Graduation | Xu Zhanyi: Pursuing Infinite Possibilities in Life

On June 19, Yenching Academy of Peking University held the 2022 Graduation Ceremony. Xu Zhanyi was among the many graduating Scholars from the 2020 Cohort who received their degree certificates and had their tassel moved to the other side during the ceremony.

The music video played at the end event left a lasting impression on all attendees both online and on-site at the PKU campus. Zhanyi, the movie’s director, shed tears at watching the video, reflecting on her years at the Academy.

Good example, good decision

As an undergraduate, Zhanyi once had the opportunity of welcoming former British prime minister Theresa May and held a demonstration in Chinese debate for her. Her interest in Yenching Academy blossomed when Wan Shuxin, her senior colleague from Wuhan University, was admitted to YCA’s 2018 cohort.

Still a sophomore, Zhanyi had no hesitation in browsing the Academy’s website, seeking as much information as possible about the Academy and its curriculum. Zhanyi found the Academy’s cross-cultural, interdisciplinary program an ideal place for her academic exploration. In the autumn semester of her junior year, Zhanyi completed an academic exchange at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. While studying in Hong Kong, she prepared her application materials for YCA’s China Studies master’s program; at graduation, Zhanyi was recommended for the Academy’s admission with the highest GPA.

Majoring in the Experimental Class of Humanities at university, Zhanyi learned to investigate literature from perspectives of history and philosophy. However, she has been keen on seeing broader realities in China and around the world beyond books and texts.

“I’ve believed that literature and culture are inseparable and must be understood with theories and methodologies in areas of economics, politics, and sociology. Yenching Academy has opened the door to all the possibilities.” Zhanyi felt like a fish in the ocean, enjoying her days in the Academy’s multidimensional, interdisciplinary program and exploring its vast resources.

China in Transition (CIT) was Zhanyi’s favorite course, “CIT explores China’s shift over the years in macroscopic topics and with microscopic case study and discussions. I love this integration of lectures with group discussions.” The course facilitates heated yet friendly debates between Chinese and international students; the Scholars concisely present their ideas and listen to others with constructive criticism. Expressing a deep emotional connection to the Academy, Zhanyi noted that her experiences confirmed that the decision to study at YCA was the smart choice.

Intimate friends across continents and seas

Sadly, many of the 2020 Cohort could not study on campus during the pandemic. Their beautiful ideas of studying and living on the PKU campus remained unfulfilled when they said goodbye to each other online.

Zhanyi made good friends with her colleagues. She practiced her pronunciation of Korean words with Minwoong Hwang and Yoonsoo Song from South Korea, and Hiroki Mafune from Japan was surprised at her perfect Japanese. Zhanyi and Anastasia Muraveva from Russia were both fans of manga. They may come from different countries and cultures, but they can always find common ground in their interest and hobbies.

A small place in Jingyuan Courtyard 4 is waiting for its audience. It is a corner where the like-minded meet and chat. This Creative Pavilion received its first exhibitors, Zhanyi and her colleague Casey Wang from the United States.

Outside the “classroom, " they are besties who share their favorite Japanese dramas and TV shows. They talk about the sweetness and bitterness of love, share their daily activities, and even enjoy small idle talks.

Zhanyi and Casey worked closely for the 2021 Yenching Global Symposium (YGS). Zhanyi, Director of Public Relations, saw in Casey, the event’s Co-chair, an inspiring person with a strong sense of responsibility. “Casey was a great help to my PR work; without her, the online YGS wouldn’t have been so successful,” she said.

The two girls collaborated for their Creative Pavilion show. Casey was the artist and designer, and Zhanyi was the exhibitor who saw every idea come to life. They are perfect partners despite being separated by physical distance across different continents.

All-in-one: student, writer, faculty helper, and artist

Zhanyi had to put aside her plan for academic exchange at the University of Tokyo owing to the travel restrictions caused by the pandemic. She calmly planned her life, as a manga role would do, saying out loud to herself, “enjoy yourself while studying hard at the Academy and do what you can for the Academy, then!”

Zhanyi worked as the Student Affairs Assistant and Teaching Assistant. Likewise, she became a Class Advisor for the following cohorts. In these capacities, she was both a student at the Academy and a part-time worker at Student Affairs Office.

Zhanyi was an able assistant to the faculty at Student Affairs Office, helping with events preparation, on-site organization, and report writing. She worked on the monthly Alumni Newsletter, sharing beautiful stories about life at the Academy to our alumni worldwide.

Over the past two years, the articles from Student Affairs Office were signed with the name Xu Zhanyi. The Office staff would usually say her name was synonymous with good stories and writing, owing to her diligent and concise work. Many who could not reside on campus enjoyed our brilliant events, thanks to her articles. She had interviews with some of our faculty and presented a report afterward for the last Youth Day celebration.

In addition, she is a brilliant art designer. Her brilliant ideas can be seen in some posters and the stage design for the 2021 Graduation Concert. Her T-shirt design, containing icons of the local hotpot dish, panda, Sanxingdui Bronze statue, and Dazu Rock Carvings, accompanied our teachers and students to field research tours in Sichuan and Chongqing in 2021.

“After all, I was writing down my youthful experiences and expressing my creativity at the Academy. I wouldd be honored if my writings, paintings, and designs would inspire more young people to join the events and the Academy, partaking in cultural exchange between China and the rest of the world.”

Over the year’s work as the Student Affairs Assistant, Zhanyi has built capacities for event organization and communication, and forged a friendship with the faculty at the office. “Our teachers are nice to me; I’ve expressed their warmth and love. The relationship between the office staff and I transcends the usual teachers-students relation; I would say it feels more like a friendship.”

The heartfelt talk about her experience

The Academy invited nine Scholars to the 2022 Admission Event in China to share their experience at the Academy and give suggestions on application.

A graduating student, Zhanyi made “thirst for knowledge and passion for communication” the keywords of her speech and began with personal China stories.

Zhanyi’s dissertation is titled “Global Culture Industry and Post Subculture: Localization of JK Uniforms,” under the supervision of Prof. Wu Jing from the PKU School of Journalism and Communication. Zhanyi was grateful for the respect and help from Prof. Wu throughout the writing process, “At first, Prof. Wu asked me what JK uniforms were, and she later explained how they evolved with times and why the evolution happened. I felt Prof. Wu’s passion for things she is unfamiliar with and what a respectful scholar she is.”

Drawing on the theory of global culture industry proposed by Lash and Lury and on the theory of post subculture, Zhanyi explained JK uniforms as the continued existence of a thing and a cultural object, and she explored the history, media, and identity of audience in cross-cultural transmission. External reviewers praised the dissertation for its “in-depth research and critical thinking.” Zhanyi received an A for her dissertation in the final defense.

Zhanyi wrote in the Acknowledgment of her dissertation, “I thought time and again about what dissertation I should do to round off my students’ years. I chose to be faithful to what my academic interest has always been in.”

Following her interest, Zhanyi will work in content operations after graduation, hoping to forge better capabilities and content sensitiveness in fast-paced sectors. “I hope my content products or sections will positively impact people’s life.”


Zhanyi loves James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games. During her two years at the Academy, she has gained a better understanding of finite and infinite games, and breaking up and through boundaries. Yenching Academy is the paradise that allows her to embrace infinite differences and possibilities across time and space.

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