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From campus to the Himalayas

By WANG YUTING and LIU KUN | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-12-06 08:32
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Top left: Yang Xiaohan delivered a speech at the graduation ceremony at Wuhan University on June 22, 2022. Top right: Yang (front) took a photo with children in Gyirong county, Xizang autonomous region, on Dec 14, 2022. Middle: An aerial view of Gyirong county taken by Yang during a plateau ecological environment protection activity in April 2023. Above: Yang posed with the boundary monument at the border between Gyirong county and Nepal on July 1, 2022. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Wuhan University graduate Yang Xiaohan embarks on a transformative journey, exploring the essence of excellence through scientific pursuits, voluntary service, and a deep commitment to patriotism.

Yang Xiaohan, 24, made an unusual decision upon graduation from Wuhan University, in Central China's Hubei province, last year. Although he had just been admitted to the master's program at the university's School of Geodesy and Geomatics, he decided to take a year off and to embark on a journey to Southwest China's Xizang autonomous region.

It all started in Yang's freshman year when he attended a lecture delivered by the university's president at the time, Dou Xiankang, who stated, "To become an excellent individual is the epochal responsibility of Wuhan University students."

This resonated deeply with Yang, a boy from Tianshui, Northwest China's Gansu province. It guided him to grasp the essence of China's higher education spirit and prompted him to contemplate the definition of "excellence".

In Yang's eyes, the excellence of Wuhan University is prominently manifested in the pursuit of an exceptional scientific spirit and a daring, innovative approach to practical endeavors.

"When I witnessed elderly academicians lecturing with sharp minds and agile thinking on the podium, and when I learned about surveyors fearlessly collecting geographic information in challenging natural environments, I truly understood what an excellent scientific attitude entails," Yang said.

Throughout his four years as an undergraduate, Yang went beyond academic pursuits. He continuously engaged in various forms of community service and cultural events, using his eyes and footsteps to broaden the boundaries and perspectives of his life.

"I have seen the world beyond the ivory tower and heard the voices of numerous ordinary people," he said.

At the 2022 graduation ceremony of Wuhan University, Yang, speaking as the representative of the graduating class, articulated another layer of his understanding of "excellence": "An outstanding individual should also possess a deep sense of patriotism and prioritize the wellbeing of the people."

A series of questions stirred within Yang: What defines China's borders? What unfolds at the grassroots? How must Chinese youth embrace contemporary responsibilities? These questions led him to momentarily halt postgraduate studies and enroll in the China's Far West Program, a venture which was initiated in 2003 and has deployed over 410,000 graduates and postgraduates to the underdeveloped western region for one to three years of volunteer service.

Yang's family, teachers, and friends were all very supportive of his decision. "My graduate adviser, considering the many responsibilities I would have during the volunteer mission in Xizang, tried to minimize the research workload for me as much as possible," he said. "My family also prepared warm clothing and medication for altitude sickness for me."

Before officially embarking on his journey, Yang made thorough preparations to quickly adapt to work and life in Xizang. He extensively gathered information about Xizang from online sources to better understand the local social conditions.

In order to acclimate to the high-altitude environment in advance, he chose Gannan Tibetan autonomous prefecture in Gansu province, located on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau at an altitude of 3,000 meters, as his graduation travel destination.

Yang was eventually assigned to Gyirong county, situated at an altitude of over 4,100 meters. Bordering Nepal, it is in the seismic zone of the Himalayas.

Upon arriving in Gyirong, Yang was struck by severe altitude sickness. The oxygen deficiency caused his fingernails to turn purple, and he found it difficult to sleep at night. In response, Yang dedicated himself to a daily 10-minute jogging routine, aiming to boost his lung capacity.

"My initial impression of Gyirong was remote and desolate, but as I delved deeper, I discovered that it is much more modernized than I had imagined," Yang said.

On the very next day after Yang's arrival, a local outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic occurred. Having just learned how to wear and remove protective gear the evening before, he promptly received an urgent mission: a high-risk zone village required assistance in collecting nucleic acid information.

"In high-altitude areas, the body undergoes significant impacts once infected. Just as everyone remained silent, a Tibetan senior cadre stepped forward. I was deeply inspired and decided to join as well," Yang recalled.

On the way to the village, Yang learned that the Tibetan cadre, named Basang Tsering, had served as the Party secretary and chief procurator of the People's Procuratorate of Xizang's Ngamring county. Despite retiring for medical reasons, when the pandemic broke out, Tsering rushed to the frontline without hesitation.

"During the battle of pandemic prevention, working overtime and staying up late at night became our routine," Yang said. "However, Tsering never retreated, putting in as much effort as us younger folks."

Yang saw the tangible embodiment of patriotism from this respected elder, reinforcing his determination to face challenges head-on and serve the people.

On July 1, 2022, coinciding with the 101st anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, Yang participated in the cleaning and marking of the boundary monument at the border between Gyirong and Nepal under the arrangement of the Gyirong Committee Organization Department.

Along the way, Yang encountered multiple challenges — being bitten several times by leeches and navigating the slippery road, which almost caused him to fall into the torrential river.

"This experience has given me a deeper understanding of the indelible connection between myself and this homeland," Yang said.

Throughout his year of volunteer work, Yang not only gained insights into the customs and culture of Xizang but also came to understand the significance of the Party's grassroots efforts for the Tibetan people and the profound sentiments that Tibetans hold for the Communist Party of China.

"This year's stay in Xizang has given me a renewed perspective on 'excellence'," Yang said.

"Excellence lies not only in the pursuit of perfection but also in accepting flaws and imperfections. As long as we do our best, regardless of the outcome, it is progress compared to before."

For Yang, the once grand and abstract responsibility has now materialized through his volunteer service, becoming small acts of kindness and perseverance in daily life.

"I believe that young people in China, especially those with knowledge and abilities, should strive to integrate self-realization with social development," Yang said.

"By doing our own job well, approaching others with empathy and compassion, and communicating with others on an equal footing, we can contribute our goodwill to society."

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