Lu, a revered and sometimes irreverent figure who once made a rule for himself that in each class students should laugh out loud three times.

After Lu gave a talk to journalists in August, Shanghai Daily caught up with him to find out whatís on his mind, and read his blogs.

Heís simply dressed, wears metal-rimmed specs and speaks with energy, passion and humor about his life and work -- and even the pursuit of BMWs.

Today Lu still swims in the ocean of words. Now he is planning an unusual Chinese-English dictionary. Unlike basic bilingual dictionaries, it will not only give definitions but also, most significantly, analyze the structure and meaning of characters, known as hanzi. Publication is scheduled for 2015.

"Hanzi originated in the ancient hieroglyphics," Lu told Shanghai Daily during the interview after his lecture. "I hope analysis of the word structure will increase people's interest in hanzi."

Since January Lu - with the handle "Immortal" - has been blogging away on everything from World Cup matches to a backed up toilet, from students who fail to come forward in case of a fatal car accident to the power of Mammon in the Chinese media.

He writes in Chinese, sometimes classical Chinese, Shanghainese and English. He muses about students' papers, rants about bad traffic, writes book reviews and discusses social issues. He usually ends his posts with a picture, often humorous and biting, that sums up his thoughts.

Speaking to journalists in August, Lu said he decided to blog instead of write columms for newspapers because in cyberspace "I can write anything I want."

On October 31, he posted "Damn It! You Old Bastard!" in Shanghai dialect, describing how he was nearly hit by a motorcyclist who was going the wrong way against traffic.

On October 28, Lu wrote about the scandalous behavior of timid or indifferent Hebei University students who remained silent after witnessing a fatal accident. The driver boasted he was the son of a powerful man.

"Go ahead, try to sue me - my father is Li Gang," witnesses quoted him as saying.

The case created a national uproar. Lu said parents and teachers should bear more responsibility for students' apathy and refusal to do the right thing. "It's a question for teachers," he blogged.

"We can't provide students good jobs and high salaries, but what can we do to urge them to fight instead of withdraw, to help them accept responsibility, even if they are threatened? ... Are we teachers qualified to be their role models?"

Lu still lives in the No. 9 teachers' residence building of the university. His wife and daughter moved to the United States years ago. The 100 square-meter place is roomy, but damp and rundown. He never considered moving.

"I like this place, with red brick walls and dense green trees in the garden. Sometimes there's a melody played by a kid upstairs. Isn't it great?" he said.

"People have their own pursuits. I feel useful teaching here. I could do nothing but read books in the States. When I visited my daughter there, she drove me to the bookstore every morning and picked me up on her way home," said Lu.

"Besides, I just can't leave. Every time when I hear the buzzing of insects in autumn, I know I would miss it too much."


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