According to an op-ed penned by University Professor Robert C. Darnton '60, director of the Harvard University Library, there is a widespread belief in China that the walls of Harvard libraries are graced by 20 allocutions which express an expectation that Harvard students constantly grind away at studies.
"Millions and millions of Chinese have heard of these supposed 20 allocutions," Darton said, later estimating that the misconception has been building for at least a decade.
Some students who have approached him have memorized some of the allocutions, telling him that they had heard of them since kindergarten, he said.
Allocution #1, he writes in the op-ed, reads: "Nodding at the moment, you will dream. While studying at the moment, you will come true."
Others read: "Even now, opponents also kept banging on the page," and "Please enjoy the unavoidable suffering."
These aphorisms have gone viral through forums such as schools, newspapers, a best-selling book, and a blog with 87 million hits.
Blogs about the allocutions are even more bizarre than the allocutions themselves. Darton wrote how one portrays Harvard lunch as an occasion where "students toss their coats on the floor and consume pizza without looking up from their books or exchanging any talk" while another illustrates Harvard working conditions as "grand and imposing, although...women refuse to wear makeup and the men disdain fine clothes. [Allocutions] are scribbled on desks and contain messages such as: 'If you study one more hour, you will have a better husband.'"
Questions about the sayings are the most common query received via the "Ask a Librarian" section of the Harvard Library portal. After setting the record straight, Harvard librarians often receive touching replies, explained Darnton, listing some:
"Are u kidding? We grown up with those mottos." "Thank you for liberating us." "When I knew the truth I can't stop crying."
"People seem to be relieved that Harvard students are not these spartan workaholics...and that they're just ordinary mortals," Darnton said.