Through Our Door | Ming Yuan: Dean of Yenching Academy

Dean Yuan’s story with Jingyuan started in 1962. From being a student at the international law research office once here sited and listening to the lectures of professors, to being the Dean of Yenching Academy from 2016 on, this story continues to be written; is still in writing. Dean Yuan shares how across the vicissitude of the last six decades, successive cohorts of students have come here to learn, think, and live, as Jingyuan becomes a better place over time.

Q: What is your impression of Jingyuan as a student?

A: I came to college at Peking University in 1962, which is almost 60 years ago to the year now of 2021. When I close my eyes to picture what Jingyuan looked like then, I do not think of anything special, only that it was a small courtyard in the large campus. At that time, Jingyuan had no flowers or grass; it was fairly barren. We did not notice it much, except for the fact that the 6 courtyards are legacies from Yenching University as their women’s dormitories.

In 1979, I returned to Peking University as a graduate student at the Department of Law. Because so many respectable professors gave lectures there, and so many graduate students were so eager, so enthusiastic to learn more, I would describe 1979’s Jingyuan as popular and full of living breath. Then, it was but a plain orchard, and not yet the well-kept yard with cobble-stone path that it is today.

Q: Did that impression of Jingyuan change after you became a teacher?

A: I never thought that after returning from the US in 1985, I would become the Dean of Yenching Academy in 2016, and come back to Jingyuan. Now, every time I walk by Jingyuan 3 and 4, I think back to how it used to be an ordinary orchard in the 60s-70s. But now it has been transformed into the aesthetic design of a Chinese garden.

From the 70s on, no matter how many principals come and go, all of them would be committed to preserving the relics of Yenching University as part of Peking University’s core architecture. This commitment is both intuitive and conscious. This moves me, because modernization often develops so fast that a lot of old architecture would be gone within seconds. But Peking University’s spirit of preservation has continued to pass down in administrations from generation to generation—the task is not only to maintain architecture, but to make them better and more beautiful.

This exhibition, for example, is refreshing to me. In the past, because resources were so limited, we paid little attention to the aesthetic design of Jingyuan. Even less so did we imagine that we could add colors into the space of Jingyuan like this, opening it up for more people to experience the beauty of its lights, shadows and colors. As I told our Associate Dean Brent Haas, I love walking through this space of new colors; the addition creates a sense of resonance.

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