By Lizzie Avila
Seniors Melodie Grace Liu ’20 and Berber Jin ’20 were named 2020 Yenching Scholars in February. The Yenching Academy of Peking University provides a full fellowship to an interdisciplinary master’s education that allows scholars to choose from six tracks, all broadly focused on the humanities and Chinese culture.
Liu is a history major, focusing on philosophy and the arts, with a geographic concentration in Japan and China. Her family history and own experiences growing up led to her interests in 20th-century Chinese history.
“Knowing that my physical reality is so different than what my parents have faced just a few decades before, that really drove me to know more about what precedes my immediate physical experience,” Liu said. “I think it’s really fitting that I’m ending my time at Stanford by coming back to my interest in China with this scholarship.”
Liu decided to pursue the Yenching fellowship to learn about Chinese history from a new perspective, hoping to gain a “prolonged insight” into Chinese culture.
“I felt that if I just kind of entered graduate studies in the U.S. right away, then I might forsake a special opportunity to understand China on its own terms,” Liu said. “It’s an opportunity to interact with the best scholars in China, as well as a lot of other really interesting students… and see how they are also viewing China.”
After completing a master’s degree in the Literature and Culture track at Yenching Academy, Liu plans to pursue a career involving research and teaching, but is also interested in law school. Liu is also considering in working for a few years in China after graduation.
“I realize that just spending one or two years in Beijing is not going to get me anywhere close to really understanding China,” Liu said. “I think it’s likely that I might spend a few years working either in China or Taiwan and then probably starting graduate studies after that.”
Jin is a history major and economics minor, concentrating in 20th-century international history and anti-colonial thought. Also a member of The Daily’s staff, Jin is interested in learning more about the 20th century through another lens.
“The way in which we understand 20th-century history is often through the perspective of the United States,” Jin said. “Studying the 20th century from a more international, anticolonial perspective helps you understand the sort of ethical and political dilemmas of that century differently.”
Jin had little experience with coursework in Chinese history before deciding to apply to Yenching Academy. His interest in China and the scholarship grew after a spring quarter abroad at Oxford, where he began to think more about his identity as a Chinese-American in the 21st century after a conversation with a friend about Chinese politics.
“It made me more interested in my Chinese history, even my family’s history,” Jin said. Yenching Academy “gives me a really rare opportunity to understand Chinese history as it’s taught in Chinese universities.”
Jin is still undecided on what his plans will be after completing his master’s degree in the History and Archaeology track.
“I either see myself doing grad school in history, like 20th-century international history, or potentially being a foreign correspondent in Beijing,” Jin said. “I think one of the things that’s so exciting about being able to live in China for the next year or two is that I have no idea where it will take me professionally.”
Contact Lizzie Avila at eaavila ‘at’ stanford.edu.