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Yenching in Beijing[]

This wiki was created primarily to inform Harvard Yenching Fellows who will be spending time in Beijing, but anyone is invited to participate.

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  • Housing
  • Life at Beida
  • Learning Chinese
  • Links
  • Contacts
  • Jobs
  • FAQ

Emails to format into pages[]


I just wanted to let you know that I've already sent a fair amount of information on the program, and that you can ask him to forward the emails to you.

If you're interested, you can see pictures from my year in China at

and I believe that links to pictures from other Yenching fellows (and maybe others in China) are on the site too.

In regards to your specific questions, Fang, I've only lived on campus but I've loved it despite the overall poor quality of facilities (at least relative to US standards). Things are dirty in general, if not just aesthetically unpleasant... but you get used to it, and I've come to love it here. Benefits include convenience and possibly price (off-campus can get expensive but I'm sure you can find really cheap if you want too...). Classes are about a 5 minute walk from the dorm. I think the best thing, though, is that it's easy to meet people, both international and Chinese, since you can (I feel) more easily take part in school activities, join clubs, etc., which is the main way to meet Chinese students. Otherwise, like you say, most students in the dorm are internationals, although many speak very good Chinese (e.g. those from Singapore).

I should point out that Shaoyuan (the name of the dorms) does have higher quality housing available, but you have to pay more and demand is high for them, which means that you have a slim chance of getting a spot.

In terms of where to travel, that's really a personal choice. I think that as you get used to live here, you'll find it really easy to go nearly anywhere in China, so it's up to you. Sometimes/frequently it feels ad hoc and/or sketchy, but I think you get used to that as well, and it gets easier to stomach as your Chinese gets better (assuming it's not excellent already). Just get a good travel guide (most people use Lonely Planet). If you want more detailed information... frankly it takes a lot of time to type, I suppose we could Skype if you want but I don't think planning travel should be a big concern at this point.

I think the most important thing to improving Chinese is just that you stay focused on your goal; where you live is important but secondary to that. I can say that I've noticed one of my Japanese friend's Chinese level (mostly in terms of daily conversational use; I can't vouch for reading/writing or more "shumianyu" type of Chinese... I doubt homestay would influence that) improve quite a bit after his homestay. But housing in general I think is a mixed bag. If you're on campus, there are no guarantees on your roommate's Chinese level (could range from amazing to crappy); if you're off-campus I suppose it depends on what kind of roommate you find if you want a roommate, but I think in general off-campus is more isolating.

In general, though, you're almost never in a situation where you're forced to speak Chinese at Beida (except I guess the relatively brief period you're in class... but if you think about it, if you're in class for 1 hr, and there are, say, 10 students, if you divide the time evenly you get 6 minutes of talk time, but of course probably much more than 1/2 of that is spoken by your teacher, so I'd be surprised if you were able to actually speak for more than 3 minutes per hour of class). That's where the individual motivation comes in... you really have to be vigilant about it if you want to improve a lot, I think.

I think that's about all I have to say now. I should say that learning Chinese is something that I'm quite passionate about, even though I rarely go to class, heh (unless the program's changed in the past year, your grades don't matter, and it's always an opportunity cost calculation right?). If you have questions, I'll try my best to answer them. There are a couple of tools that I've found *extremely* useful, and you could just google them, they're called PlecoDict and Wenlin.

I'm actually considering putting together a little guide for this program, since as far as I know you guys probably have as little information as we did (basically none) before coming here. A Wiki would be nice, I think... and actually, if you guys know someone with HCS or whoever manages wikis now, you could ask them to set up a wiki so that we Yenchingers here can write something up. I think their wikis can only be accessed from inside the Harvard network, though, so I don't know if they could do it.

That's about all I have to say. It's an awesome program and probably one of the best years of my life, but be prepared to have very little support while you're here.


Going to the city center is, in my opinion, fairly easy; at least easy enough so that I don't think it's a major reason to not want to live around Beida. You can actually do most of what you want to do shopping-wise around Beida, anyway... I think the only reason why you'd go to, say, Chaoyang, is if you want to go to an expat bar or something like that, and the only other reasons I can think of going to the city center are for sight-seeing or to extend a visa. I don't want to make it seem like you never need/want to go there though. I'd say on average I take the subway to the city center about once a week.

And come to think of it, it might even be easier for you guys, since there's going to be a subway station right outside of Beida opening sometime soon, possibly while you guys are in China and at least before the Olympics.

Do you get the chance to befriend Chinese > students as well as international ones? What are the types of campus > activities that Beida has? (is there a link for this? I've been trying > to google this w/o much success!)

Yes, you can befriend Chinese students if you want to. They are certainly willing to befriend you. I made it a point of being proactive about joining activities and avoiding expat hangouts, and I'm pretty happy with my decision (my two main activities now are doing some light research with the biology department and doing wushu... both keep me in touch with lots of Chinese students). It's probably easier to make other int'l friends, since those are your classmates (should you attend class). In terms of finding activities, I think the students here use the BBS like we use email in the States... every student group has a page on the BBS, and you can find out about just about everything on the BBS. I think you need to be on campus to access it, though. They do have a lot of clubs, so many that I think you will find it difficult to choose among them. There's also an activities fair at the beginning of the year, just ask around about it (undergrads will be more familiar with it). It works basically like Harvard's does -- people crowd around an area called San Jiao Di (三角地) and accost you.

> 2. How are the classes at Beida? I'll probably be taking the language > courses - are they worth going to or a waste of time? Would it be > better to learn Chinese by getting an outside tutor or getting a > part-time job?

Ask Norman, I'm pretty sure I forwarded him some stuff on this. If you're still not satisfied with that information I can tell you what I think are some good ways to learn Chinese. In short, though, I think classes are alright. You just need to go into them with a good focus on what you want to learn. Keep in mind that this program is styled very differently from something like PIB -- this is much more do-it-yourself.

> Thanks so much! I really appreciate this! And yes, i think a wiki > would be an amazing idea.

Yeah, if you or someone else interested gets time, looking into some kind of host would be really helpful to get this started.


Hmm. Well, when I said it's pretty convenient I meant on a once-in-a-while basis, and actually when it's 8-10AM or like 5-8PM, transportation systems (subway, bus, taxi, whatever) in Beijing are uniformly crowded and incredibly irritating. If you want to get a job, especially one that would require a daily commute during rush hours, you might seriously consider living somewhere else, since it would take approximately (for example) one hour each way to get from Beida to Chaoyang, where a lot of foreigners live/work.

In terms of requesting a roommate, it shouldn't be hard assuming you have someone in mind, but I don't think you can ask them to give you, for example, someone who speaks good Chinese. When you arrive, they plop you wherever you fit, and you can change if you don't get along. After that, you can find someone you want to live with and get a room together. I, actually, did something somewhat sneaky and have a "fake roommate," who I got to sign up for a room with me so that Shaoyuan thinks I have a roommate, but he lives elsewhere so that I have a single in Shaoyuan (I just pay double the monthly rate). I really liked the convenience of Shaoyuan and have some friends here, so I preferred not to leave.


I hope you had a great weekend. Thanks so much for your patience and for your background info. It's helpful to know because the H-Yenching Fellowship is incredibly open-ended and very suitable for someone who wants freedom and space in their studies and exploration of China. As you probably know, the fellowship provides a ~2000 USD stipend, a 800 RMB/month stipend for the two semesters at Beida, and academic tuition, and living arrangement. This is enough to use since the H-Y fellowship pays for the housing cost of living in the dormitory; 800 RMB/month, may however, not be enough for traveling a lot throughout China, especially to far, or more isolated places.

I focused on Mandarin when I was at Beida, and I think they have a pretty strong language program. I took Chinese 123a, and feel like someone with Chinese 123b experience, a 高级 level class around level 26 (it goes from level 1 to level 30-31, depending on how many students are enrolled) would be very suitable. My language teachers have been very knowledgeable about Mandarin language; they are also experienced in teaching language. There are about 20 hours of language classes per week. , 汉语, 口语 classes are required, and most students also choose 2 选修 (elective) courses such as 词汇, 古代汉语, 中国概况, etc. I took two language classes that were a bit higher than my actual language abilities, so I found that there was quite a bit of homework if I wanted to really commit that was taught in class to memory. I definitely found time to go biking, take day trips, hang out with friends, but didn't have much time to travel on the weekends and complete all my course assignments.

During the academic semester, there is a nine-day vacation (including 4 weekend days) the week of October 1. From approximately January 9 through February 15, there is also a long winter vacation. There is another nine-day vacation (including 4 weekend days) the week of May 1. There is definitely time to make long trips, and short weekend trips to places near Beijing (4 to 10 hours by train), such as 青岛, during these times.

Most language students become good friends with one another. One of my favorite things about this fellowship has been the opportunity to meet students from all over the world who have all come to Beijing to study Chinese, Philippines, Finland, Congo, Japan, and Korea. It's been amazing to hear why people want to study Mandarin, to see progress in people's language, to learn about their cultures, and to learn about their plans for the future. Like many students before me, I found that there was usually less interaction with Chinese students. Even students who take non-language courses, such as in the Beida history or literature department for example, don't find courses to necessarily be an effective way of meeting Chinese students. If you would like to meet a lot of Chinese students, I would recommend signing up and being involved in SICA activities. SICA is a beida student organization that pairs exchange students with Chinese students; I enjoyed hanging out with my SICA tutor, and we usually spoke both English and Mandarin. Most Chinese students, however, are eager to meet English-speakers and very curious about studying in the United States; If you sign up for a student organization or two (they will table and seek new students) you will definitely meet and get to know a lot of Chinese students.

Are you planning to apply for graduate school while you are in China? I am not sure what the process involves for bioengineering programs, but it may be difficult to take the necessary exams, learn about programs, apply from overseas. However, Beijing is very likely to administer testing for graduate admissions exams; I would definitely look into that if this situation applies to you.

Overall, I think the H-Y is a great opportunity when you are clear on your goals for being in China, especially if those goals involve relaxing before pursuing studies again. It's a good chance to be without rigorous academic pressure, to get to know Chinese culture—especially Chinese university education (from auditing classes, talking to Chinese students). It can seem, however, very unstructured since Beida doesn't give you much guidance on opportunities at the university and you have to figure out how to do what you want to do, whether it be taking Chinese classes or joining the bicycling association on your own (I can help you with this if you are interested J)

I hope this is helpful Jeremy; If I haven't answered some of your questions or if you have more questions, please let me know and I would be delighted to answer more questions or help you think things out.


I'm glad the information was helpful. Please let me know if you have any more questions; your plans for next year sound great. When you are in Beijing, I would be happy to put you in touch with a wonderful language teacher I had last semester.

During the long winter break, a friend from the States visited, and we spent a lot of time in and around Beijing. I also moved to Shanghai and took a short trip to Lu Shan and Nan Chang in Jiang Xi, in the Yanzi Basin. I would definitely recommend Lonely Planet China if you are planning to purchase a travel guide before coming to China.

In terms of dorms, Beida dorms were built in the 1970s; they are probably the oldest (meaning not renovated inside) on campus (some of the other dorms may be older, but they are renovated inside). It is incredibly convenient in terms of proximity to dining halls, the language class rooms, and really close to the beautiful Wu Ming (Nameless) Lake on Campus and beautiful garden section of the campus. The dorm that H-Yenching Fellowship pays for is a double room (two people in one room). It's relatively small, but I liked my room (A southward facing room receives the most sunlight during the winter). There is heating. There are public toilets, shower rooms (with individual shower stalls), cooking area (there aren't stoves, but there are hot plates, which you can boil, fry, steam, etc. on, but no common fridge, but you can buy a second hand one or rent one, although I'm not sure what the cost is), and washers on every floor. It is pretty old—and dirty looking, but the bathrooms are cleaned twice every weekday (at least the womens' were) and incredibly convenient. I've attached a photo of the dorms if this helps.


I think it is possible to get a single, although I think one would need to pay for the difference between the cost of the double room and the cost of the single room. I've heard that there are also "single" rooms within a suite situation. Here's an excerpt from the online Peking University Student Handbook at p://


   International students may live on campus in Shao Yuan dormitory. If international students extend their period of study, they will not be given housing in Shao Yuan. The standard dormitory rooms for international students are equipped with TV, telephone, internet access, a desk, a chair, a closet, and an electric fan. Two students will share a room, and students will share a communal bathroom and showers on each floor. Accommodation at this standard dorm room costs US $3.50 per person per day.

   If you wish to live in other types of accommodations, you may send a special request for alternative housing at the time of new student registration, but PKU cannot guarantee the availability of other housing arrangements. International students on full scholarship will receive free housing for the duration of their study in Peking University. The free housing provided by PKU will be in Shao Yuan. The PKU scholarship will only cover the US $3.50 housing, and students will be responsible for the extra cost of alternative housing.

   Other types of accommodations at Shao Yuan Dormitory are as follows:
 	    • Building 6: each person has a private room with carpeting, a small sitting room shared by three persons, a color TV set, internet access, a telephone, and a private bathroom/shower. US $8 per person per day.
 	    • Building 8: each person has a private room with carpeting, a small sitting room shared by two persons, a color TV set, internet access, a telephone, and a private bathroom/shower. US $11 per room per day.
 	    • Building 5: standard double room with carpeting, a color TV set, a telephone, internet access, a refrigerator, air conditioning, and a study room. US $28 per room per day.
 	    • Building 8: standard with internet access. US $38 per room per day.
 	    • Building 9: standard single room with color TV set, a telephone, internet access, a refrigerator, and air conditioning. US $20 per room per day.
   Students may also live off-campus, but they must register with the local residence office. Remember when you are registering to make sure that your landlord is trustworthy and your rental procedure is completely legal.

   Many students find that their address and contact information change while they are studying at Peking University. In this case, they should promptly report their new address, phone number and e-mail address to the Division for International Students because this office often sends out important notifications and when such situations arise, it is essential that their information database is updated. The Division for International Students office maintains a strict policy of privacy over individual's contact information.

   Also, the Division for International Students provides information on off-campus housing. For such assistance, feel free to contact its staff.

The full handbook can be found at I know it was hard for me to figure out things about Beida last year, so please let me know if you have any other questions.


In response to your question, I suppose if I were there now myself, that would be one thing that I would be paying special attention to. The country's leaders have invested an enormous amount of effort and money in getting the Olympic games to China, and whatever the rest of the world thinks (and whatever ordinary people in China think), they are determined that this will be the moment that China finally "arrives" as an equal in the comity of nations. (When the Olympics came to Japan in 1964, they served much the same purpose.) So you are there at what may turn out to be a key moment in modern Chinese history, at which China finally gets out from beyond the shadow of the Opium War and ceases to play up its victimization at the hands of imperialism. How the spirit of Chinese nationalism intersects with the purported internationalism of the Olympics is just one of the dramas that will play out in the next 18 months. I guess I would be curious as to what different attitudes you can uncover about the Games.

In a nutshell, the question to ask yourself is this: What is unusual, what stands out, about this particular moment in time or place? Where are things heading?

Stay well, and enjoy your travels --


Hi Jeremy, Thanks so much for getting back to me. I hope everything is going well!

I hope you don't mind me emailing you all these questions, by the way. I'm very fortunate to know someone like you who is there. The thing is I don't think the HYI staff knows that much about what happens on the ground, and I'm just trying to prepare myself so I have the best experience there.

Can I ask you something about the housing? I know you mentioned public restrooms, showers, etc. I read on another website that the bathrooms in the lowest-grade dorms in Shaoyuan had "communal bathrooms" - do you mean public showers in that there are curtains, ie at least some privacy (sort of like the public hall showers at Harvard), or is it truly communal in the sense, ie one large room with different shower heads, etc? And I assume there is no A/C (but there is heat, hopefully!)?

Thanks again, and I apologize for bothering you with these questions. I appreciate all your help.

How long will you be in Beijing? Any chance you'll be staying through the summer?

On 3/19/07, Jeremy Chang <> wrote:

   the test is similar in style to the HSK I believe, but i'm
   not sure since i've never taken the hsk. it's not a big deal at all.
   it's a couple hours long, and then they tell you your score and place
   you into a class with it, but if you're not happy with where you got
   placed you can make changes at the beginning of the semester. they
   started a new policy this semester that says you can't switch classes
   after the semester's begun, so it kinda sucks if you get a bad
   teacher, since it's hit-or-miss i think.

   > I was just curious about the language entrance exam all int'l students take
   > at Beida.  Is that the same thing as the HSK test?  Or I assume it's
   > probably Beida's own test.  I guess everyone takes the same test, and they
   > see how well you do?
   > Thanks!


sincere apologies for not having gotten back to you earlier. I thought late was better than never, though...

> Can I ask you something about the housing? I know you mentioned public > restrooms, showers, etc. I read on another website that the bathrooms in > the lowest-grade dorms in Shaoyuan had "communal bathrooms" - do you mean > public showers in that there are curtains, ie at least some privacy (sort of > like the public hall showers at Harvard), or is it truly communal in the > sense, ie one large room with different shower heads, etc?

There are two sets of bathrooms/kitchens/showers per floor (each is in a separate room); in each bathroom there are three urinals, two squat toilets, and one western-style toilet, although when you arrive I would be prepared to expect things to seem quite dirty. I think you'll find that they actually clean things relatively well (people just abuse the equipment) with bleach, etc., so most of the issues are cosmetic, and if you're like me you'll just need some time to get used to it. Showers are similarly grungy-looking, just get a good pair of shower sandals and you'll be fine; and to actually answer your question, there are three shower stalls in each shower room, so you do get some privacy (undergrads, I hear, do not).

And I assume > there is no A/C (but there is heat, hopefully!)?

Right, there is only a heater (like Harvard's hot water heater pipes).

Another note about housing -- I've heard rumors that they're making a new foreign-students dorm, although I'm not sure if it'll be ready by the time you arrive. You may not have to deal with Shaoyuan at all, although I really would prepare to. Also, they have nicer/newer rooms in Shaoyuan that cost more, and my plan was originally to get one of those (you get a single within a suite instead of a tiny double), but they were all booked when I arrived. I think demand for those is in general quite high. So I would be prepared to just deal with housing here, and to deal with having a foreign roommate (you can switch if you really don't like him).

> Thanks again, and I apologize for bothering you with these questions. I > appreciate all your help. > > How long will you be in Beijing? Any chance you'll be staying through the > summer?

I'll be in China until mid-august, I think, although I'm not sure if I'll be in Beijing -- chances are high that I'll be traveling or something like that.

I'm also forwarding emails sent to you from me last year when I asked a H-Y student about her experiences. I've found her information to be pretty accurate.

Please do take a look at my pictures site ( if you want to check out some pictures; there are pictures of the campus, I think, and I think there's one of my room.

In general, I think the most important thing to have while you're here is a set of good goals so that you have some sort of direction every day. Like I've mentioned before, I think of H-Y as nothing more than a good way to get myself into China and into an academic environment that is also an excellent base from which to explore China. That means to me that it's easy to come here and have no idea of what you want to do, and then you might just spend a lot of time taking courses that actually lack a focused purpose. Be wary, though, since I've found that my goals have changed substantially since arriving.

Finally, don't worry too much, although China is developing, people still live here (!) and if you really need to find some service or product or whatever, you can probably find something that might not be exactly what you get in the States but has an equivalent function.


Just found this website, which may be helpful to those entering China. It also contains a link about becoming a volunteer during the olympics, which some might find interesting.


  • Programs/Activities you might be interested in

The plan is to have this list formatted nicely on the wiki, although for now I'm too busy to do it and will just copy this post this part of the email instead.

  1 - tutoring. It's a great way to make some spending money. It's really easy to find tutoring opportunities that pay very well. in particular, I am currently tutoring two kids who will be looking for a replacement for next year; if you majored in a science (or consider yourself competent to teach IB science/math), please let me know and I'll relay more information.
  2 - Zigen. Nonprofit that's involved in helping migrant workers in the Beijing suburbs. Julia Cai ('06) is probably the best one to talk to about this; her email is They have a lot of projects, and if you want to do some kind of nonprofit work, I think Zigen is at least a great start to get some experience.
  3 - wushu (Chinese martial arts). There's a PKU wushu club that practices frequently; the students are great to hang out with, and it's a good way both to expose yourself to some Chinese culture and get to know Chinese students. If you're interested, let me know.