On April 28th, Yenching Scholar Chen Zhengxun received the “May. 4th Medal,” the highest student recognition medal awarded biannually by Peking University to an outstanding student.
The recipient of this prestigious award, Yenching Scholar Chen Zhengxun, graduated from Peking University’s School of Economics in 2015 and finished with the top culminated GPA score in his class. He later received a scholarship to Yenching Academy.
During his undergraduate career, Chen was recognized as PKU’s Student of the Year and Outstanding Graduate. He was recognized by the Beijing Government as an Outstanding Graduate and Outstanding Student Leader.
Chen is the co-founder of a social educational company, a high-tech hardware company and recently, a digital bank. He was a TedxKids speaker at many conferences.
We are proud to have Chen as part of Yenching Academy and congratulate him for this excellent achievement. We have the pleasure of interviewing Chen and talk to him a bit more about his experience and social engagements.
Q: Why did you decide to study economics at Peking University for your undergrad?
CHEN: I grew up in the Minnan Region of Fujian Province. The region was an important commercial and trade center during Imperial China and this heritage made its people very open-minded and inclusive. I was attracted to Peking University precisely because it had a very liberal and open-minded school culture.
Q: After you finished your bachelors, why did you choose to continue your study at Yenching Academy? What exactly attracted you?
CHEN: When Yenching Academy was founded on May 5th 2014, I was at its inauguration ceremony. I still remember that in a letter addressed to Yenching Academy, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon wrote that: “In this era of transition and change I look to students and staff at the Yenching Academy to act as global citizens and contribute to our efforts to promote peace, development, and human rights.”In my view, Yenching Academy has a special mission in our time. The world needs to understand China better and China must in return better assimilate into the global community. As youths, we play a crucial role in this cross-cultural exchange.
The part that attracted me to Yenching Academy is its strong Chinese identity in the midst of an international setting. Our students are the best from across the world and the cultural exchange is something you can’t get from anywhere else.
Q: What exactly are you interested in studying at the Yenching Academy?
CHEN: My interests include technology and innovation, economic development and domestic municipal budget. During my undergraduate years, I conducted field research in rural areas of Hunan, Hubei and Jiangxi Provinces on their land reform and tax systems.
Q: How has Yenching Academy helped you with your research on China?
CHEN: Yenching Academy has six very interesting majors including Economics and Management, Philosophy and Religion, Law and Society, Politics and International Relations, History and Archaeology and Literature and Culture. We are lucky to have many accomplished faculties from around the world to guide us in our studies.
Other than taking core courses at Yenching Academy, we are free to take classes at almost any Departments within Peking University. This gave me great flexibility in conducting inter-disciplinary research on China. I even did my master thesis under the guidance of Professor Lin Yifu.
Q: How do you think your Chinese background helped you in your researches?
CHEN: During my undergraduate studies, I joined the China Cultural Initiative which emphasized not one’s success in terms of resume entries but on one’s spirit and vitality of mind. I think this is Yenching Academy’s core value as well, the focus on being innovative and going down “the path less travelled.” I think the ability to combine Eastern and Western perspectives and to keep an open-mind in the exploration of Chinese social issues in a multi-cultural setting can prove to be very rewarding.
Q: As a member of the first graduating class of Yenching Scholar, what was the most rewarding experience you have had from the Academy?
CHEN: The Yenching Academy is like a “mini-United Nations.” We have many brilliant students from institutions all over the world. The Yenching Academy also brought us many international opportunities. For example, during the opening ceremony at the beginning of the school year, there were ambassadors and delegations from 17 different countries. The US Ambassador to China, the Princess of Thailand also visited us. From the discussion seminars to the first Global China Youth Symposium, the opportunity for youth from all over the world to exchange ideas and build friendship were very valuable and unique experience.
Q: As the Secretary General of the CCP youth organization at both the undergraduate level and at the Yenching Academy, can you compare your experiences during the two?
CHEN: One obvious difference is that there are many international students at Yenching Academy. We hope to discover innovative ways to continue our work in such a global setting.
Q: Leadership education is an important part of Yenching Academy. Can you comment on your experience in this field?
CHEN: I think in order to successfully face the challenges of our world today, one must be able to view the world from different perspectives and act bearing in mind the rich diversity of the global community. I think the Yenching Academy has been trying to provide us with just that. The Yenching Academy has been very respectful of our opinions and truly care about us as individuals. Dean Yuan Ming and other Yenching Academy staffs always listen to our opinions and try to solve the problems we are faced with. Vice Dean John Holden and Director Jiang Guohua even set up one-to-one meetings with us to talk about our personal development. There are many global initiatives that started from Yenching Academy including the Yiqiao Future Leadership Initiative. I am confident that there will be more to come.
Q: You are very involved in technological innovation, what made you interested in this field in the first place?
CHEN: Many of my peers have a dream of changing our economy from one producing “made in China” cheap consumer goods to one producing “invented by China” high-tech innovations. I share such a goal. I am especially interested in medical and mobile internet technologies. I love to discuss new medical technology breakthroughs with my fellow researchers and I believe that in the near future this will be a crucial field benefiting all of mankind. I also created several new initiatives with other friends in the field of mobile internet technology.
Q: Can you briefly introduce your initiatives?
CHEN: Two years ago, I created an internet-based education forum where we use video streaming technology to connect college students with primary and secondary school students in a one-to-group or one-on-one setting. We even received investments from three notable Chinese companies. About a year ago, we started building a mechanical research team to improve traditional vending machines and connect them to the internet to provide better service. Our end products have entered service in campuses around Beijing and Guangzhou.
Q: I think you have recently started a digital banking project. Can you talk more about that?
CHEN: I started the project with Kyle, a fellow Yenching Scholar from USA. We recognize that digital banking will be a blooming industry in the future and started our own brand “OneBank.” We have started working with local banks to build a Chinese digital bank. We hope to become an international team and expand our services to other developing countries to allow more people access to cheap banking.