On the Road | YCA Autumn-Semester Field Study Trips 2023 (I)

Shallow as textbook knowledge may seem to be;

Get down to its essence by doing it personally.

—[Tang] Du Fu

Yenching Academy facilitates diverse experiences for Scholars to deepen their understanding of China during their stay in China. In the autumn semester of 2023, the Academy organized field study trips to the Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum, Old Summer Palace, Shougang Industrial Park, Ayilaile domestic service company, Xinzhuang village in Changping district, Peking University Elementary School, Datong in Shanxi province, Yiwu and Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, and Quanzhou in Fujian province. Led by their professors, our Scholars immersed themselves in experiential China Studies courses, gaining insights into real-life China.

This section focuses on field trips related to Professor Wang Shuguang’s Rural China Studies, Associate Prof. Liu Haifang’s Chinese Perspective on Global Migration, Prof. Li Yingtao’s Women in Contemporary China, and Prof. Wang Liping’s Ethnographies of Modern Education.

New Rural China

On November 4, Prof. Wang Shuguang of the PKU School of Economics led YCA Scholars attending his Rural China Studies course on a field trip to Xinzhuang village in Changping district, Beijing. The YCA group visited startups, retail outlets for farm and sideline products, and a strawberry greenhouse operated by “new farmers” in Xinzhuang village. The group listened to brand managers discuss handmade product design and startup business related to strawberry products. Likewise, the Scholars met with the village’s Party secretary, the founder of NanShan School, and the founder of Xiyang Strawberry Co-op, discussing issues like the new rural construction program, innovation and startups in the countryside, rural endowment and medical care development, and e-commerce of agricultural products, gaining a comprehensive view of China’s new rural construction and development.

Through this study trip, our Scholars gained insights into the modernization of the Chinese countryside and agricultural industry, as well as the opportunities and challenges facing “new farmer” startups in China.

Immigrants in China

From November 24 to 26, Assoc. Prof. Liu Haifang from PKU School of International Studies led field trips to Yiwu and Hangzhou for her Chinese Perspective on Global Migration course. Scholars studied the motivations, business, lives, and startups of immigrants in Yiwu. Hangzhou, located 120 kilometers from Yiwu and the capital of two ancient dynasties, provided historical and cultural exploration opportunities at the West Lake and Archaeological Ruins of Liangzhu City.

In Yiwu, the Scholars investigated how it became the world’s largest wholesale market of small commodities and emerged as a significant hub within the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Yiwu has become a “special zone” for immigrants in China, attracting foreign businessmen and immigrants who contribute to the city’s economic, cultural, and educational landscapes. The Scholars visited Yiwu Industrial and Commercial College, where international students receive vocational education in Chinese language and commerce-related subjects, forming local and global networks with alumni and other like-minded individuals and organizations.

The Scholars also investigated foreign startups in Yiwu, drawn by its status as one of the world’s largest wholesale markets of small commodities. These startups engage in international trade, leveraging local resources and strengths. Yiwu’s commercial sector benefits from foreign trade businesses, particularly in the digital realm, attracting e-commerce enthusiasts and those involved in sectors like artificial intelligence. Our Scholars met with expats engaged in these sectors to learn about their experiences.

On November 25, the YCA group arrived in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, a culture-enriched, paradise-like place and a hub city in the East. Our Scholars comparatively studied Hangzhou and Yiwu, exploring their different modernization and globalization trajectories vis-à-vis location, economy, and history. Facing the West Lake, our Scholars marveled at its serenity and beauty, contrasting the modern cityscape and occupying a unique position in Chinese history of humanities and philosophy. On November 26, the YCA group visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Archaeological Ruins of Liangzhu City, guided by Chen Shoutian, a level-II bureau officer from the Administration of Archaeological Ruins of Liangzhu City. They delved into the city’s origins and splendid culture spanning over five millennia.

During their trips to Yiwu and Hangzhou, our Scholars observed the two cities’ distinctive development paths influenced by natural and geographic conditions, locations, and production modes. They explored how the cities, leveraging their cultures, histories, and comparative advantages, positioned themselves in the global value chain and expanded development space. The two cities have differing external exchanges, policies, and worldviews. Our Scholars gained insights into the history of Chinese civilization, characterized by unity in diversity, and developed a deeper understanding of diversity in China through their observations.

China’s Female-dominated Domestic Service Sector

On October 28, Professor Li Yingtao of the School of International Relations, Beijing Foreign Studies University, organized a field trip for her Women in Contemporary China course. Li led a YCA group to Alilaile domestic service company to investigate the employment of Chinese women, particularly rural women, in the domestic service sector.

This female-dominated company, founded 16 years ago, has empowered over 460,000 women, primarily from rural areas, who have consequently led a better life. Ayilaile’s A 700-plus-member team engages in agency services for domestic helpers and employers and provides professional training for domestic service and nursing. Founder and CEO Zhou Yuanhong emphasized that the domestic service sector is part of the knowledge-based economy because service agencies follow the same rules taken by the real estate and law sectors. The CEO noted that domestic service workers must abide by “the best, the winner” rule on the market.

Our Scholars met with three domestic helpers, discussing their jobs and the weekly helper-employer meeting. They inquired about male domestic service workers, development data of the domestic service sector, and details of the helper-employer contract, gaining a deeper understanding of the domestic service sector and female employment.

Education in Contemporary China

On December 11, Assoc. Prof. Wang Liping of the PKU Graduate School of Education led a field study trip to Peking University Elementary School (PKUES) for her Ethnographies of Modern Education course, offering insights into present-day education in China.

Our Scholars visited the PKUES English Drama Society, engaging in a discussion with the director. The Society, highly regarded by students and parents, receives many applications yearly and produces award-winning short films. The YCA group watched Hua Mulan, a 10-minute short film produced by the Society and honored with a national drama award. Also, it engages in international exchanges and cooperation, including seminars co-organized with drama companies in the UK. In addition to its sports facility like the fully equipped “Bubble Gym,” the school has a well-designed sports curriculum, including karate, martial arts, fencing, and basketball courses.

For many international students of YCA, this was their first visit to a Chinese elementary school, turning their knowledge of China’s education system from abstract concepts and theories into tangible experiences. This study trip allowed our Scholars to witness firsthand what education looks like in present-day China.

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