On February 22, American students Alice Su and Cody Abbey from the Yenching Academy actively engaged in an interactive Peking University course titled “American Culture and Society”. The two shared their stories and experiences in fluent Chinese with an extremely receptive student audience. The course， under the tutorship of Prof. Yuan Ming, has been a part of Peking University’s curriculum for 18 years. This first session served as an introduction to the semester.
Wang Jingjing, a postgraduate student from the School of International Studies, gave an account of the life story of Liang Cheng, one of the first Chinese overseas students in the United States. An overseas student-turned diplomat, Liang Cheng’s life exposed the clashes and cleavages between American education and Chinese culture. Liang’s story also foreshadowed the main subject of Prof. Yuan Ming’s lecture. An established expert in American studies, Prof. Yuan provided a comprehensive introduction of the politics, economy, and culture of the United States, including the significance of contracts in American political and social life, the role of religion in the country, America’s economic and military position on the world stage, representative literary works in American studies, and also Americans in China, among other topics. Prof. Yuan took the occasion to also share a story about the encounter between Dr. Henry Kissinger and Peking University students at a forum, highlighting PKU’s international traditions.
Following Prof. Yuan’s captivating one-hour lecture, the class’s third main part – in the form of a Q&A session – began, during which Wang Jingjing, Alice, and Cody shared with students their stories. Though both had graduated from the same department at Princeton University, Alice and Cody had quite different experiences before they came to the Yenching Academy. A Chinese American, Alice had previously lived in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Shanghai and California. She has always been interested in and attracted by the Middle East. Alice learned Arabic and worked for two years as a freelance journalist in Jordan after her graduation in order to get better understanding of the region. She felt helpless when she saw the desolate and uncertain life of refugees in Jordan. Alice tried her best to record and report what she saw and how she felt, relaying what was happening in Jordan from an objective stance, as much was possible. She said that she learned in the Middle East a personal lesson of humility that she would not be able to learn in the United States. She hoped through a bit of personal courage and empathy she could allow others to see the world’s realities.
Cody spent his high school years at a Catholic boys’ school on the east coast of the U.S.The school’s curriculum only offered European languages, and Cody began to be interested in Asian languages. During one summer vacation, Cody went to New York to learn Chinese, and thereafter he spent a lot of time on Chinese studies during his time at university. Cody has been to China seven times, paying visits to both coastal cities and inland provinces such as Hubei and Sichuan, where he served as a volunteer teacher in remote areas. As a foreigner, Cody has fervently devoted much time and effort to education research and hopes to continuing pursuing this path in the future.
Prof. Yuan concluded that Alice and Cody have an inner calling to truly understand the world as demonstrated by their explorations inthe Middle East and China. According to her, Liang Cheng over a century ago set an exceptional example for Chinese overseas students. He not only advocated for the national interests of China but also realized his own ideals in the process. What then shall we do in this generation inthe context of globalization? According to Prof. Yuan, the youth of today should get prepared by developing skills to deal with modern-day issues, learn to live in an intercultural world, and be able to listen to others.