Chinese teacher Zhou will retire, continue scholarship next year

Jack Goldfisher

When some people retire, they play golf,  watch television and play with their grandkids. Chinese teacher Qinru Zhou, however, plans to fill his life after teaching with even more scholarly pursuit.

“Leaving from the school is just changing track from ‘working with an institute’ to ‘working on one’s own will,’” Zhou said. “Fortunately, I am not a scientist who needs a lab. I can work with just a computer, a desk and a small room.”

Zhou, who at the age of 25 conducted the Beijing orchestra on the Chinese equivalent of Independence Day, originally came to the United States after being sought out by a University of California Los Angeles professor who was a fan of his work in composing music. After finishing his doctoral studies at UCLA, Zhou came to Harvard-Westlake.

“I realized a way to make Chinese teaching much more effective for American students,” Zhou said.

When he was asked by then head of the Foreign Language Department Nancy Holme-Elledge why he wanted to teach at the high school, Zhou responded, “I have a book in my mind and I need teaching practice to develop it and prove it.”

In his 16 years at the school, Zhou has always strived to make Chinese understandable to American students.

“I always tell my students that Chinese is not difficult but different,” he said.

Zhou’s experience has greatly enriched his understanding for and appreciation of American culture, and he has learned more from his colleagues and students than he ever imagined, he said.

Zhou is a self-described fanatic of ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius, and often brings up the sage’s name in class lectures and discussions.

“To me,” Zhou said, “the strongest influence is not his words but his scholarly spirit with perseverance. Confucius faced difficult and at times daunting hurdles, “but he never felt frustrated or gave up his commitment.

Instead, he devoted his whole life to education and writing and left a great legacy to us,” Zhou said.

“General MacArthur once said, ‘Old soldiers never die, they just fade away,” Zhou said. “As a scholar, I have no retirement.”