Before coming to Yenching, Hana Lord’s understanding of Asia was centered around Japan, where her family is from. She quickly learned that the cacophony of Beijing bore few similarities to Tokyo’s quiet orderliness. From the rapidly developing urban landscape to the galavanting adventures of Yenching colleagues across the old Silk Road, Hana remembers her time in China as a period of remarkable energy and vibrancy. Jingyuan was the center of many of these experiences. It existed as a place to engage with scholars and learn from one another. Physically, too, the site was emblematic of the YCA experience. The architecture, while undoubtedly Chinese, felt ambiguous to Hana. It bore only fragmented resemblance to the places she came to know — from the hutongs of Beijing to the canals of Suzhou. Much like Beijing held an “aura of transience,” it seemed that Yenching held pieces of many different parts of China, placing it neither here nor there in the local landscape. Today, Hana aspires to work in the cultural relations department of an international museum. Hybrid sites like Jingyuan — which blend both Eastern and Western design — match the cosmopolitanism of Hana’s own professional work.
When I was in undergrad, I went to a small liberal arts college called Grinnell. It’s located in the middle of Iowa’s corn fields. For my senior thesis, I analyzed my family’s history of migration across the former Japanese empire during the colonial period and their experiences of migration in the post-war period. Studying the darker parts of Japanese history — and the consequences of Japanese policies at the time — brought me to China. I came to YCA with an interest in learning more about what Japan-China relations look like today; how they are impacted by historical memory; and the other related narratives shaping that relationship. It became clear to me that I could not continue studying East Asia's so-called "history problems" without understanding and contemplating China’s side of the story.
When I first arrived in Beijing, I had no idea what the city would look like. I was shocked. It was so different from what I knew from my limited time in Japan. The city was much less orderly and clean than Japan, but I felt less pressure to fit in – partially because I didn’t know enough culturally – but also it felt like people did not take themselves as seriously. There was greater empathy for people as they bump into one another or hustle for the train compared to Japan.
History – Jingyuan
Jingyuan was an incredible place to have our classes. It not only elevated the learning experience to be in such a beautiful building, but it also became an important center for us. My favorite event was hosted by our classmate Olivia Holder, who is currently pursuing a Master’s in museum curatorial studies in the UK. She organized a tea tasting event with a tea company called Eastern Leaves from the Yunnan province.
Another student in our cohort, Ankur Shah, drove the Silk Road from Venice to Beijing with partial sponsorship from UNESCO. Building on his experiences from this trip he organized a Silk Road speaker series where he invited academics focused on a variety of topics relating to politics, economics, and development to come give talks. That was what Jingyuan was perfect for. These intersections where people could network and branch out from the smaller nexus of the YCA community.
Architecture - Jingyuan
The doorway entrance to Jingyuan is iconic. I felt so honored every time I got to go past the tourists taking pictures, open the doorway and step inside. Crossing that threshold made me feel proud to be connected to such an important part of the school's iconic scenery.
The aesthetic of a beautiful doorway with vines is very traditional and doesn’t seem unique to Jingyuan at all, but I regrettably know very little about Chinese architecture.
It was definitely really nice to have such a beautiful space to go take classes in.
Miscellaneous – YCA memories
When I think of my time at YCA, I think of the faces of my classmates and the energy/vibrancy of the whole program. The students at YCA are some of the most interesting and intelligent people I have ever met. There was also a shared sense of adventure between both the foreign students that decided to move to China for two years, and the Chinese students that decided to partake in this new interdisciplinary program.
When I think of China more broadly, there is still so much that I want to see and that I don’t understand. How can anyone be a “China Expert”? I’ve developed a deep love for China, but I still don’t think I have any claim to it. It is truly vast, but also so rich in so many different ways.