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A Hundred-Year History of Studying Abroad: from Yan Fu to the Chinese Dream of National Rejuvenation

11 January 2015

University of Greenwich

UK Research and Development Centre for Chinese Traditional Culture


YanFu Foundation

137 years ago, the first group of students sent to Britain by the Qing government, including Yan Fu, embarked on a long journey abroad. Their goal was to learn advanced technology and systems from the West, and their aim was to let China stand up on the global stage with dignity. The time has passed over a century, generations of overseas students have followed the footsteps of the sages and continue their journey of studying abroad to explore the way of contributing to a powerful country. China has the history of one hundred years of sending people studying abroad, it has been through one hundred years of ups and downs, what has not changed is the sincerity called "serving the country". Where are these students now? What kind of stories are there? On the afternoon of January 11, 2015, the academic seminar of "A Century of Study Abroad: From Yan Fu to the Chinese Dream of National Rejuvenation" co-sponsored by the British Institute of Chinese Traditional Culture and the British Yanfu Cultural Education Foundation, was held at the University of Greenwich. The leaders of different generations of students studying in the UK gathered together to express the dream of a strong country that spanned three generations among the overseas students. Ms. Gui Qiulin, the Dean of the British Academy of Chinese Traditional Culture, Dr. Shan Sheng, the President of the All-British Chinese and Overseas Chinese Association for the Promotion of China's Unification, Dr. Liu Kai, the Chairman of the Yanfu Cultural Education Foundation of the United Kingdom, and Dr. Lei Kaiyu, the Vice Chairman, participated in the event. At the symposium, they shared their thoughts on studying abroad with many students and scholars.


The symposium was hosted by Dr. Guests included Liu Kai. Dr. Shan Sheng, the President of the All-British Overseas Chinese Association for the Promotion of Chinese Unification, the Honorary Dean of the British Academy of Chinese Traditional Culture, Dr. Liu Kai, the Chairman of the Yan Fu Cultural Education Foundation, Associate Professor of Economics and Sociology at the University of Greenwich, Vice Chairman of Yan Fu Cultural Education Foundation, Dr. Lei Kaiyu, a postdoctoral researcher at Imperial College London, Dr. Li Lin, the young flute player, pianist, and the first Chinese from the Royal Academy of Music to obtain a dual instrument degree, four Chinese students who have been studying in the UK representing different eras. With their precious photos from various periods, the guests told about their hesitation and choice, loss and struggle in their personal studies and their journey abroad, explaining the significance of studying abroad in China's renaissance process.


Yan Fu can be said to be one of the pioneers of Chinese studying abroad. He represents the nation’s spirit of exploring and challenging. The Foundation takes the name "Yan Fu", and it is this spirit of "Yan Fu" that it wants to inherit and DEVELOP. Dr. Kai Liu, THE chairman of the Yanfu Cultural Education Foundation of the United Kingdom, called this seminar a "Root-seeking Journey", to find the roots of our scholars’ journeys abroad and the national sentiments about study and application. Looking back at the first-generation of Chinese students studying in the UK, while reviewing the history, he also triggered the new generation to think about their purpose of studying abroad.



As the oldest representative of overseas Chinese students today, Dr. Shan Sheng shared his experiences about studying and business journeys to France, Spain, and the United Kingdom decades ago. In his view, study seems to be the most less significant, even if he has long been awarded a doctorate degree in Law from a world-renowned university. He believed that people must help others with generosity and understand their goals of studying: persist in patriotism, persist in ideals, persist in learning, and persist in innovation, in order to achieve true life value. Finally, he encouraged all the young students and scholars to be ambitious, down-to-earth, hard-working, adopting a wider perspective, and devote themselves to the cause of serving their motherland and people.


Due to the factors of the times and conditions, the experience of the older generation of overseas students was often bumpy, which has created their strong character. But this does not mean that today's young overseas students who live in well-off conditions are spoiled. Lei Kaiyu and Li Lin, two representatives of young overseas Chinese students who study art and science, respectively, defined their overseas journeys by a sense of "gratefulness" and "sticking to their dreams." They shared their thoughts about studying abroad and hoped to help more young people around them who are struggling. After the speech, Dr. Li Lin improvised a European modernist flute piece "Train", which brought a perfect end to the seminar of the day.


The journey of studying abroad over a century has not yet gone young people now are following the footprints of the past generations. In the past, studying abroad was a way of saving a dying country that was in despair. Today, it is a way of achieving self-worth through global communications. The concept has different meanings in different eras, but just as Ms. Gui Qiulin, said in the concluding remarks, the bond between individuals and the country should always be in the heart of every Chinese. No matter where you go, you must always keep your "Chinese dream" in mind.

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