Lessons in the Law

Campus awakenings in Beijing – by Xie Ding, translated by Natascha Bruce

In fall 2003, around midday every Wednesday, I used to bike from the Wan Liu dorms over to class on the Peking University (Beida) campus. I was always in a rush, a little on edge.

It had been a tense year. First came SARS, which kept us all cooped up in the dorms. Then I caught a cold and was whisked off to a guest house in the southwest corner of campus, where I spent days quarantined in a tiny room, contemplating mortality. Then the new term started. We forgot about the upheaval we’d just been through. Our lives had ground to halt during the SARS outbreak and then, just like that, we put it all behind us. The same would soon be true of those leisurely hours spent in study and contemplation – just like that, graduation and job hunting would come to replace them. It was my final year at Beida. I selected a few courses at random, to make up credits. At the time, Zhao Xiaoli was a lecturer, teaching a course called ‘The History of Western Legal Thought.’