What is “real” China? Over winter break, five students from the Master of Science in Foreign Service Program traveled to China to participate in the China Insight Trek organized by the World Youth Development Forum. China Insight Trek, initiated by a Harvard alum, has been held for over 10 years providing opportunities for trekkers to interact with a diverse range of people and exposing an insider’s perspective of the “real” China. The trek addresses four themes; China’s political system, the rising private sectors, the emergence of social organization and civil society, and Chinese history and its influence. This was the first time the Insight Trek was open to students outside the Harvard community, and MSFSers traveled along with students from the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Notre Dame for 9 days.
Traveling through Shanghai, Nanjing and Beijing, trekkers communicated with senior officials across all sectors. Students visited several companies, including industrial parks in Nanjing Jiangbei New Area, 1865 Creative Industrial Park, Chinese ride-sharing company Didi Chuxing, and leading AI company Mobvoi, and the Japanese Embassy in China. Trekkers also enjoyed exchanges with representatives from The May Foundation, an organization that aims to harnesses the power of volunteers to increase community cohesion and civic engagement across China, government members, local students, and local families.
“The trek provided me a precious insight into China through discussions with Chinese officials, companies, academia and local people,” reflected Shihori Maeda (MSFS ’19). “Getting to know the Chinese perspective, especially from youth, on history, politics and foreign diplomacy was very inspiring.”
Julie Yang (MSFS ‘18) also appreciated the exposure to the Chinese experience: “Engaging with different communities in Shanghai, Nanjing, and Beijing enabled me to better understand China from a variety of perspectives. The trip also shed light on how Chinese companies are actively pursuing international partnerships in emerging areas of growth, such as artificial intelligence and the sharing economy.”
Zhiwen Wang (BSFS ’21) served as one of the Chinese leaders of the Trek organizing and coordinating the trip. “China is a complex and evolving country,” he said. “Although every member of the World Youth Development Forum invests a significant amount of effort in refining China Insight Trek, the Trek can only enable every trekker to peek at China from cultural, historical, social, economic, and political perspectives. In the process of expanding and deepening one's knowledge, neither should there be a limitation on the scope nor the extent.”
The China Insight Trek has exposed participants to China’s unique path to modernity and traces of history in every aspect of life. The thriving energy of the country has definitely left an impression. Hopefully, as Zhiwen stated, the exploration of “real” China will continue, as China continues to evolve in the coming years.
The trip is planned to be organized annually by the World Youth Development Forum, and welcomes future trekkers.