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Latin and Greek are safe in Beijing

Out of favour at Oxford? Odysseus’s wife Penelope in The Iliad 

If you want to study the Western classics, says Alex Lo in the South China Morning Post, “go to China”. Despite growing anti-Western feeling, the study of classical Western texts is “as strong as ever”. There are even star Latin professors like Leopold Leeb of Renmin University in Beijing. His textbooks have become standard references, and he offers hugely popular summer Latin courses for teens and even pre-teens. Leeb’s US counterpart is Princeton classicist Dan-el Peralta, whose main contribution to the subject has been to “denigrate, if not kill it altogether”. Classics, he says, is an intellectual source of “white privilege”. And thanks to Peralta and his like-minded colleagues, Princeton classics students no longer need to learn Greek or Latin at all.

Mao Zedong and his Red Guards “trashed” China’s great works. During the Cultural Revolution, anyone caught in possession of classics from the pre-communist era was liable to be “publicly humiliated, beaten, tortured and jailed”. A less violent but “no less insidious” cultural revolution is taking place in the West, and not just in America. Oxford’s classics department considered dropping Homer and Virgil from its core syllabus, only pausing the decision after public outcry. In Canada, more than 4,700 books deemed “racist” were removed from the libraries of 30 schools in Ontario. When medieval Christendom and Islam were “locked in mortal struggles”, the greatest Arabic thinkers were busy preserving the philosophy and literature of the ancient Greeks. History may be repeating itself in China.