Dean Dong Qiang Attends 2024 NYC&BOS WDF

On April 5, Professor Dong Qiang, Dean of Yenching Academy of Peking University, attended the opening ceremony of the 2024 Harvard-Columbia World Development Forum (WDF) at Harvard Memorial Church. He delivered a keynote speech titled “International Education as an Essential Vector of World Development.”

Dean Dong began by highlighting the nuanced difference between the Chinese terms “发展” and “发达,” which are often translated in English as “developed.” He stressed that “发展” implies “developed,” while “发达” denotes “advancement.” He noted that this distinction highlighted that world development requires continuous progress and joint efforts of all nations, regardless of their developmental status. He then quoted the Confucian concept of 达则兼济天下, which advocates that upon achieving greatness, one should share the benefits with others, to emphasize the importance of nations assisting others on their paths towards development while continuing their own progress.

Dean Dong expressed pride in Yenching Academy’s pivotal role in the Chinese education sector since its establishment a decade ago. The Academy is an exemplar of international education, which plays a critical role in academic and intercultural exchange. In the past decade, the Academy has grown to encompass exceptional students from over 80 countries and regions, representing more than 370 universities worldwide and serving as an important international education platform.

Prof. Dong further pointed out the importance of international education today, particularly amid the profound impacts of artificial intelligence on human society and existence. “With knowledge almost readily available, education will further evolve as a new medium for human interaction and coexistence, particularly by redefining the concept of ‘growth’ and infusing it with new meaning,” he noted. Dean Dong emphasized that international education fosters “an experiential learning system” that “allows individuals to gradually assimilate knowledge through their interactions with their environment,” developing a reflective perception of foreign cultures and their own. He reckoned that this process fosters an understanding that transcends artificial intelligence and lies at the core of true education. Dean Dong underscored inclusiveness as an important prerequisite for international education. “Inclusivity does not entail compromising principles or identity but rather basic respect for others. Inclusion is multifaceted, just as world relations are multilateral,” he discussed. Dean Dong asserted that international education remains an essential vector of world development despite various challenges and uncertainties.

The 2024 WDF invited political and business dignitaries from around the world. During the opening ceremony, Dean Dong engaged in candid talks with fellow keynote speakers, including Youssef Chahed, 14th Prime Minister of Tunisia; Ricardo Hausmann, Former Chair of the IMF-World Bank Development Committee; Erika Mouynes, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Panama; Santiago Creuheras, Former Deputy Minister of Sustainable Energy and Environment of Mexico; Juan Ariel Jimenez, Minister of Development Policy of the Ministry of the Presidency of the Dominican Republic; Fatema Z. Sumar, Executive Director of the Center for International Development (CID) at Harvard University; Hanscom Smith, Retired Department of State Senior Foreign Service Officer; Yasheng Huang, Associate Dean, MIT Sloan School of Management; and Eileen Gu, Olympic Champion Student at Stanford University.

On April 6, Dean Dong met around 20 YCA alumni in Boston, who reunited for a get-together organized by Du Yansong, YCA Head of Student Affairs, and Casey Wang (2020 Cohort). They shared stories about their life and work after graduation and were immersed in the warm memories of their life at YCA. They expressed wishes for the success of the Academy’s 10th-anniversary events.

The following is the full text of Dean Dong’s keynote speech.

What an impressive tribune! The last time I found myself delivering an address with an eagle present was in Napoleon's former residence… in Corsica…! And yet, the eagle was behind me!

Dear distinguished guests and friends,

I'm delighted and honored to be here at Harvard today for this forum jointly organized by Harvard and Columbia University. I'd like to appreciate specially the organizers for putting me in a position that embodies the Chinese saying "继往开来", marking the transition from a panel of "senior" experts to one featuring dynamic young leaders like Miss Eileen Gu. Given our limited time, I'd like to focus on a topic directly related to my current work: "International Education as an Essential Vector of World Development."

In fact, we have never experienced such a common and simultaneous concern for the concept of "development." Interestingly, in Chinese, when referring to "development", there is a notable nuance. In English or other languages, it is often only necessary to distinguish between "developing" and "developed" nations — grammar can solve problems smoothly by using present and past participles to represent two states. However, in Chinese, there is no such word as "已发展", which translates as "already developed," instead, we use "发达" to denote "advancement." This word contains a word "da," signifying "arrival."

That is to say, we distinguish the world into "developing" and "advanced" countries and regions. This distinction implies that developed nations have reached a destination, suggesting a completed journey. But does this mean they no longer need further development? Perhaps not always. Historically, when referring to developed nations, there was often an unconscious assumption that they serve as models to emulate rather than entities needing further development. This mindset led to the common use of phrases in China like "learning from developed countries".

I believe that for many from developed nations, perhaps unconsciously or consciously, harbor the notion that exporting their models would suffice. They believe that if other countries would just emulate and learn from them, global development would naturally follow suit, ushering in a new and transformative era.

The reality has taught us differently. Today, regardless of our developmental status, we understand the necessity of continuous progress, ideally together. However, the question arises: in what manner should this development occur? Should it be competitive, conflictual, or harmonious?

As a simple citizen and professor, I humbly admit that I do not possess definitive answers, even suggestions to this complex issue.

Nevertheless, I'd like to briefly delve into the semantics of the term "developed" or "advanced" in Chinese. The character "达" signifies "arrived" but also "通达," suggesting that a developed nation has greater potential to forge ahead and navigate the future with ease. Moreover, "达" implies personal accomplishment, echoing the Confucian concept of 达则兼济天下, which denotes that upon achieving greatness, one should share the benefits with others.

But how can a developed country assist others in development while continuing its own progress?

One effective approach is to enhance international education efforts. This involves creating an environment where young people from various countries can live together, comprehend the host country's system, and become aware of their cultural differences.

Yenching Academy of Peking University, where I serve as Dean, is set to celebrate its tenth anniversary this May. Establishing Yenching Academy marked a pivotal milestone in the Chinese education sector, with its roots tracing back to Harvard University. Specifically, its inception can be linked to a visit by the then President of Peking University to Harvard University. During this visit, the then President of Harvard University extended a warm invitation to the President of Peking University, inviting him to attend that academic session's graduation ceremony. At the ceremony, Harvard's President proudly noted that the University's outstanding students come from all corners of the world. This statement and the figure of international students studying at Harvard left a profound impact on our President, sparking deep contemplation. At that time, our student body consisted predominantly of Chinese students. It became clear to our President that a truly esteemed university must attract exceptional students from diverse backgrounds to fulfill its role in cultivating talent for the future. And thus, Yenching Academy was born. Over the past decade, through tireless and dedicated efforts, the Academy has grown to encompass nearly a thousand exceptional students from over 80 countries and representing more than 370 universities worldwide. These students excel in various fields and hold influential positions. I am confident that among the audience gathered here today, there are graduates of our program, and tomorrow, I will be meeting dozens of Yenching Academy alumni.

The importance of international education today cannot be overstated. In traditional Europe, there was once a well-known form of education called "the grand tour" or "le grand tour" in French. Originally utilized by the British, this involved exceptional young individuals traveling to European countries, including Italy and France, to enrich their worldview as part of their education. This trend continued with the development of industry and technology, as global travel became an integral component of education due to heightened interconnectivity propelled by globalization.

Chateaubriand's depiction of America, for instance, symbolized European literature's entry into modernity, while Romanticism brought about a new perspective for Europeans. Following World War II, the United States emerged as the epitome of the "New World". Since implementing its reform and opening up policy in the 1980s, China's re-emergence into global affairs has rekindled frequent interactions with Europe and America, echoing the frequent contacts of the early 20th century, especially with Europe. This renewed engagement has significantly contributed to China's rapid development, strengthening its connections with the world and providing vast markets and opportunities for common prosperity and development.

Therefore, irrespective of the current circumstances, international education remains a crucial driving force for global development. However, in the present context, the role of international education has evolved significantly.

Nowadays, the most notable change entails the profound impact of artificial intelligence. Education, especially higher education, is not immune to these changes and will be significantly impacted. I have a personal conviction, that international education will chart a new pathway for the development and transfer of knowledge and will be an important means to safeguard and revitalize education.

This is because, with knowledge almost readily available, education will further evolve as a new medium for human interaction and coexistence, particularly by redefining the concept of "growth" and infusing it with new meaning. As is well known, with the latest developments in artificial intelligence and predictions for the future of large model computers, an important vocabulary is presented to us: "generation." In Chinese, the difference between "生成" (generation) and "成长" (growth) lies in just one character. While both terms convey the idea of achievement, there is a distinction: "generation" signifies the completion of a certain process and the resultant outcome, and "growth" denotes a continuous process of development until reaching a certain stage of maturity. What is astonishing is the immense power of "generative" artificial intelligence like Sora, which operates at such incredible speeds that people often struggle to keep pace. Growth, on the other hand, is a process that inherently considers temporal constraints.

This fundamental nature of education, combined with the vast information provided by artificial intelligence that democratizes the accumulation and exploration of knowledge, underscores the need for an experiential learning system offered by international education. This system allows individuals to gradually assimilate knowledge through their interactions with their environment. It enables them to develop a reflective process, both about foreign cultures and their own, fostering an understanding that transcends artificial intelligence. Such experience and knowledge lie at the heart of true education.

An important prerequisite for international education is inclusiveness. Inclusivity does not entail compromising principles or identity but rather entails basic respect for others. Inclusion is multifaceted, just as world relations are multilateral.

Allow me to conclude with a quote from Hugo von Hofmannsthal, a renowned German poet, who said: "To grow mature is to separate more distinctly, to connect more closely."

In a world increasingly marked by disconnection and an uncertain future, we must remain confident in our individuality while fostering strong communal bonds of hope and connectivity. These are some of the essential vectors for an inclusive world of sustainable development.

Thank you!

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