The HNC-SAIS Project Pengyou Launch Event in Beijing with Special Guest Mei Yan

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Boyong Wang, Former Hopkins Beijing Alumni Club Leader
Boyong Wang, former Hopkins Beijing Alumni Club leader

On the heels of our inaugural launch event in Shanghai, we held the Beijing launch of the HNC-SAIS Project Pengyou pilot at the Golden Bridges Courtyard on October 14, 2013.

A full house of HNC and Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) alumni and friends came out to support the event. Boyong Wang kicked off the evening by introducing the Hopkins Beijing Alumni Club, which he served as the president of for six years.


Following Boyong’s introduction, Jason Patent, current American Co-Director of the Hopkins—Nanjing Center, spoke about “ghosts” and the difference between American and Chinese cultures in dealing with the past. He said that China is known as a place where the past is revered and respected while the U.S tries to forget the past.

“As Americans, we may come from a world without ghosts, we may be trained not to think of the past, not to notice ghosts. But our connections with China won’t let us forget.”

Jason Patent, VIP Speaker
Jason Patent, VIP speaker

With regards to the Hopkins—Nanjing Center, Jason lauded those before him who helped to shape the institution and keep the center standing despite the ups and downs in U.S.-China relations since the program began in 1986.

He concluded on the note that HNC alumni have been asking for a stronger, more meaningful community that honors and gives life to HNC’s past and contributes to its future. Now that it is taking shape, it is up to them to build up the community and make it successful.

“If you commit to Project Pengyou, you will give new life to your own ghosts and to that of your classmates and to that of everyone who’s been a part of the HNC over the years, and in doing so you will make enormous contributions to the future of HNC.” Quoting Fei Xiaotong, one of China’s most famous anthropologists, he said, “Our every act contains within it all the accumulated history from the beginning of the universe right down to the present. And this every act will determine the destiny of endless future generations.”

Holly Chang spoke briefly after Dr. Patent about her own past and path to China. She explained the deep personal ties that she and the rest of the Project Pengyou team have for the missions of the pilot —supporting those who are building on-the-ground alumni communities, and allowing those groups to connect on a more global level.

Holly Chang & Mei Yan, Keynote Speaker
Holly Chang and Mei Yan, keynote speaker


The highlight of the evening was the fireside chat between Holly and our keynote speaker, Mei Yan, Senior Partner for China at Brunswick Group and former Managing Director & Chief Representative, MTV Greater China and Viacom International Media Networks Greater China.

Mei Yan spoke of her humble beginnings as a child growing up in Beijing during the 1950’s.  Materially they did not have much, but she had a happy childhood.  Her father, Mei Yi, fought in Yan’An alongside Chairman Mao, and helped to set up China’s media industry before a career in education heading the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Not all was rosy in their upbringing, and Mei Yan walked us through an incredible journey that brought her to her present career. Through her extraordinary stories, she left us with a few key lessons.

  1. As students abroad, your actions can make a real impact in creating the foundations for cross-cultural understanding. A particularly telling example from her own lifetime was when she first went to the U.S. to study Russian history at Hunter College and encountered blatant racism from her professor, going so far as to call her a “Communist spy”. At the time, Mei Yan struggled with English as her third language, and couldn’t even come up with a proper response.  Over the course of the academic year, after persistent hard work in the class despite the language and cultural challenges, her professor eventually began to respect Mei Yan for her exemplary academic work, and let go of his own hostility towards Chinese people. Her story shows how educational exchanges can have a profound impact in changing people’s biases and create a space for deeper mutual understanding.
  2. You must seize the opportunities before you with both hands. Mei Yan started in academia, pursuing her Ph.D. in the U.S. However, when she was asked to join Turner International Asia Pacific Ltd., she ended up jump-starting a career in journalism and began to play witness to some of the most historic moments of our time.  Her work ethic and attitude of humility opened the door to more opportunities than she ever thought possible, leading to several Emmy awards for her coverage in war zones and climbing to the top positions of the world’s largest and most influential media groups.  Mei Yan insists that her career was not one of her own design or will, it was based on serendipity, catalyzed by her willingness to seize the opportunities before her with both hands, and never let go.
  3. Maintain a fresh perspective and always look for ways to be a bridge. Mei Yan’s final words of wisdom had to do with perspective. When you first come to China, everything is very fresh and exciting as you are “outside the box.” But after a while, you start to see things from “inside the box” and things lose their sparkle over time. Mei Yan encouraged the audience to “stay on the edge” and not lose sight of new ways to see and learn from China’s culture.  It is only when we can view things from “outside the box” that we can serve as effective bridge-builders.

The fireside chat and audience Q&A ran well over the planned time, but the audience was clearly enthralled by Mei Yan’s historic journey and wanted her to continue.  Due to time constraints and other meetings that Mei Yan had planned for the evening, Holly ended the chat and guests were offered a host of delicious canapés and drinks provided by Pinotage.


After the speaker series, guests completed “Pengyou Quests” to enter the raffle drawing.  The quests encouraged participants to sign up on, spread the word about the platform, sign a “I♥中美 ” poster and record a video showing their pengyou pride. The Raffle Prize was a limited edition iPod Nano.

Yang Yao, Holly Chang and Tommy Li
Yang Yao, Holly Chang and Tommy Li

Nearly everyone participated in the quests, and at the end of the night, Hopkins Shanghai Alumni Club representative Tommy Li picked Yang Yao (HNC ’11) as the winner of the raffle.

A big congratulations to Yang Yao and to everyone else who completed all four quests!

We are thrilled that over 180 HNC and SAIS alumni have already joined the global network on Project Pengyou!

A special shout out goes to the club leaders and volunteers from the Beijing Alumni Club: Boyong Wang, Bryan Withall, Liang Lei and Li Chen!

Project Pengyou will continue to pilot the platform with HNC alumni leaders until the end of 2013 before rolling out alumni management tools to other groups.  Already, the pilot feedback is reshaping the global network for 100,000 Strong. To view more photos from the event, check out our photo gallery!


Keynote Speaker Bio:
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MEI Yan is currently a Senior Partner at Brunswick Group, an international corporate communications partnership that helps organizations address critical communications challenges.  She previously served for a half decade as the Managing Director of MTV Networks Greater China and Chief Representative of Viacom Asia.

Prior to that, MEI Yan was one of the most decorated international journalists and TV producers from China. For 14 years, MEI was a reporter and manager at CNN Atlanta HQ, where she and her team won three Emmy Awards and two Awards for Cable Excellence for her coverage in war zones.  She also served as VP of Marketing and Distribution for Turner International Asia Pacific Ltd., and as the Chief Strategy Officer, Chief Representative, and Chief Public Affairs Officers at News Corp. and STAR TV (China).  In 2010, the Daily Beast named MEI as one of China’s five most powerful women.

MEI Yan holds a Master of Philosophy degree in Political Science and a Master of Arts degree in International Relations from Columbia University, U.S.A., a Master of Arts degree in Advanced Russian Area Studies from Hunter College, City University of New York, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Russian Language and Literature from Beijing Normal University.

MEI Yan currently serves as Vice Chair of the Board for the Golden Bridges Foundation, which houses the program.