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Peking University Yenching Academy, back to the future?

By Anming ( Updated: 2014-07-08 18:38

According to PKU president Wang Enge, the Yenching Academy is, “the most ambitious academic initiative since the turn of the new century.” The goal is to “cultivate world leaders who will make a difference in the world.” This is reason enough to take a closer look at the ivory tower within the ivory tower. Yenching Academy – for future leaders or the children of today’s leaders?

A closer look at the program raises a wide range of questions. From an academic point of view, one-year master programs seem unserious (however, still better than Oxford, you complete a Bachelor’s and get a Master’s for free!) Besides that, as language is the dress of thought (Samuel Johnson), one may ask how the leaders of tomorrow will get a deeper understanding about China without speaking Chinese. Concerning the name, PKU claims the program is “deeply rooted in the rich history of PKU.” I strongly recommend Gao Fengfeng‘s article, "Whose Yenching Academy?” on that topic, which was published this May.

As much as these points may cause frowns of disapproval, I am concerned about something else. First, the enrollment is too high. PKU writes that they are going to “cultivate world leaders who will make a difference in the world.” How many leaders does our world need? A hundred leaders coming out of PKU every year might have serious effects on the stability and harmony of the world’s society. Second, exclusivity is a double-edged sword. In the course of history, prestigious and exclusive institutions often rejected people who later became leaders. Leadership can’t be studied. Let’s take a moment to recall a young charismatic library assistant at PKU who was refused enrollment.

If I remember correctly, during his visit at PKU, London’s mayor Boris Johnson announced at an event that his daughter would study at PKU and the students gave him a round of applause. They would have curbed their enthusiasm had they known that PKU has to create its own school, offering full scholarships to children of the world’s who’s who. Whether the young Miss Johnsons of today or the acclaimed leaders of tomorrow are among the first Yenching Academy graduates, or attend one of the exclusive summer schools, they are likely not to mingle with the common student folk.

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