Prof. Zhou Weimin, now at his nineties, is still preoccupied with his research in progress and the education of youngsters. “The priority of today’s students is to learn how to think. Living in such a good era, they have a lot of potentials and they need to think to make a difference,” said he.
On the hot noons of the tropical island of Hainan, you may come across an energetic nonagenarian walking on the campus of Hainan University (HNU), who is heading for the University Library on a daily basis, a habit he has kept for dozens of years. And that is Prof. Zhou Weimin, author of the first complete history of Hainan.
A Lifetime’s Work on Writing the History of Hainan
Our first meet with Prof. Zhou was behind piles of books, in which he and his wife, Prof. Tang Lingling, have immersed themselves for all the years. Zhou responded with a calm smile when we asked what made them to write the history on their own.
“When Hainan province was established in 1988, we answered the call of the central government to relocate here with hundreds of thousands of others. At that time, we were shocked to find out that the only available history book of Hainan, The History of Hainan Island, was not written by Chinese but by a Japanese, Kobata Atsushi, who wrote it to help Japanese invade this island during the Second World War,” Zhou replied later, “We believe it’s our duty to write a Chinese own version of the history of the Hainan Island, presenting its real history and culture.”
And that is when Prof. Zhou and Prof. Tang started their lifetime private efforts in writing the history of Hainan, a manifestation of the credo of traditional scholars proposed in the Analects — “the gentleman who in the face of danger offers his life”.
The first obstacle they faced is the very limited presence of Hainan in previous official history books, which would not be much a problem when writing the history of other provinces.
Zhou showed us one of the chronicles of Hainan counties, which occupied one entire bookshelf in his study, and explained, “These local chronicles, written vertically in traditional Chinese with no punctuation, were very hard to read, so we re-edited them one by one, costing us five years.”
There are also a large number of objects stored in the study, which were taken back from their fieldwork, during which Zhou and Tang travelled islandwide. They once waded into the water 40 times within two days to collect authentic historical materials from a remote ethnic Li village. Through this way, they familiarised themselves with the customs and stone tablets in every corner of the island.
Thanks to their special way of writing the unique history of Hainan, their six-volume history book of Hainan, with these abundant materials and details, upon publishing, immediately takes readers back the historical scenes of the past two thousand years on the island.
The Ironclad Proof of China’s Sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands
In the year of 2016, just two days before the ruling of the South China Sea Arbitration (Phil. v. China) was released, Prof. Zhou was assigned a special task. He was given one day to write a paper to further prove China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands with the support of Geng Lu Bu (Manual of Sea Routes) found in Hainan. To Zhou, this urgent task became a historic test for him.
“The South China Sea Issue has been complicated by neighbouring countries’ claims, but they don’t have Geng Lu Bu as we do. And this is our ironclad proof,” said him. According to Prof. Zhou, Geng Lu Bu has been used by Chinese fishermen as navigation guidebook for more than 600 years ago. Passing down from generation to generation, in different handwritten copies, it meticulously recorded the names and precise locations of the islands and reefs as well as sea routes and directions in the South China Sea.
Zhou has been studying Geng Lu Bu since 1989. He has kept visiting the Tanmen Town of eastern Hainan's Qionghai City to interview senior local fishing captains who are capable of navigating with the help of wooden compass and Geng Lu Bu. And the brainchild of his study over 20 years is the book called The Ultimate Book of the South China Sea: Cultural Interpretations of Geng Lu Bu by Hainan Fishermen (literal translation), published in 2015.
Thanks to his long-term and in-depth study in this field, Zhou completed this task in time and handed over the paper titled Geng Lu Bu: The Ironclad Proof of China’s Sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands.
“We are glad to see that Geng Lu Bu was used as one of the main proofs for China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands in the white paper released by the State Council in 13 July 2016, which includes many of our research findings,” Zhou said.
A Pure Aspiration to Serve Hainan and Seek No Name or Fame
In the year of 2021, Prof. Zhou was commended as a distinguished CPC member by the Central Committee of China.
Zhou was very careful in opening his well-packed certificate of commendation when asked to show it to us. “It’s too much an honour to for me. I’m merely an ordinary faculty member of HNU,” he murmured, holding the certificate in hands. He always talks about himself with genuine humility.
“History is of great significance to each and every of us,” he once said, “It’s important for talents needed today to understand the pattern of history, the role they want to play within it, and the responsibility on them.”
With such a strong sense of patriotism and responsibility, Prof. Zhou and Prof. Tang have devoted their lifetime to writing the history of Hainan. As an outstanding CPC member, Prof. Zhou has served the party and the country with devout faith and love.
“It’s a traditional belief that what all scholars are doing is to pursue ‘three immortalities’: moral worth, significant work, and persuasive word. But, as a communist, I seek no personal immortality. All I have been doing is to accomplish the tasks assigned to me by the Party and to fulfil the call of the time,” he added.
Prof. Zhou, now at his nineties, is still preoccupied with his research in progress and the education of youngsters. “The priority of today’s students is to learn how to think. Living in such a good era, they have a lot of potentials and they need to think to make a difference,” said him.