Through Our Door | Shiming Fan: Associate Dean of Yenching Academy and Associate Professor of the School of International Studies

Professor Fan’s first encounter with Jingyuan dates way back to 1986. In 1986, he was enrolled as an undergraduate in international politics at Peking University. From a student to a teacher, from seeking knowledge to imparting knowledge, Jingyuan has witnessed Professor Fan’s experiences. In the same manner, he has also seen the changes, big and small, that have taken place in Jingyuan over the past 35 years. For him, Jingyuan is far more than just a quaint, serene, and historic physical space, but also a free, diverse, open, and inclusive spiritual haven. It is his hope that the spirit of humanism embodied by the physical space of Jingyuan can be passed down from generation to generation at Peking University.

Q: How much do you know about the history of Jingyuan? How have you come to your present understanding of Jingyuan?

A: I have worked at Jingyuan courtyard 3 for two to three years. While I do not have a systematic understanding of the history of Jingyuan, I have been at Peking University for quite a long time. I have known of Jingyuan since when I arrived at Peking University as a freshman back in 1986, and it left a really deep impression on me. I first learned of it when, as an undergraduate student in international politics, I had to report to Jingyuan courtyard 2 for school enrollment. At that time, the Department of International Politics shared the same office with the History Department in Jingyuan courtyard 2. The resources were quite limited, so the facilities and the interior of Jingyuan were fairly rudimentary compared with what we have here today.

Q: What is your first impression of Jingyuan? In the questionnaire, you described this place as serene, quaint and historic. Would you please share with us in detail why this is how you feel about Jingyuan?

A: Since the 1980s, my most salient impression of Jingyuan is its serenity. I feel that Jingyuan is supposed to be a peaceful place rather than a noisy one. If I were to hear people holding events on the lawn near Jingyuan, the sound would be really unexpected. Quaintness is mainly about the architectural style of Jingyuan. I use the word “historic” because, on one hand, the Jingyuan structure itself has gone through a series of ups and downs as it transitioned from being a part of Yenching University to, now, Peking University. On the other hand, the plethora of historic events that occurred within Jingyuan have forged distinctive memories for different generations. For example, the balcony on the second floor of Jingyuan courtyard 3 brings to my mind the time spent reading, sipping tea, and chatting when there is good weather. Yet for the generation of my teachers, this same place almost certainly brings to mind totally different memories. For them, the balcony most likely reminds them of the hardships they endured during the Cultural Revolution. Therefore, each place carries some memories invisible to us that are nevertheless worth exploring.

Q: What is your favorite season/hour at Jingyuan?

A: To be honest, I love every single season at Jingyuan. In the spring, usually from the end of February to the beginning of March every year, the earliest of the magnolia blossoms are seen in Jingyuan. Summer brings a spirit of humanity as students come to sit on the lawn to play guitar or read books. Autumn is known for its beautiful fallen leaves. Winter is a time to appreciate the beauty of a snow-covered Jingyuan. Overall, every season at Jingyuan has its own unique charm.

Q: What is the most unforgettable experience that you ever had at Jingyuan?

A:During college, the deepest impression I had was the series of lectures held in the small conference room on the second floor on the south end of Jingyuan 2. The desks were arranged to accommodate around 40 to 50 people. As most lectures and reports took place in that room, I went there a lot and, therefore, have a deep impression of it.

Q: In your eyes, what is the biggest difference between the architecture of Jingyuan and that of the School of International Studies?

A: Juxtaposing these two buildings, we see a really striking contrast between modern and traditional architecture, both in terms of style and color. The most intuitive visual experience upon first glance is that this is a place where Chinese and Western cultures and ideas can coexist. Every time I walk along the path between the buildings of the School of International Studies and Jingyuan, there is invariably a sense of harmony; a feeling that the traditional and the modern are present at the same time.

Q: As the Associate Dean of Yenching Academy, what kind of space do you hope Jingyuan provides to its students?

A: The material aspects of Jingyuan are quite good and make for a beautiful, comfortable, and quiet space. What we still need to think about in the future is how to improve this space beyond material aspects, particularly in how to transform the space into one that is free, diverse, open, and inclusive. To include different students, different cultures, and different thoughts within this space, it must continue to evolve from a well-decorated physical space to a spiritual one with a humanistic atmosphere. According to my own understanding, the spirit of the space has prevailed from Yenching University to Peking University. In other words, the spirit carried by Jingyuan has been continuous throughout the different eras it has lived through.

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