Meng Man, an associate professor with Minzu University of China, in Beijing, mainly researches and studies the history of ancient Chinese women. She has given lectures on historical topics on CCTV (China Central Television)'s popular program, Lecture Room. She has also been a guest on several other TV programs. Her witty and enchanting narrative of history has attracted a wide audience.
Meng was born into an intellectual family in Langfang, in North China's Hebei Province, in 1975. Her parents were teachers. She says books were her best companions during childhood. "I lived in the residential area on the campus (where my parents worked). When I was a little girl, I didn't even know there were other occupations except for teachers. My childhood was all about attending classes and reading books," she says.
Bond with History
In 1992, Meng was admitted to Minzu University of China's history department. "Actually, my original choice was to study law, and to become a lawyer or a judge … At that time, people didn't think students who studied history would land a good job. However, the first day I attended classes, I realized that studying history exactly corresponded with my needs, and my temper. I have read historical books since my childhood," she says.
Meng obtained knowledge, and she learned how to be a person with good manners, and a good personality, from her professors, especially Xu Tingyun and Li Hongbin. After she graduated in 1999, Meng was admitted to Peking University. Three years later, she graduated with a Ph.D. in history.
In 2002, she began working as a lecturer at Minzu University of China. Now, she teaches English, historical literature, ancient Chinese history, historical theory and method, ancient social history of China, ancient palace political history of China and the history of the Sui and Tang dynasties and the Period of Five Dynasties.
"I have deep affection for the university (Minzu University of China), and I love being and feel proud that I am a teacher," she says. In addition to teaching, Meng has written several books and academic papers.
Lecturing on TV
As a female scholar of history, Meng has a unique understanding of the history of women. During her ancient women's history classes, she talks about various topics, such as how ancient women lived and how they challenged and changed social norms. "As long as we understand women from the past, we will be able to better understand women today, and we will be able to look forward to the future of our children," she says.
In July 2001, CCTV 10 began broadcasting Lecture Room. During the program, scholars and experts give lectures on different topics. In 2007, Meng was invited to talk about the history of Empress Wu Zetian (624-705). Meng's excellent lectures have been well-received by TV viewers.
"I think it is a very good idea to help more people learn about our perception of history through a TV program. If scholars' knowledge about humanities cannot be applied to society, and if it cannot be acknowledged by the public, the knowledge will be less meaningful. It is not a word game for scholars. Their knowledge should be beneficial to the public," Meng says.
She has participated in several other TV programs. The CCTV's poetry-recitation program, Chinese Poetry Conference, has become popular in China in recent years. On February 7, Wu Yishu, a 16-year-old high school student from Shanghai, claimed the championship for the show's second season. Meng, who was a guest on the program, has said reviewing and enjoying Chinese poetry with the audience was one of the happiest times in her life. Meng says the program reignites Chinese people's passion for poetry.
"Basically, I am still a teacher. Teaching is my top priority. I teach undergraduates and postgraduates. I only participate in TV programs in my spare time. I hope that, in addition to obtaining more knowledge, TV viewers can learn about a new way of thinking and viewing history properly. The ultimate goal should be, with our help and encouragement, more people will come to love traditional culture and Chinese history, and they will also come to love reading books," Meng says.
Meng says women in ancient China displayed considerable power, even though they lived in a male-dominated society, which was unfavorable to them. "People generally think ancient Chinese women were subordinate. However, it was not entirely like that. Ancient women made great achievements in many fields. For example, ancient women took charge of their families in a firm way that we can hardly imagine. In The Dream of the Red Mansion (a classic novel written by Cao Xueqin [1715-1763]), we can see how ancient women ran family businesses, participated in social activities and expanded their influence in many aspects," Meng says.
"Actually, the family is like a fort to women, and they play their roles as well as possible. When they become head of the family, they are capable of managing the family well. Many charitable and religious causes are led by women. Through their own methods, women are able to solve problems that men cannot work out. Also, women play a significant role in family education," she adds.
Modern women, Meng suggests, should learn from their ancestors, especially how they played their roles in family, how they managed and maintained their families, and how they broke through restrictions of their families. "My job is to discover and spread the positive energy of ancient Chinese women," she says.
Modern families, Meng adds, should have good order and be in harmony. "In history, Chinese attached great importance to the family. People believe that a person's personality is formed during his/her childhood, and family plays a huge role in shaping a person's personality … A family should have good order, in which family members feel warm. Family order and harmony are based on the affection between family members," Meng says.
Meng's parents graduated from their respective universities in the 1960s, and they both worked as teachers after they graduated. "My parents always tell me that knowledge is no burden, and that what I have learned is the treasure of my own. They set examples for me," she says.
Meng's father always made it a point to meet each student's parents and to learn each student's family condition, so he could understand how the parents influenced their children, in what family environment each student lived and what kind of resources each family could provide their children. Thus, he could better educate the students, based on all the information that he knew.
Meng's mother not only taught English, but she also trained English teachers. Although her mother was always busy at work, she improved her English skills by listening to English broadcasts in her spare time.
Meng says parents should set a good example for their children. "The most important part of family education is teaching children how to behave properly, and how to develop the right outlook on life. However, parents usually neglect that part, and only pay high attention to education on knowledge," she says.
Many parents often ask Meng how to help their children develop an interest in reading. Meng usually answers this way: "First, do you have many books in your house? Two, do you love reading books yourself? If your answers are 'yes,' it is unbelievable that your children don't like reading books." She also suggests that students should read books that truly interest them.
(Executive Editor: WANG SHASHA, Women of China English Monthly March 2017 Issue)
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