Speech by Dean Yuan Ming at the 2020 Graduation Ceremony of Yenching Academy


Dear students, family members, colleagues and friends:

Today I am so filled with pride to celebrate the achievements of the 2020 graduates of the Yenching Academy of Peking University. Graduates, you have overcame extraordinary challenges to be here today--and, while the COVID-19 pandemic we currently face has made special the way we celebrate the graduation of our Yenching scholars, it is your achievement that has made it thus.

We are indeed fortunate to connect our campus grounds with the “clouds” online, as beneficiaries of the digital revolution and high-tech development that began several decades ago. Good things take time to bear fruits, as hopefully your theses have reminded you.

A big congratulation to you, the 2020 graduates of the Yenching Academy at Peking University. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have been with us on this adventurous and exciting journey, the faculty, the staff and the family members.

The journey started at the end of the summer of 2018. From all over the world, Yenching scholars arrived and gathered to the green intellectual pastures of Peking University by flight, rail, and road--and in one occasion, driving through entire countries onwards to the final destination: Beijing. A new Yenching community, the 4th cohort, thus came into being. Once again, it became a gathering of brilliant minds, eager to discover China and global issues in context.

As the former cohorts did, you too studied China both within and without classrooms. But I must say, your cohort had many more opportunities to visit different parts of China than your peers in the past. You have acquired new knowledge and formed new perspectives on China and the world from your own experiences, and what you have observed, felt, and expressed have become part of our learnings. This is our Yenching education as a whole. This is a shared journey indeed.

Currently the COVID-19 virus still poses a serious threat globally, and our battle against that challenge is not yet over. We need confidence, resources, and solutions, but what are they? Where are they? How can we get them? Though we are still far away from finding all the answers, we are trying to get there, and we must get there, as we always do. We put ourselves in places as part of the confidence, part of the resources, and part of the solutions.

Some shared stories along our journey have placed us on the path. Let’s recall our time in Zhejiang, in Sichuan, in Shanxi, in Shaanxi, in Dunhuang, etc. etc. Perhaps we were deeply impressed during our first site visits, but had not yet thought over the deeper significance of those locations. In retrospect, as life shows us its tougher side, the meaningful and indispensable nature of those trips are revealed.

I just list a couple of examples.

To meet the daily needs of people, especially during the coronavirus emergency, strong goods supplying chains are in high demand. Those of you visited the Yiwu express sorting center with Prof. He Yafei may have deeper understanding of the delivering strength. It is reported that super-efficient sorting robots help China deliver 30 billion packages a year.

To mobilize the local people to join the efforts at building up a better public health environment, the group to Datong, Shanxi Province headed by Prof. Wang Yuan might have first-hand stories about the local “toilet revolution”. It not only changed inappropriate traditional habits, but people’s mentality and patterns of behavior. Nothing can be worked out without the collective will of the population.

All of you visited Xi’an in the fall of 2018. Some of you vividly described the local music as “Chinese rock and roll”, admiring its vigor and vitalities. Now you may have a deeper understanding of its spirit, a spirit that appeals to all humanity, but expressed in the specific regional form of music in the Northwest of China, and yet it manifests a spirit that appeals to all humanity--the appreciation of life.

These are your stories of China. Yet, they also reflect and form the broader stories of the whole mankind. You are witnessing the experience of China’s renewal and you are also taking part in shaping the idea of China.

The 2019 Yenching Global Symposium is an excellent example of this. By combining the topic of the symposium “women” with its Chinese pinyin “我们”, a new horizon emerged. The focus on the gender issue remains, but new vision and perspectives join in. Our young Yenching scholars displayed the talents of mobilizing the language codes in this cross- cultural environment, just like giving it a magic touch. And I agree very much with what they observed: “there is not only one China story, but many other China stories.”

Dear young friends, what you created in the spring of 2019 will remain an integral part of our legacy. What does “我们” mean? The unfinished battle against the coronavirus across the globe reminds us that “我们” means all human beings. We share many concerns and many basic values. We are all citizens of the globe. While Yenching Academy is a tiny and young microcosm compared with other international communities, we can make outsized impacts. Why? We know that enhanced cross-cultural communications and better mutual understandings must be explored together, and not decided unilaterally. When hard time comes, 我们 would stand united fearlessly to weather the challenges, difficulties and even solitary moments. For the past several months, the power of “我们” has kept us united despite the physical separation on different continents. I am confident that this power of unity will continue to keep us connected in the years ahead and our unity will grow stronger.

Life is not easy. On the road of your journey ahead, you may encounter various dangers of deception and falsehood, but with “我们” in your hearts, you may draw on your cross-cultural capabilities and mobilize your strengths and potentials to face down any challenge and difficulty, and to meet the needs of the time and the people.

Let me end here by quoting the last paragraph of my letter to all Yenchingers in March:“In its long tenure on this planet, the human race has confronted a long train of crisis and challenges, from both natural and man-made, but it has weathered through all of them. We are strong enough to overcome this crisis, too, particularly if we stand together in one, united endeavor. If a virus knows no borders, neither does love. I believe love and wisdom will guide us all safely through our present challenges.”

Again, congratulations and best wishes to all of you! Thank you!


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