Yenching Academy Scholars Explore the History, Hi-Tech Development and Modern Culture and Lifestyle in Chengdu and Chongqing

Between the 21st and 27th of June, Scholars and staff of the Yenching Academy of Peking University went on a week-long study trip to Chengdu and Chongqing, located in southwestern China. This trip, combined with lectures and online resources, is part of the YCA 2021 compulsory course titled "Field Study" to facilitate students' acquisition of first-hand experiences of China – its history, culture, economic transformation, food and people.

Professor Lu Yang, Director of Graduate Studies, Associate Deans Fan Shiming and Brent Haas, instructed the course. They planned the course and the trip to cover (i) nature, history and culture, (ii) modern hi-tech industrial development and (iii) modern culture and lifestyle. Also, due to the pandemic and the inability of overseas resident students to enter China, YCA transformed the initially onsite course structure to include online learning experiences to accommodate the needs of students outside China and in different time zones.

Nature, History and Culture

The day following their arrival in Sichuan Province, the enthusiastic group of YCA Scholars and instructors headed to the Dujiangyan Giant Panda Base, located in Qingchengshan Town. They toured several sets of monitoring enclosures, watched the pandas play, eat and climb trees, and listened to their tour guide's descriptions about panda's life in the Base and the government's efforts to preserve the endangered species. Aside from the black and white-coloured pandas, the group also found other animals, including red pandas and a black bear.

They visited the Qingcheng Mountain, considered the birthplace of Chinese Taoism and one of China's four sacred Taoist mountains. The Scholars explored the Jianfu and Shangqing Palaces on the anterior side and hiked to the highest peak where the Laojun Pavilion seats. The mountain's rich religious history and the perfect blend of green scenery, moderate climate and surrounding peaks thrilled the group who received a tour from Prof. Lu Yang.

Furthermore, the group visited the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the world's oldest in-use diversion project without a dam. The Scholars looked in awe and listened with attentive ears as the tour guide narrated the history of the over 2200-year-old wonder of the world. Built by Li Bing during the Qin Dynasty, the irrigation system was designed to protect the city against floods and drought. The Scholars explored the famous Anlan Suspension Bridge and took photographs of the various water projects and the surrounding temples and mountains.

Another visit was organized to the Sanxingdui site, where archaeologists excavated unique bronze artefacts and jade relics of different shapes and sizes dating back to the ancient Kingdom of Shu between the 12th – 11th centuries BC. Later, they explored the two galleries of the Sanxingdui Museum, which house different items unearthed from the Sanxingdui ruins like the famous life-size standing human statue, masks and sculptures made of bronze, jade and gold. The artefacts' craftsmanship and technological sophistication left the Scholars in astonishment.

The last historical culture-related visit was to the Dazu Rock Carvings, another UNESCO World Heritage site in Dazu District, Chongqing. YCA students were able to see Buddhist, Confucius and Taoist influences in China by exploring the series of aesthetic and thematically diverse rock carvings dating back to the 7th century.

Modern Hi-Tech Industrial Development

On Day 4, the Scholars visited JOUAV Automation Tech. Co. Ltd., and the Institute of Care-Life located at the Chengdu Hi-Tech Zone to explore advancements in unmanned aircraft systems and earthquake early warning systems. Also, the group visited the Civil Aviation Flight University of China's exhibition area located in the Chengdu Eastern New Area.

They listened to presentations on the companies' expansion and innovation plans and the benefits to the people. The talks also covered the government's effort to prevent the Sichuan earthquake's human casualties, promote knowledge of aviation technology and boost economic activities by developing business districts to attract investments.

The Scholars were impressed by the budding partnership between the government and the private sector to find solutions to the region's problems.

Modern Culture and Lifestyle

Peter Hessler, the American writer and journalist, delivered a lecture to the students. Although onsite, overseas resident Scholars joined the lecture online. Peter talked about his work as a Peace Corps teacher in Fuling and how the area developed over the years. He also discussed his latest research centered on discovering the changes in the perception of religious beliefs, economic development, and the government's role among Chinese people. The students onsite and online raised several questions, including questions to understand his reason for choosing China, research methods, and how he had changed vis-à-vis Fuling's transformation.

After the lecture, the Scholars divided themselves into two groups – one went to the Chengdu Wuhou Shrine, and the other group went to the Chengdu Museum. The two groups toured the different sites broadening their knowledge of the city and China. At the Wuhou Shrine, the Scholars toured a gallery exhibiting the "Three Kingdoms Legend".  Afterwards, they explored the city themselves, trying different food and buying souvenirs for families and friends.

The trip ended on the seventh day as the Scholars returned to Beijing. They appreciated the Yenching Academy for the opportunity to expand their understanding of China. Many of them share their experiences and stories of the trip on their social media platforms to foster a better understanding and appreciation of China.

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