Yenching Scholars Program: What is it and What Makes it so Great?

Photo Credit: Yenching Academy

What is it?

The Yenching Academy is a fully-funded, two-year Masters-level scholarship program for both Chinese and international students, based within Peking University, Beijing. Jointly funded by the China Scholarship Council and the University itself, the program aims to attract bright and talented graduate students to study in China, with the aim of cultivating a generation of ‘future global leaders’ who have a heightened understanding of China and its emerging importance on the global stage.

My cohort of Yenching scholars hailed from a diverse range of countries and cultures – I was one of four Australians accepted into the 2019 cohort. Perhaps 30% of my cohort were from Mainland China, whilst the highest proportion of international scholars hailed from the US, perhaps due to extensive advertising over there.

What is covered by the scholarship?

The YCA scholarship covers the following:

  • Round trip flights from scholar’s home city to Beijing
  • Tuition fees for 2 years (four semesters) at PKU
  • Basic medical insurance through Ping An insurance company
  • Provision of on-campus accommodation (compulsory for first year, optional for second year)
  • 3000 RMB / month living stipend.


YCA is a two-year degree programme, where the first year consists entirely of on-campus coursework (or online coursework, as is currently the case due to COVID-19), and the second year is dedicated to writing an individual dissertation on a China-related topic of the student’s choice.

Scholars graduate with a Master of China Studies, majoring in one of the six disciplinary tracks offered by the Academy:

  • Law and Society;
  • Politics and International Relations;
  • Economics and Management;
  • History and Archaeology;
  • Philosophy and Religion; or
  • Literature and Culture.

Although successful applicants must choose which track they will enrol under before being accepted into YCA, in reality this decision is more bureaucratic that functional, in that a student is not limited to undertaking subjects strictly within their nominated major, and there is the option to change disciplines within the second year. To put this in perspective: I initially enrolled under the Law and Society stream, as I felt that this area was most aligned with my study interests. However, my preferred thesis advisor is a Professor of Environmental Economics, meaning I was required to change tracks to Economics and Management earlier this year. I’ll graduate with a Masters of China Studies (Economics and Management) without ever having taken a single subject in economics!

Coursework in the first year includes a number of core subjects (all taught in English), supplemented by compulsory Chinese languages classes, field trips, and then the student’s choice of elective subjects. YCA is effectively a faculty within PKU, and so operates under the same academic regulations and timetable; Fall semester begins in mid-September and runs until Chinese New Year break (usually end of January), and Spring semester begins in late February until June. Because of the vast numbers of students at PKU, classes run from Monday to Friday in 50-minute blocks, starting at 8am and finishing at 10pm. Having a three-hour class after dinner a few nights a week certainly took me some getting used to! In contrast to the structure of many Australian degree programs, each subject usually only has one class scheduled per week that lasts 2-3 hours. 

Yeching Academy 2019 cohort on a tour to Beijing’s Temple of Heaver. Photo Credit: Yenching Academy

Final thoughts

The Yenching Academy, or YCA, is now in its sixth year of operation, and although it has continually improved on its application, internal, and operational processes, it is still a relatively juvenile scholarship program and so not all bumps have been ironed out. As with any experience in China, there is a lot of paperwork and bureaucratic box checking exercises that are required, so a little patience and understanding will go a long way when applying for / accepting a scholarship at YCA.

Overall, the program is a fantastic opportunity to live and study at the top university in China. I found it an immensely rewarding experience that gave me the opportunity to learn not only about China, but about a host of different cultures and countries thanks to the diversity in the YCA cohort. Being an English-language program within the University, the academic rigour is perhaps not as high as many scholars were anticipating. That being said, the program is flexible enough to be entirely what you make of it – regardless of whether your goal is to learn Mandarin, undertake interesting research projects and excel academically, meet new friends and make connection with employers, or do the bare minimum and use your free time to travel around China, then Yenching is the place for you.

Applications for the 2021 cohort of Yenching Academy scholars are now open.

All the required information about applying can be found at this link.


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Georgie Davie

Georgie is a 2019 Yenching Scholar, undertaking a Masters of China Studies at Peking University. She is currently completing the thesis component of her degree, exploring public perceptions and qualitative understandings of urban green space in Beijing. Georgie is passionate about Chinese language, food, and culture, and hopes to use her experience of living and studying in China to foster better intercultural understanding back home in Australia. Georgie working in the environmental and sustainability sector, with a focus on sustainable urban development and climate change mitigation.

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