Graduation | Liu Yanjun: Finding Soul Mates in Music and the World in YCA

On June 19, Yenching Academy of Peking University held the 2022 Graduation Ceremony. Liu Yanjun (China) was among the graduating Scholars from the 2020 Cohort to receive their degree certificates and had her tassel moved to the other side, signifying the completion of her program.

How time flies! Seeing Liu Yanjun, a guzheng zither player, and her fellow student Joshua Fung (Malaysia), a pianist, seated for the graduation ceremony brought back memories of their guzheng-piano duet of the ancient Chinese melody – Gao Shan Liu Shui – performed at the opening ceremony two years ago. Their beautifully syncing tunes played over video link still linger in our ears. Busy with preparing for her life after graduation, Yanjun recalled adoringly her two years at the Yenching Academy.

Yanjun majored in Accounting for her undergraduate study at the China University of Petroleum, Beijing (CUPB), and studied in the Economics and Management track at Yenching Academy. She was President of the English public speaking and debating association and active in English debating events at CUPB. She drew inspiration from different perspectives of Chinese and overseas students’ debates and debating techniques and grew heavily interested in cross-cultural exchanges.

Interestingly, Yanjun learned about YCA’s China Studies program by chance from Valeryia Liseichykava, a YCA alumna from Belarus who met Yanjun in a debate competition while studying at the Academy. Considering her interest in interdisciplinary studies – she once led a project covering energy economics and social psychology – Yanjun applied, without hesitation, for YCA’s interdisciplinary program as it aligned with her academic interests.

Watching China from new perspectives

In her two-year study at the Academy, Yanjun has learned, more than anything else, that one must remain brave to raise difficult questions and rise to challenges.

Yanjun was enthused by the quality of thought-provoking questions her fellow students from outside China asked in class and informal student gatherings. “We’re Chinese and know about our country because we grew up experiencing Chinese culture. But overseas students are curious about China. They would raise questions over things we may think natural,” Yanjun explained. Taking the interdisciplinary China Studies program with students from diverse cultures, she learned to see things from different perspectives and explore more possibilities and thought processes.

“China in Transition” was Yanjun’s favorite, which featured “thought-provoking comments from professors and peer discussions on practical, cross-cultural issues.” Yanjun immersed herself in Chinese and Western documents and news reports and exchanged ideas with professors and her fellow students. In this course, Yanjun and her fellow students learned to take interdisciplinary approaches to China Studies. Combining research and field studies, they examined historical and current issues concerning China, exploring the challenges China faces and its contributions to the world. Also, the course offered ample opportunities to share interesting China stories.

It is important to have a good teacher. Yanjun invited Prof. Wang Shuguang from PKU School of Economics as her dissertation supervisor. Her undergraduate paper investigated the role of fellow townspeople in the senior management of a listed company. She remained interested in Chinese society “from the soil”. She selected Prof. Wang’s “Rural China Studies”, which examines several issues related to agriculture, farmers, and rural development in China from a multidisciplinary view.

Led by Prof. Wang, Yanjun and her colleagues embarked on field study trips to Lixian county in Baoding, Hebei province, and Langfa Ercun village in Daxing district, Beijing. The trips included visits to township enterprises and talks with migrant workers and entrepreneurs. The experiences helped Yanjun see the nature of rural China and prepared her for her dissertation.

Yanjun felt grateful for Prof. Wang, “I was lucky to study with Prof. Wang. Our research trips helped me better appreciate that the aspiration for state governance and societal development must be underpinned by practical political resolves to set goals and work to attain them.” Prof. Wang also gave Yanjun many of his books and materials on rural development issues, which helped her make significant strides in her dissertation.

Reaching for the world from Jingyuan Courtyard

Yanjun was active in extracurricular events at the Academy. The Chinese captain of her class, she collaborated with her colleague Julia Cai. Both Scholars called their classmates to share their favorite food and enjoy tea talks. More so, Yanjun and YCA’s residential advisors co-organized holiday events like YCA Photography Mosaic, where YCAers met online from across the world. Co-chair of the GSU Executive Committee, Yanjun made tireless efforts to serve her fellow students on campus and online.

With the hard work of Yanjun and her GSU colleagues, the GSU and PKU School of Chinese as a Second Language co-sponsored the online event “Language Partner on the Cloud”. Overseas students at the Academy found the event a good opportunity to enhance their Chinese proficiency. Under Yanjun’s leadership, the GSU and 10 schools of economics and management at universities in Beijing, including PKU National School of Development, jointly held the “co-author” event as an online platform where students exchanged ideas and shared educational resources.

Yanjun found her days at the GSU challenging: She had multiple online meetings with her colleagues late at night due to time differences, collaborated to work out individual solutions for fellow students’ inquiries, and served as a bridge between students and teachers, and students outside China and the Academy, through effective and consistent communication.

Nonetheless, she expressed gratitude toward her GSU colleagues, who were always capable, willing, and creative, “We were working tirelessly and in concert for something bigger than us.” Their efforts were repaid. Yanjun received a flood of thank-you messages from fellow Yenchingers and was awarded as the YCA Outstanding Contributor, voted by teachers and students at the end of the first academic year.

Yanjun’s interest in cross-cultural exchanges was satisfied at the Academy, where she made friends by playing musical instruments. She has been most impressed with the duet she and Joshua played. Neither had played this way before. What’s more, a rehearsal had been impossible due to the pandemic. Both had worried about the “over-the-air” performance until the video clip was played at the 2020 Opening Ceremony. The duet was a big success. Some of our international students were deeply impressed by the performance and shared the video with their families, who grew interested in classical Chinese music. Yanjun and Joshua gave another joint performance at the opening ceremony of the interdisciplinary exhibition – “Through Our Door”. Likewise, Yanjun and her fellow Chinese classmates Luo Hanyi and Lin Yuhong formed a band called Four Y. They played at Jingyuan and Peking University Hall, entertaining listeners with their melodious tunes created by combining classical Chinese music and Western-styled music.

Her experiences at YCA boosted her interest in cross-cultural exchanges. She found young people today are ready to communicate and good at mutual understanding, “We try to understand and recognize cultures beyond our own only when we grow interested in and are moved by other cultures.” Yanjun embraced an open mind to study and work in a multicultural setting at the Academy while highlighting that young Chinese should “be aware of and confident in Chinese culture, and seek to understand and respect other cultures. In diversity, we search for unity, and with each other’s strengths and support, we keep moving towards our goals.”

The graduation ceremony ended with the music video, “Youth Perhaps”. At the end of the video, Yanjun, clad in her scarlet dress, produced the music video’s tune on her guzheng, expressing her best wishes for herself and her fellow students. She will start her career with a ministerial-level institution in China.

Yanjun noted her pride as a Yenching Scholar who gained a full sense of belonging at the Academy. At YCA, she met good friends and gained a network of like-minded colleagues for future engagement. Together, during their YCA journey, they lived a brilliant life and appreciated one another’s perspectives, talents, and backgrounds. With the shining memories and lifelong friendships she has made at the Academy, Yanjun is prepared for future life.

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