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Classic tale: Peddler joins PhD program
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09:04, April 29, 2009

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It could be the plot of a Hollywood movie: A laid-off factory worker's life turned upside-down after he is accepted into a PhD program at a prestigious university.

For Cai Wei it is a dream come true.

Despite failing his college entrance exam years ago, the 38-year-old street peddler and part-time bicycle taxi driver from Jinzhou, Liaoning province, followed his love and continued to study classic Chinese literature on his own.

He learned so much about the field he attracted the attention of a prominent scholar, who even made changes to his own work based on Cai's suggestions.

"Many experts cannot compete with him at classical literature," said Qiu Xigui, a professor at Shanghai's Fudan University and one of the experts who backed Cai's PhD application.

Cai's love of classical Chinese literature began in primary school, and he has been reading book after book ever since.

"My wife always complained it was no use studying such ancient literature, but I really love it."

After leaving high school, he worked in a rubber factory for several years before being laid off. He then became a roadside peddler, and began moonlighting as a tricycle delivery driver when his wife fell ill in 2007.

"It was a really difficult time, but my interest in literature didn't stop," he said. "I studied ancient documents and published articles in online forums."

He then came to the attention of Qiu, who learned of Cai's circumstances and invited him to join a research project on ancient texts at the university.

"I had never dreamed of becoming a university student, not to mention a PhD student," said Cai. "I so much cherished the chance to sit down with these professors to study."

He will soon begin his studies for a doctorate in ancient Chinese language at Fudan University with Qiu as his supervisor.

In consideration for his academic background, Cai will not be asked to study English, according to the university's administration department.

"The voting rights for academic talent, especially in the doctoral phase, should be given back to the professors rather than the departments, because they are most qualified to judge who the most suitable candidates are," Xiong Bingqi, an expert on higher education, told China Daily yesterday.

"Although exams are relatively fair tools to select talent, some people with special gifts may be ignored," he said.

This year, Fudan University announced changes to its admissions policy to give professors more leeway in picking their own PhD candidates. Previously, only those who had obtained a master's degree could apply. In Cai's case, he was recommended by three professors, including Qiu, and was admitted without a qualifying exam.

Many netizens argue that selecting candidates by professors' recommendation may lead to placements under the table.

"I think such a problem can be avoided if there is a stringent supervision system. The responsibility (to supervise) should be given to the administration departments," said Gu Yunshen, vice-president of Fudan University's graduate school.

"Meanwhile, we should fully trust those professors, who value their reputation."

Source: China Daily

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