On Saturday 19th September, the Opening Ceremony of the Yenching Academy’s academic year 2020-2021 took place. With many of our students still unable to join us on campus, the Ceremony combined the on-site event with a live stream for those attending online. The ceremony was moderated by Dr. Brent Haas, Director of Admissions Affairs at Yenching Academy, and featured several distinguished guest speakers, as well as messages and performances from our students.
A Warm Welcome from the 2019 Cohort
Through a series of video responses, 5th Cohort Yenching Scholars shared with the incoming 6th Cohort their own path to China. Whether to question narratives they had received abroad, to re-define their own career path, or to understand China and its global role from within, students came to Yenching from a range of different backgrounds. They shared some of the highlights from their first year at Yenching, from conducting field research in Chengdu to ice-skating on the Weiming Lake. What our students miss most about Yenching varies as much as what brought them here in the first place, but a recurring theme in their responses were exchanges with other students on campus.
Their advice for the new cohort? Take advantage of these exchanges! “Be prepared to be challenged and challenge others,” urged Heath Sloane from Australia. Listen and continue building a strong and diverse Yenching community, and “make the most of it,” echoed several others.
Opening Remarks by Dr. Brent Haas
“We can achieve a truly global understanding of what China Studies means around the world.” – Dr. Brent Haas
Dr. Haas began by calling upon the incoming Yenching Scholars to examine their own intellectual lineage in learning about China. Quickly unfolding the evolution of China Studies as a field of academic inquiry, Dr Haas demonstrated its development through international exchanges and constant re-modelling. In recent decades, the field has traversed the boundaries of classical literary traditions to include and influence previously separate disciplines, from economics to film studies. As the diverse backgrounds of our students demonstrate, this influence has reinforced the need and capacity for an interdisciplinary approach to studying China.
Dr Haas then underlined the value of interdisciplinarity and diversity at Yenching Academy. “We are in a very unique position,” he reminded the students, “we can achieve a truly global understanding of what China Studies means around the world.” Concluding the opening remarks, Dr. Haas asked the new Cohort “to join us in this mission to redefine China Studies. It will make you a better student, it will definitely make you a better scholar.”
Remarks by Professor Wang Bo, Vice President of Peking University
“Now is the perfect time to try new things. You will never find a better place to explore your interests and make the most of your talents than here, at Yenching Academy.” – Professor Wang Bo
Vice President Wang Bo provided two main pieces of advice to the new cohort, to preserve open-minded communication and follow one’s heart. Drawing from William Butler Yeats, Professor Wang reassured the students that “there are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t yet met.” In that spirit, he emphasised the crucial role effective communication plays in eliminating uncertainty and conflict. Open-minded communication is a unifying force, Professor Wang stressed, as “it brings people together despite their differences.”
Challenging the comforting sufficiency of finding ‘a decent job,’ Professor Wang reminded the students that “it’s blissful to find what you truly love and excel at it.” To achieve that, one should follow one’s heart and find one’s passion, something that can only be done by trying as many different things as one can. “Don’t be afraid to try new things and don’t be afraid to fail,” Professor Wang encouraged the new Cohort. “Now is the perfect time to try new things,” he concluded. After all, “you will never find a better place to explore your interests and make the most of your talents than here, at Yenching Academy.”
Remarks by Professor Zhang Shiqiu
“What the world we will be living in depends not only on politicians, but on each one of us. On our understanding, humility, and respect for diversity, in natural and sociocultural terms.” – Professor Zhang Shiqiu
Professor Zhang Shiqiu reiterated the urgency of cooperation as she recalled her own entry into field research in remote areas of Guizhou in the 1980s. With an astute understanding of the natural landscape and agricultural tradition in the region, she helped shift developmental efforts toward education and agriculture based on local resources. It is imperative, said Professor Zhang, to be “working together on a sustainable future.”
After the outbreak of COVID-19 this year, she was deeply moved by her friends who sent her masks from overseas, as well as by her students at Yenching Academy as they have shown great passion and eagerness to learn.
“We are indeed living in a very difficult, very confusing world, full of uncertainties, but what the world will look like, what the world we will be living in depends not only on politicians, but on each one of us. On our understanding, humility, and respect for diversity, in natural and sociocultural terms.”
Adela Hurtado, Representing the 2020 Cohort Through Zoom Stream
“I’m really in awe of my classmates’ positive energy, willingness to help, and eagerness to learn. I hope my classmates and I continue our spirit of togetherness and understanding in the uncertainty of the years to follow.” – Adela Hurtado
6th Cohort Yenching Scholar Adela Hurtado, a lawyer and artist from the US, recalled the moment she submitted her application and how so much of her life lead her to China. The outbreak of COVID-19 hampered her return to China. Living in New York City, she witnessed its unprecedented transformation into one of the hardest hit places in the world. Her motivation unwavering, however, Adela recognised the value of coming together with a group of motivated young scholars to face the challenges we face.
Regaling her listeners with stories of her and her classmates’ encounters, she summed up her impressions: “Despite our different paths, we are united in our study of China. We are all figuring out our own China stories. We have all also faced challenges with the pandemic. We’ve risen to the challenge of this new, virtual Yenching Academy.” Adela concluded her remarks with high hopes for the future of the 6th Cohort: “I’m really in awe of my classmates’ positive energy, willingness to help, and eagerness to learn. I hope my classmates and I continue our spirit of togetherness and understanding in the uncertainty of the years to follow.”
Then followed surprise messages and well wishes from the loved ones of some new students!
Unbeknownst to our 6th Cohort Yenching Scholars, some of their loved ones recorded messages of support, well-wishes, and incredible affection. Parents proud of their children or teachers of their students, their words of love were enough to make our young scholars blush!
Remarks by Yuan Ming, Dean of Yenching Academy
“Hardship makes people mature, friendship nurtures righteousness, and cooperation leads to a better world.” – Dean Yuan Ming
Dean Yuan Ming began by addressing the common challenge and shared responsibility the pandemic has brought on all of humanity. She extended condolences to the family of a 4th Cohort Yenching Scholar who lost his mother to the disease and stressed that “as humanity has on many occasions throughout our short tenure on this planet, we must stand united against the threat of the pandemic.”
Inspired by the maturity of the incoming students as they were overcoming the challenges of COVID-19, Dean Yuan found that “hardship makes people mature, friendship nurtures righteousness, and cooperation leads to a better world.” She was quick to remind her on- and offline audience that “COVID-19 is definitely not the only pandemic we will have to face together.” Dean Yuan appealed to the students to begin finding collaborative solutions to present and future challenges through their studies at Yenching Academy. Praising some of the achievements of the incoming Cohort that already impressed her, Dean Yuan solidified her belief in their future endeavours.
Remarks by Prof. Roger T. Ames
“We’re living in a crisis point, an inflection point in the human experience, and at this time we need all the human resources that we have.” – Professor Roger T. Ames
Roger T. Ames, Humanities Chair Professor of Peking University and Professor Emeritus of University of Hawai’i, shared with our students some important lessons that Confucianism as a living cultural tradition still has to teach us in our rapidly changing world cultural order. One example given by Professor Ames is that Confucianism, or ruxue 儒学, offers an alternative conception of effecting the socio-political order. Li 礼, often translated as ritual, was explained by Professor Ames as a kind of ‘social grammar,’ “a strategy for producing the social intelligence necessary to recognise our interdependence as human beings.”
Ruxue is also crucially a philosophy of education. “Real education is not a PhD, it’s who you are as a person, and to cultivate yourself is to bring peace to the cosmos.” This realisation, Professor Ames believes, is key to wide collaboration against the crises of our time. “We’re living in a crisis point, an inflection point in the human experience, and at this time we need all the human resources that we have.”
Playing on the Chinese word for crisis, weiji 危机, which combines the words danger 危险 and opportunity 机会, Professor Ames addressed the students: “I want to encourage the new cohort to commit themselves to be part of the opportunity that will resolve the danger we’re experiencing in the world today.”
The ceremony was concluded with a recording of music and poetry performed by four 6th Cohort Yenching Scholars. Liu Yanjun from China and Joshua Fung from Malaysia performed High Mountains and Flowing Waters (高山流水), with Yanjun playing the guzheng 古筝 and Joshua on piano. Lin Yuhong form China and Joshua Grossman from the United States recited a poem by the Song Dynasty’s Lu You, perhaps echoing the sentiment shared by Professor Ames.
Knowledge gleaned from paper has a shallow feel to it
To understand this truth you must live through it
We hope our students take to heart the advice given by our distinguished guests, and we wish them a fruitful and fascinating academic year at Yenching Academy.