I came from China to Britain in 1978, and the following year began to work on a doctorate in linguistics at the University of York. The conversation that started my doctorate project has remained a most memorable moment as I learned something that has benefited me throughout my subsequent career as a writer, and which I regard as a crucial part of a civil society.
I was discussing the plan for my thesis with my supervisor, Professor Le Page, a very kind person with a mildly ironic manner and understated authority. I always felt relaxed with him, and this time I babbled on about my views on the various linguistic theories I was supposed to survey. He listened, and at the end asked me, ‘Could you show me your thesis?’
I was puzzled, and said, ‘But I haven’t started it yet!’ He said, ‘But you have all the conclusions.’
That single remark untied a strangling knot fastened on my brain by a totalitarian ‘education’. We in China had been trained not to draw conclusions from facts, but to start with Marxist theories, or Mao thoughts, or the Party line, and to deny, even condemn, the facts that did not suit them. Now it was as if a window were suddenly thrown open and light flooded in. It dawned on me that the right way of thinking should be always to keep an open mind.