By Jason Perry, Arts and Features Writer
White walls, a desk, a laptop and a shelf. This is where Professor Grant Hardy happily spends his days.
He heads to the library and carefully retrieves a worn book. He’s seen better days.
Memories flood Hardy’s face. It is one of the books that saved him on his journey.
He remembers a time before he owned the book.
“All the signs were in Chinese, there was no English anywhere,” Hardy says looking at the book. “It was almost as if I was illiterate. I had no idea, and of course it’s Chinese characters, so you can’t fathom it, you can’t look it up in a dictionary.
Professor Hardy is past that now. He can easily read Chinese characters and is fluent in Chinese.
Hardy began his freshman year of college at Brigham Young University in Utah, a Mormon college. This is where Hardy’s life opened up.
“I feel like when I first went to college, I felt like myself for the first time,” Hardy says. “Conferences, films, books, magazines and courses. It’s my natural self.
Hardy says he was always a bookish type in high school, even though he didn’t come from a very academic family. He often read about culture and history, so when it came time to choose a major, Hardy chose something new.
“In the first semester of my freshman year, I enrolled in Ancient Greek,” Hardy enthuses. “Otherwise why would you go to college, unless you could study something like what was not offered in high school?”
Hardy says he focused on his Mormon faith as much as his schoolwork. He volunteered to go on a Mormon mission after his freshman year, a trip that lasted two years.
“You don’t choose where you go. You just volunteer and they send you somewhere,” Hardy says. “I got a letter from Salt Lake City that said, ‘Congratulations, you’re going to learn Mandarin Chinese and you’re going to spend your next two years in Taiwan. “”
Hardy’s pleasure in life is reading, but he says he soon found himself in a land where he no longer knew how to read.
“I really didn’t know anything about China before I went there,” Hardy says. “You go to a language training institute, so I stayed there for three months. It was intensive Chinese teaching all day, every day. After three months, they send you. I knew a little Chinese when I arrived there. I tried to learn as fast as possible.
Hardy says he arrived in central Taiwan with strict rules. He had to stay in a central area, could not watch television or listen to popular music, and could only read scriptures written by the church.
But, there was a loophole.
Hardy’s mission president allowed reading about Chinese culture if it would help him become a better missionary.
Hardy says he quickly found an address for an English bookstore.
“They basically had pirated editions of the history of China in English,” Hardy says. “I ordered several. Missionaries are supposed to get up at 6:30 a.m. every morning, but I got up even earlier to have time to read about Chinese culture.
Hardy stops looking at his old book. The title is Sources of Chinese tradition, but it’s barely legible. It’s the same book he bought at the English bookshop, he says.
Hardy puts the book back on its shelf, alongside several other books from his trip, including four volumes of Science and civilization in China in the same way Five Confucian Classics.
Hardy says his mission was difficult. He did a lot of introspection, his new knowledge of Chinese culture helped him discover Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism.
Hardy’s findings, he says, caused him to question his Mormon faith.
“I kind of worked things out and found things that worked for me,” Hardy says. “I’m a believer, but I think it’s quite natural to have doubts and wonder about things.”
Hardy returned from his mission trip a different person.
He went to Yale and got his doctorate in Chinese language and literature. Hardy says he later became a teacher.
Hunter Gomes, a former student of Hardy, says Hardy’s stories helped him learn.
“He told a lot of personal stories about what we were learning,” Gomes says. “It helped me connect things more easily. He’s really interested in what the students have to say, which is good.
Director of Humanities Brian Hook says he is very pleased with Hardy’s work.
“He’s a great speaker, a kind and generous colleague, and I found him to be a deeply compassionate person,” Hook said. “He is also one of the most disciplined and brilliant scholars I know, and his breadth is incredible. He studied Greek in college, Chinese literature and history in college, and is one of the greatest scholars in the history of Mormonism.
Hardy also writes books.
Books can open up someone’s world, and Hardy says he wanted to be a part of it.
“There’s a satisfaction in increasing the amount of knowledge in the world just a little bit,” says Hardy.
Hardy takes one of his earliest publications, a book on Chinese historian Sima Qian, and quotes it.
“‘I have placed one copy in a famous mountain and the other in the capital where they should await the sages and scholars of later ages,'” Hardy says.
Hardy says he relates to this move on a personal level.
“He put everything he had into this book hoping that one day someone would understand it and appreciate what he was doing,” Hardy says. “I could be that guy.”
Hardy puts his book back on the shelf and says he plans to write many more.
By Jason Perry, Arts and Features Writer