Scholars Getting Big Picture of China Education Articles


Students practice Chinese calligraphy under the guidance of a teacher at Peking University's Yenching Academy in Beijing. Provided to China Daily

A recently launched graduate program at one of China's leading research universities in Beijing is looking to give its scholars a deeper and fuller understanding of the country.

Yenching Academy at Peking University is open to talent from around the world, and is working to ensure that its students explore every aspect of China, said John Holden, its associate dean.

The program does not constrain students to a certain path of study, he said. Its offering is like a menu for students to select from according to their own needs.

In this way, Holden said, the program prepares students with context for a deep understanding of China so that they can grasp what is the right question to ask and finally come out of the program "with a comprehensive picture" of the country.

The Yenching program, as it is known, differs from a PhD program that requires students to specialize. It is also unlike training courses that only focus on specific techniques, he said.

"We will open up a universe of knowledge about China to allow people to explore and to define their own course of study," Holden said. "That is very important because you can't learn everything. You should focus on the theme that is the most meaningful to you."

The first cohort of 96 Yenching scholars, all supported with full scholarships, enrolled in September. They came from 55 universities in China and around the world.

Alex Palmer from the United States said he was impressed by the opportunities on offer, both in terms of the people he had met and the academic opportunities put forward. All these gave him a new understanding of China.

The 26-year-old finished his undergraduate study at Harvard University in the US before obtaining master's degrees from two different universities in the UK. Coming to pursue his third master's degree in China, Palmer said people from outside the country tend to view it in a simple, dichotomous way.

"After you get here, you realize that all people have their own lives and interests, and it's a much more diverse, interesting and complicated society than you realized," he said.

Tian Meng, who obtained a bachelor's degree in education from Beijing Normal University and is now focusing on Chinese politics and international relations at Yenching Academy, said the most rewarding part for her is the caliber of people she is surrounded by now.

James Ashcroft, who graduated from University College London with a history degree, said he treasured the faculty's willingness to listen to students and the respect that was showed to their ideas.

One reflection of this, in Ashcroft's eyes, is the Yenching Global Symposium to be held in Beijing in late March. The three-day event, which will provide an opportunity for selected delegates to hold discussions with eminent scholars, policymakers and thought leaders on topics such as China's impact on the world, is organized and hosted by the students independently.

Ashcroft said he had never been on a program where he would be on such close terms with people at the level of deans and directors.

"They take very seriously the feedback we have, and a lot has changed during the past six or seven months I've been here," he said.

Holden, the associate dean, is just glad that the students are happy.

"It's a new program so there are always things that we can do better," he said, adding that one improvement they are working on was making class sizes smaller. - China Daily

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