Chen Zhengxun: The "May 4th Medal" Scholar

 Chen Zhengxun is the first cohort scholar of the Yenching Academy of Peking University. He graduated in 2015 with a master's degree in economics. During his time at Peking University, he received the “May 4th Medal”, the highest honor awarded by the university to students. Prior to this, he was the top scorer in the college entrance examination, and went on to complete his bachelor’s degree at Peking University’s School of Economics. He has received the “PKU Excellent Graduate” and “Beijing Excellent Graduate” awards, the first “student of the year” award of Peking University, and won first place in the “Challenge Cup” competition.


The honorary title of “May 4th Medal” was firstly established in 1998, at the 100th anniversary of Peking University. It is the highest honour awarded to an individual in PKU and is given out every two years.

1. Your undergraduate academic performance was outstanding and you had participated in many student-exchange programs overseas. Why did you choose Yenching Academy after graduating?

I was fortunate to be at the launching ceremony of the Yenching Academy in 2014, where I learned more about Yenching Academy. The Academy aims to shape a new generation of global citizens, equipping them with an in-depth understanding of China and its role in the world. At the Yenching Academy, I chose the “economics and management” as my major.

In my opinion, the Yenching Academy is a representation of the current era. In the era of globalization, the world needs to understand China better, as China is more involved with the rest of the world. The academy gathers some of the most outstanding young people across the globe, creating a “small-scale UN.” This kind of learning experience is unique and valuable. Young people from all over the world come together to discuss some of China’s issues, and its international development from the international perspectives.

2. What is your experience studying at Peking University and Yenching Academy?

As a first cohort graduate student of the Yenching Academy, I took courses and seminars from some of the best, such as “China in Transition” by Jia Qingguo, Yao Yang, Guo Li, and other teachers, Xie Yu and Zou Zhizhuang's “Contemporary Chinese Society,” Zhang Wei’s “Chinese Enterprises and Capital Markets,” Zhou Lian and Wang Hui’s “Chinese Economy and System,” and Fu Jun and Zhou Qiang’s “Contemporary China's Public Policy and Reform.”. International political leaders and industry elites also came to the Academy, and offered valuable insight. With some of the best teachers and international teaching methods, students are given the opportunity to re-examine China’s development with a global perspective. For example, when talking about China’s reform and opening up, students from Africa and Eastern Europe provided many case studies during the discussion.

3. You once interned as a coordinator at the United Nations headquarters in New York. After studying at Yenching Academy, have you gained any new insights about cross-cultural communication?

My previous experience in the United Nations was mainly to assist in contacting experts and scholars, to conduct civilized dialogue meetings. If my understanding of cross-cultural communication was more academic before, the Yenching Academy gave me cross-cultural experiences at a personal level. While living with other scholars, we eventually developed a more neutral perspective towards cultural differences, which help us to cope with these cultural differences. These cultural clashes will inspire new ideas. The scholars are also more inspired to initiate innovation, entrepreneurship, and NGO projects.

4. During your undergraduate period, you used to be the President of the Student Council. After coming to Yenching Academy, you also served as a member of the Party Branch and the secretary of the Communist Youth League. What is your interpretation of leadership?

In my opinion, leadership is executing the process of collaboration and service. At the Yenching Academy, leadership becomes more challenging as it requires you to overcome cross-cultural differences. When organizing activities, scholars with different cultural background approach issues in different ways. It is inevitable that sometimes there will be disagreements. This requires one to be more tolerant, open-minded, and actively seek common ground.

5. What do you think is the spirit of “May 4th Medal”?

I am very grateful for the opportunity to learn from outstanding seniors and classmates through the platform of the “May 4th Medal”. Many have said that there is no other university in the world like Peking University, a university which is tied to the fate of nations. In my opinion, the May 4th spirit has both historic and innovative meanings.

The spirit of the May Fourth Movement a hundred years ago originates from young people's aim to save the nation. It represents not only young people’s personal pursuits and ideals, but also their social responsibility. In the new era, the May Fourth spirit has a more vivid meaning. As President Xi, while inspecting Peking University before the 120th anniversary celebrations, has pointed out, “academic research must be based on the achievements of the country’s development and the unity of knowledge and practice.” The spirit of May Fourth should motivate young students to pursue their ideals and beliefs, and devote themselves to the nation’s development.

6. Do your experiences studying in the Yenching Academy affect your future life goals and career choices?
Yenching Academy is like a magnetic field that brings together young students who share common goals from all over the world. They form bridges between China and the world. As the Yenching Academy hopes to train talents from all over the world to communicate with China and the world, I hope I can work in relevant fields after obtaining a doctorate degree.

7. What advice can you share with the students who are studying in Yenching Academy now?
Just like the emblem of the Peking University painted by Lu Xun, the upper part represent integrity and compatibility and the lower half represent innovation and leading the future, one should always maintain an open learning attitude and gain new insights.