On September 3, Yenching Academy of Peking University held the 2022 Opening Ceremony for the 8th Cohort of Yenching Scholars. Dean Dong Qiang gave the newly enrolled Scholars their “First Class at YCA”, extending his congratulations and best wishes as they kick-started academic activities this Fall.
Dean Dong recalled his first days at Peking University, studying in a French language class. Following his interest and enthusiasm to learn the beautiful language, Dean Dong fell in love with French culture and history. He explained to the new students that this exposure enabled him better undertake cross-cultural studies – gaining a clearer understanding of China and France – and he learned to see life and the world from different perspectives.
“It would be great to focus on the area one is interested in and passionate about, but it would be rewarding to explore and find the research interest before anything else,” Dean Dong stated. In this vein, the Dean of YCA encouraged our Scholars to study history, philosophy, and a new language, cultivate an open mind and be ready to raise questions and rise to challenges.
Talking about his understanding of the Academy’s mission and aim, Dean Dong saw China Studies from new perspectives of geography, grammatology, and grammar. “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,” he noted.
To conclude his remarks, Dean Dong mentioned “The Last Class”, written by Alfonse Daudet. The French novelist injected into the story his love for France and the French language and sadness at being forced to abandon the mother tongue in war. Dean Dong hoped that our Scholars would see the cruelty of war in Daudet’s work and be lifelong peacebuilders. “Let us avoid the ‘last class’ and start with the ‘first class’”.
Associate Dean Brent Haas delivered an opening remark, congratulating and welcoming the Academy’s newest members. He also wished all students residing overseas success in their entry formalities to China.
Quoting an ancient Chinese proverb, Associate Dean Haas stressed the significance of a good start. He admonished the Scholars to improve whatever type of scholarship they intend to engage in because “your future is being shaped and forged by your efforts today.”
Prof. Peng Feng from the School of Arts Peking University delivered a speech as the faculty representative. The attendees appreciated Prof. Peng’s witty recollection of his early days at Peking University when he “struggled” with Mandarin, “his first foreign language”, as he called it. In his personal experience with dialects and Mandarin in the unified Chinese writing system, Prof. Peng saw the unity and diversity of the Chinese language. “It is not an either-or question; it feels like people love coffee and tea. Such a pluralist interpretation takes an inclusive analytical approach,”Prof. Peng explained.
The faculty representative cited Qi Baishi’s remarks on the similarity and dissimilarity in painting and noted, “This betweenness is appreciated not only in Chinese painting, but also in Chinese music, calligraphy, garden, theater art, and so on.” Taking a cue from this, he discussed a connection between the East and the West, pointing out that European aestheticians cherish beauty as unity in diversity, and Chinese culture and arts are typically characterized by unity in variety, just like the Chinese language. He was optimistic that our Scholars would better appreciate the beauty of betweenness during their two-year study at the Academy.
Furthermore, Associate Dean Fan Shiming announced the winners of the Yenching Academy Award for Best Academic Performance 2021–22 Academic Year. He extended his congratulations to the 2021 Cohort for their impressive performance during academic and extracurricular activities, both online and offline. Likewise, Prof. Fan welcomed the 2022 Cohort and wished them success during the new academic year.
The following Scholars received the YCA Award for Best Academic Performance 2021–22 Academic Year: Ivaylo Walinga, Sukjoon Kang, Brook Jiang, Daniel Tafelski, Corson Ellis, Arturo Romo, Dang Dao Nguyen, Ann Chen, Jue Yu Jade Phua, and Sammy Pan.
Hong Kai Tan (Singapore) from the 2022 Cohort delivered a speech as the student representative. Hong Kai stated that his interest in China grew following a report on China Studies he read in his senior year that offered a brief but comprehensive introduction to various aspects of China in the modern age. Owing to this piqued interest in understanding China, he studied the country in interdisciplinary studies at the university. He said, “To understand China and Chinese civilization, one must not only be informed about its economy, politics, and literature, but also gain an appreciation of its laws, philosophies, and history.” He discussed Jonathan Spence’s “To Change China” with the audience, calling on his colleagues to remain open-minded for objective observation and unbiased research on China. To attain this feat, Hong Kai observed that one needs to be a good listener, appreciate different viewpoints, and must not impose their views on others.
The audience, both onsite and online, was touched by the “surprise” videos from several Scholars’ parents and teachers, who affectionately told exciting stories and fun facts about the students’ and expressed their good wishes. The families and teachers congratulated the first-year students, wishing them happiness and success in their new journey in life.
Gao Xiqing, former Vice Chairman, President, and Chief Investment Officer of China Investment Corporation, delivered a keynote speech. He first applauded the 2022 Cohort for joining YCA because being a Yenching Scholar is a reward for their efforts and the recognition of their academic ability. Mr. Gao explained that the world is in constant flux, especially in the current age, filled with suspicions, poor communication, and an inclination to conflicts. Nonetheless, he observed that “the learning and understanding of intellectual treasures created by the Eastern and Western sages over the centuries and the commonsensical wisdom accumulated by generations of our forefathers will always provide some guidance for us.”
Mr. Gao narrated his experiences as a young man working at the Xiangyu Railway construction site in the early 1970s. He spent his meager salary most on secondhand books and a radio set to learn English and listen to the news (foreign and domestic) to stay abreast of events in the world. Before Steve Jobs coined the famous “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish,” Mr. Gao had mapped his road of life under the star of knowledge. He encouraged our Scholars to stay open-minded, independent, critical, and take action and live a rewarding life.
The opening ceremony rounded off with the syncing tunes of Auld Lang Syne played over a video link, performed by pianist Du Xinran (China) and flutist Matthew Kelly (Ireland) from the 2022 Cohort.
The opening ceremony was attended, online and onsite, by over 100 Yenching Scholars from the 2022 Cohort and their families and friends, across different time zones.
We wish our new Yenching Scholars happiness and success in their two-year study at the Academy.