The First Class——Dean Dong Qiang's Speech at the Yenching Academy Opening Ceremony 2022

On September 3, the Yenching Academy of Peking University held the opening ceremony of 2022. At the ceremony, Dean Dong shared his experience of studying aboard and his thoughts on cross-cultural exchanges, and delivered the "the First Class" for new scholars on campus. Dean Dong advised scholars to be down to earth and to explore their interests slowly and gradually. He encouraged everyone to learn more about history and philosophy, learn a new language, and be more open and inclusive to understand the various problems facing the world today.

Tomorrow will be the 38th Teacher's Day in China. To welcome this special day, Dean Dong presented his perspective of  " the First Class" in the form of traditional Chinese brush calligraphy and wished all the teachers a happy holiday!

Read his speech below:

First Class——Dean Dong Qiang's Speech 

at Yenching Academy Opening Ceremony 2022

Dear Scholars, Colleagues, and Friends,

Thank you for attending today’s opening ceremony. I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the new cohort of Yenching Scholars for joining our ever-expanding Yenching Academy family. This is my first opening ceremony since assuming the role of Dean of the Academy; I am just as excited as you are and honored to address you.

There is a term in Chinese, “第一课” literally translated as“the First Class,” to describe the first lesson students receive when they begin their studies. In this vein, I would like to take this opportunity, dear Scholars, to begin your time here with some reflections of mine. Don’t worry – for this “First Class at the Academy,” you won’t need to take any notes or sit for two hours. My First Class only entails some genuine suggestions and best wishes I intend to offer you.

Before that, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to Mr. Gao Xiqing, the pioneer and witness of China’s reform and opening up. He has rich experience of studying abroad and valuable work experience after returning to China. I thank him for sharing his unique experiences and lessons with our Yenching Scholars. I hope our Scholars, both Chinese and international, can learn from them. The real benefit is understanding China’s hard-earned achievements in development over the years and the country’s position in the world today, and the possibilities this knowledge avail to one’s career in the future.

Also, I thank Dean Peng Feng, a distinguished philosopher and art critic. Trust me, I can understand his Mandarin, but sometimes I find myself unable to keep up with his thoughts; he is such a critical and deep thinker. Because he is so learned and has an extremely broad academic vision, he combines discussions about the East and the West, especially their traditional and contemporary aspects. It is with the help of professors like him that our Academy can maintain a high level of teaching. Scholars, both onsite and online, will feel these professors’ charm and talent soon. I envy you all!

Likewise, I am grateful to the entire team at Yenching Academy. People generally envy the teaching profession because teachers can have vacations, especially the more extended summer vacations. Yet, what I saw this past summer holiday was your unflinching commitment and dedication to assisting Scholars from all over the world as they prepare to travel to Jingyuan to begin their studies on the beautiful Peking University campus. Combining online and offline work, the entire team has not been able to enjoy the holiday. The YCA staff worked overtime almost every day to understand various policies and answer various questions. I am proud that Yenching Academy has a warm, supportive and efficient team.

Of course, I must give my deepest gratitude to our esteemed Professor Yuan Ming, our honorary Dean, for her unremitting efforts, which laid a solid foundation for creating a good atmosphere for Yenching Academy. Although she took a back seat because of her age, she still cares about the development of Yenching Academy. Let us thank her again for attending our ceremony, today, she is for sure a first-row VIP.

When asked to describe as briefly as he could, what a university was, John Henry Newman, an English ideologist, deemed that in its essence, a university consists of teachers and learners from every quarter and a place for the communication and circulation of thought.

I believe Newman’s words capture the essence of Peking University and, more importantly, of Yenching Academy. Now, take a brief moment to ponder what purpose prompted you to apply to the Yenching Academy. Compare it to four years ago, when you enrolled for your undergraduate study, a college degree seemed the right choice without thinking. This time, many of you may choose a foreign country, away from your home and family to immerse yourselves in a new cultural setting; or you probably changed your research focus to a new one to explore the possibilities therein.

Although you may have already answered this question during the interview session, I hereby call on you to think about it again as you officially start your academic life at YCA. It is your “why” of choosing YCA that will be a source of wisdom to guide your decisions as you embark on this journey, and I implore you never to lose sight of it.

Before you give me your answer, I will share with you my story. It was the first time that I started learning French during my First Classes at Peking university many years ago. Prior to this, I did not have a clue about the language. This beautiful language and the cultural and historical connotations behind it literally affected and changed my whole life, even to this day. It led me to a whole new world, to a career path, and a lifelong enthusiasm. It has affected how I think and perceive the world, and has molded me into the person standing in front of you today.

I would humbly add, a university is also the place where you learn about yourself on a deeper level, and find your lifelong passion. Yenching Academy is one academy with a million possibilities to explore, and my colleagues and I will dedicate ourselves to nurturing your potential and supporting your interests.

Yenching Academy is a pioneering and international college. People often ask, what exactly is the content of the China Studies program you are teaching? Are you trying to train sinologists? Is it to train China experts? As you all know, I recently became the Dean. Notwithstanding, after six months of observing and thinking, I believe that our program is ground-breaking. Its purpose is neither to cultivate sinologists in the traditional sense nor train related experts in regional studies in China – of course, this would be a welcomed achievement if such experts emerge from our Scholars.

We're offering the ability for our international scholars with a global vision (Chinese scholars are included in this frame because China is part of the world) to use their knowledge of China and experiences within China to facilitate their study and work trajectories. I believe that once an individual understands a true China, and its beauty and richness, they can have their career direction. Thus, our disciplines cover politics, economics, law, history, culture, and philosophy. We hope that our outstanding Scholars from all over the world can learn about China's historical and current state, development efforts, and future directions in these fields at Yenching Academy. This is why, in our training, Chinese Scholars also account for a considerable proportion. The Scholars we train understand China from the perspective of the world and explore the relationship between China and the world.

This is why I recently tried to propose a new concept, “Sinography”, in addition to traditional Sinology and China Studies. I am confident our professor Peng Feng will encourage this concept because, in modern and contemporary philosophy and art, a new concept can often bring a fresh perspective and understanding. As we all know, -logy means a discourse system, and study implies a kind of applied research on a certain object with cognitive and theoretical premises. And for many people — both international scholars and Chinese scholars — there are still many unknowns in China. We need to understand China just as we know a terrain and landscape. Just as geography is a description of the earth, we need a description of China. Sinography is an objective description of China.

At the same time, this does not mean that scholars are passive and can only accept objective descriptions. In fact, any study must start from a specific field, which is why you choose one of the six tracks at the Academy. From a phenomenological point of view, this is an act of "incarnation". These areas will constitute the specific elements of your understanding of China, which I call the "Sinogram". As you continually improve your understanding of many Sinograms, you will form an overall knowledge of China in your mind, which I call "Sinogrammar". Once you have developed your “Sinogrammar”, you are equipped with the necessary tools to navigate China-related discourses more intently. At that stage, I will congratulate you for not only mastering Chinese — because Chinese has its grammar — but for also forming a cognition about China and your judgment. Whatever path you take for your future endeavors, you become a person who can put China in the eyes of the world and consider it, irrespective of whether your career is directly related to China or not.

Of course, these ideas of mine are still superficial and need to be further refined. It is even more necessary to listen to the opinions of other insightful people in the educational field. But in short, I hope that through these three words(Sinography,Sinogram, and Sinogrammar)and my understanding of them, I can share my perspectives on the educational significance of the Academy and my expectations for our Scholars. I hope you will be grounded, do not make preconceptions, study hard, and gradually understand the real China. Discovering China is just like studying geography and discovering nature. It is a land worthy of your exploration for you to see its diligent, enthusiastic, and lovely people here and discover the country's long and rich culture. It is just like discovering the mountains and rivers, hills and plains of China.

I always consider myself lucky to have met the language and culture I love at a very young age and I understand that some need more time to explore. Chances are you may feel like a jack-of-all trades and master-of-none, or simply drift from one day to the next searching for what will satisfy your inner world. When faced with these situations, which is very common among young people, I would suggest you to remember your “why” of embarking on the journey; remember you are a student who seeks to learn. Be patient and down to earth. Imbibe and digest the knowledge your professors impart to you, diligently do your homework, and read as much as you can. You will definitely benefit yourself and build the scaffolding of your knowledge system and worldview during this process. Whatever your academic track is, I recommend you to read something about history and philosophy, and try to learn a new language. These things will help you see the world more clearly, become more inclusive and open-minded while remaining true to your identity in this complex and dynamic world. I always think many problems we face in this century exist due to an inadequate understanding of the last century and ourselves as a diverse yet connected human race.

I once jokingly said at an alumni meeting that our scholars have found career paths, academic research fields and even their significant others during their studies here at the Academy. So please look closely at the faces on the screen and those sitting here with us today, and cherish every relationship you will be building with them. Whether it’s your professors or your peer Scholars, humbly listen to what they have to say and share what you hold dear with them, you will be heard as well. I have no doubt the impacts they make on you through your interactions will last a lifetime.

I think that this short speech of mine and my shallow thoughts are far from my "First Class". Nevertheless, the phrase "First Class" also made me think about the "Last Class", a famous French short story, before I started learning French. At the time, the short story by the French writer Alphonse Daudet was included in our middle school textbook. It was a patriotic and tragic piece of literature; war made the children lose the opportunity to continue to learn their language, and teachers lost the right to continue teaching their language. Drawing on this piece and the fact that the world is struggling with different forms of crisis today, I would like to add an expectation for everyone today: I hope our Scholars will become messengers of kindness, friendship, and peace. Let us avoid the "Last Class" and start with the "First Class" for a peaceful and brilliant future.

Dear Yenching Scholars, thank you for choosing Yenching Academy and entrusting your valuable two years with us. Through this journey, I hope you will bear the hope and responsibility that we bestow upon you as Yenching Scholars. May you help foster communication and mutual respect in the Academy and the greater international community in the future. More importantly, may you find your passion and your own way of expression in this world. I cannot wait to embark on this new chapter with you!

Welcome and I wish you all a rewarding experience ahead!

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