They say that a great empire is built on myths. The same could be said of great academic institutions. At three-quarters of a century old, National Taiwan University (NTU) is now under its 15th president. The most notable of the lot is without a doubt Fu Ssu-nien. Strolling through campus past the rows of coconut palms, listening to the 21-bell "Fu salute," one is struck by the permanency of Fu's legacy, and by the deep impact he has had on the minds of anyone who has ever studied at NTU.
By the winter of 1948, the Kuomintang saw that it was headed for defeat in civil war with the Communists, and turned its attention to building up a base for itself in Taiwan. After careful consideration, the Nationalist government named Fu Ssu-nien president of National Taiwan University as part of its bid to stabilize the situation in Taiwan. Prior to the appointment, Fu had been serving as acting president of Peking University.
But Fu refused the job when education minister Chu Chia-hua told him about it. Chu then organized a band of friends to take turns persuading Fu to take the post, which he finally did reluctantly. Even then, however, he remained ambivalent and didn't actually take up his duties for a time.
In mid-January 1949, Fu holed up at his home in Nanjing and fretted about the future. Pacing back and forth in a black mood, he recited a verse written by Tao Yuanming in the 5th century: "I planted mulberries along the Yangtse / Expecting to pick fruit after three years. / They were just becoming lush / When the kingdom was toppled. / The trees, broken and stripped of their leaves, / Drift rootless toward the ocean. / But the ground was not fertile in the first place, / So what's to regret?" Fu eventually decided to take up the post in Taiwan, though the prospect inspired little enthusiasm. He thought he would just have a look around and perhaps be back to the mainland quite soon. So he only took part of his family along. Little did he know that he would devote the rest of his life to Taiwan and NTU.