Claudine Ukubereyimfura: From Chinese Dragon Culture to East Asia Studies

Claudine Ukubereyimfura, a 2020 Yenching Scholar from Rwanda, has been a fan of Chinese Kungfu movies since her childhood, and her favorite ones are Dragon Tiger Gate and Enter the Dragon. The image of the Chinese dragon has sort of won her heart.

Bruce Lee is Claudine’s favorite Kungfu actor. She was drawn to adopting the Chinese character 龙 (long, literally meaning Chinese dragon) for her Chinese name, as Bruce Lee had the same character in his Chinese name. Following the advice of her YCA friends, Merle Maria Kartscher (from Germany) and Zhang Hongda (from China), she added the character 丽 (li, literally meaning beautiful) in her Chinese name, resulting in 龙丽, meaning “an elegant one with strength.”

Claudine feels proud of her Chinese name – Wang Longli – which reveals her passion for the Chinese culture and aspiration to be as tough as the Chinese dragon.

From South Korea to China

Attracted to South Korea’s popular music culture, Claudine studied at Yonsei University in 2016. The more she learned about the South Korean culture, the more she found a close link between the Korean language, history, and politics and the Chinese ones.

In her Korean language classes, Claudine realized that some Korean words were borrowed from the Chinese language, which ignited her interest in learning about China. This interest transitioned into a research passion where she endeavored to explore the relations between China and the Korean Peninsula and understand the histories and nature of the relationship between South Korea and North Korea.

In her junior year, Claudine learned about Sun Yat-sen, Liang Qichao, and Chen Duxiu in a Modern Chinese History class, prompting her to read extensively on these figures because she admired their ideas and philosophies. Nonetheless, as she approached graduation, she felt her understanding of China’s foreign policy, East Asia policies, and international relations from a Chinese perspective were insufficient despite studying these topics at Yonsei University.

This led to her decision to study in Beijing, choosing the Yenching Academy of Peking University. Claudine saw YCA as the best place to learn about China, drawing from the expertise of Chinese scholars and immersing herself in the way of life in Beijing.

Closer to China Day-by-Day

Claudine’s trip to China for the 2020 academic year was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this did not hinder her from enjoying the Academy’s online courses, seminars, and extracurricular activities with her fellow Yenching Scholars from other countries.

She is inspired by YCA’s effort to create an online platform for Yenching Scholars to connect, exchange ideas, and have fun times, despite the pandemic. Although she would have loved to be on campus, she resolved to make the most of the online YCA community to make friends and learn from her colleagues, who have their stories about China to tell.

Claudine studies under PKU's intensive Chinese language project, feeling closer to China whenever she learns a new Chinese character. The Language Table is her favorite activity, in which participants from around the world converse in different languages. Our Yenching Scholars are part of a large family whose members speak several languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and French.

A Broader Chinese Perspective

This semester, she is working as the teaching assistant to Prof. Zhang Qingming’s “Theory and Practice of Chinese Foreign Policy,” exploring her questions about China’s foreign policy in the international world order and developing a new understanding of how China handles East Asia-related issues.

By taking the “China in Transition” course, Claudine learned much about the Chinese society, the legal system, and environmental sustainability efforts, among other issues. Likewise, in Prof. Lu Yang’s “Chinese Classics and Thought” class, she reflected on Confucianism and Daoism, reviewing the professor’s many research projects on ancient Chinese philosophies in Chongqing and other places in Sichuan province. For her, the concrete images at the Dazu Rock Carvings epitomized the class discussions on the fusion of Buddhism and Chinese native Confucianism and Daoism.

Claudine is grateful to Prof. Lu for assisting the Scholars in getting the most of their online study experience, providing support and resources regularly despite his tight deadlines.

Claudine has read literary works on China extensively, immersing herself in Chinese history. Her favorite authors include Pearl Buck, Yu Hua, and Peter Hessler. YCA invited Peter Hessler to give a lecture during the Academy’s field trip to Sichuan province in 2021, which fascinated her because of her interest in his works. Nonetheless, her inability to join her colleagues on the study trip in China in person hurt her, mainly because her good friend, Natasha Lock (2019 Yenching Scholar from the UK), had initially recommended Hessler. Also, another friend had gifted her Hessler’s River Town.

Help from Fellow Scholars

Claudine is busy with her dissertation titled China and Japan’s image in Africa, looking at Rwanda’s case. She believes that there are too many guesses regarding China’s construction projects and investments in Africa, perhaps because the Sino-African relations have been seldom investigated from an African perspective. She hopes to fill this gap in the field.

Claudine discussed her ideas with her fellow student Mafune Hiroki from Japan, who volunteered to arrange interviews with Japanese employees engaged in trade relations between Japan and Africa to help her dissertation.

She joined the panel that Vedika Kedia (from India) and Calvin Spanbauer (from the U.S.) initiated. They meet online every Saturday, sharing the latest progress in their research and dissertation writing. She delivered a presentation on her dissertation to her classmates, who offered valuable feedback.

Claudine is also active in volunteer works and youth activities outside the classroom. She participated in a non-profitable organizations’ forum hosted by South Korea, discussing with young people from all over the world how to deal with the current challenges confronting humankind. She shared her thoughts on public diplomacy, cultural exchange, and the impacts of the ongoing pandemic on international students.

Studying at YCA, Claudine has gained a broader perspective and learned much from her fellow Yenching Scholars and teachers. Yet, she sees there’s much more to be explored about China and East Asia. Claudine plans to apply for a doctoral program, continuing her academic research. She aspires to work on a closer partnership between Rwanda and East Asian countries.

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