Through Our Door | Yuan Zeng Ashley Tan (Singapore): 2020 Yenching Scholar

A great lover of languages and history, Ashley found many homes within the YCA community. From taking extra classes to starting language learning clubs, Ashley has charted his own academic experience that defies the challenges of online learning. Despite having never physically visited Jingyuan, it remains iconic of Ashley’s greater experience within the program.

Q: What were your impressions of the architecture of Jingyuan?

A: At the beginning, my impression of Jingyuan was formed based on the Yenching brochure. Those pictures of the courtyard made my first impression of Jingyuan: it represents Chinese history yet also features a host of modern features inside the building. As a Yenching Scholar majoring in Chinese History and Archaeology, I was really excited to study in a special place like Jingyuan with different layers of history to explore.

After admission to Yenching Academy of PKU, my impression of Jingyuan didn’t change much. My Chinese teacher kept saying how beautiful the courtyard is and how here students used to hang around and talk to each other in the yard. Her description adds a 诗情画意 (idyllic) vibe to Jingyuan and makes me so excited to see it in person.

Now, after the cultural exhibition info session, my impression of Jingyuan is “ancient” and “mysterious.” I’m more aware of the existence of this courtyard than ever before.

Beyond the physical space, the idea of Jingyuan is similar to the idea of the Yenching Academy of PKU. It’s a mixture of Chinese and international elements. Most importantly, it’s a mixture of people. The interaction and communication of people within the space matters a lot.

Q: What role did Jingyuan play in your life on campus?

A: To me, Jingyuan remains “远在天边 近在眼前” (it is so close yet so far). Maybe a lot of other international students feel the same way: it is so close yet so far. We would receive emails from the Yenching Academy of PKU and see pictures of events at Jingyuan from time to time. Jingyuan still feels within reach although we can’t be there physically. Instead, we are experiencing it in a different way. Beyond the physical space, which I haven’t visited in person, Jingyuan to me could be extended into a metaphysical space since I’m still involved in many courses and events taking place at the Yenching Academy of PKU. For example, I still enjoy the great lectures of PKU professors and thought-provoking discussions with my fellow students. So, even though for now I am not at Jingyuan, I am still experiencing it in certain ways.

Q: In three words, how would you describe Jingyuan?

A: I would describe Jingyuan as vicarious; defying space-and-time; and perhaps inspirational (in terms of its history) or thought-provoking (students are challenged to think about China and beyond China.)

Because of the pandemic, Jingyuan has turned from a communal space to an abstract space run by time. For me, the online community is defying space and time. The moment I quit my job as a lawyer to join a China-study program, I decided to contribute 100% to it. I made many friends through online activities and I feel happy to know that friendship is not conditional upon the online-offline difference. I don’t think I’m missing out on the Yenching experience as much as I thought.

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