Yuka Shimizu is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Waseda University, Japan. In 2012-13 acedemic year, she was a senior visiting student at Peking University. When she first came here, she found herself with difficulties and confusions though she was born with deep relations to China. Weiming Lake thus became her favorite place to think more deeply about herself.
My name is Yuka Shimizu. From September 2012 to June 2013, I am studying at Peking University as a senior visiting student. Actually, this is the first time I have been abroad for such a long period. During the year, I encountered tremendous difficulties and felt conflicted now and then. However, there is a wonderful place in the university, which has helped me a lot. It is Weiming Lake, and this article is about Weiming and me.
To start with, my feeling about China is a little complex. Many things about China, especially social customs and the way of thinking, are unfamiliar to me, although China is my second home country since both of my grandfathers are Chinese and my parents were born and grew up in China. With Chinese blood in my body, however, part of me thought that I could easily get used to living in China and come to understand Chinese customs. I knew that it was a fault after almost half a year. Blood has no relation with the understanding of foreign customs and way of thinking.
Moreover, China is not only my second home country, but also my target of research. While I was searching for my Chinese identity, I had to observe the phenomena in this country objectively. Since I am still not a mature researcher, it was a little hard for me.
These two reasons constitute my two big confusions during this year, but there are more reasons why I felt conflicted.
First, both my Chinese and English are not fluent enough and I did not know how to express myself now and then. What’s more important, I had to face and try to solve lots of questions by myself when I was studying in China. These questions can be categorized into two types. While one type of questions came up because I have mixed origins, the other type of questions is perhaps common to every student who study abroad. When studying abroad, you meet lots of people with different customs, culture and values; in face of this, I have to rethink about the first type of questions mentioned above: Do I have a Chinese identity? Is there any relation between blood and the understanding of customs? What is national identity and personal identity and what is the difference between the two? At the same time, the second type of questions would also come to my mind. What kind of person am I and what kind of person do I want to be? What kind of life should I live? These questions are not so much pressing when I live in my home country, but after starting to study here, these questions become inevitable. When studying or living abroad, and meeting many people from many countries, we just cannot avoid thinking about such serious issues as language, culture, nationality, origin, history, as well as the way of living. All of these elements challenge one’s conception of identity.
Because of these reasons, I often felt bit of depressed and sometimes confused. I needed a place where I can think calmly, and Weiming ran into my life at this time.
Weiming Lake is perhaps the best place for meditation. This lake is delicately surrounded with willow trees, a water tower, which has a meaningful name Boya and is the most prominent scenery of this lake, as well as several small old buildings whose classic Chinese design perfectly matches the natural landscape. At Weiming Lake, time passes slowly, wind blows softly, and the sound echoes so calmly. It is an ideal place for relaxing and thinking about things just by myself.
As I came here more and more frequently, I found that the name of the lake is also very characteristic, because Weiming means “No Name” in Chinese. So the lake is called “Lake Without a Name”. How sophisticated! Moreover, Weiming Lake has a long history, which is sufficiently represented by its traditional flavor. To know about the history of Weiming and the origin of its name, I started to search for books about Weiming in the library and got access to more knowledge about this place: Weiming Lake was originally one part of Shuchun Garden whose owner was He Shen, a high-ranking official during the Qianlong period of Qing Dynasty. In 1860, however, the Anglo-French armies came to this place and burned down Shuchun Garden, which was near the famous Yuan Ming Yuan Park. When Yenching University was established on 1919, John Leighton Stuart, president of this university, decided to reconstruct this place, making it what it is today. The name of Weiming was proposed by Qian Mu, who was a master of Chinese national culture. It is said that this name expresses well the old-time intellectuals’ thought: not interested in fame or wealth, and be generous and not tend to fight.
I walked along the lakeside slowly for around an hour on sunny days whenever I felt depressed or confused. When I was walking, not only did I feel calmer, but interestingly, my brain also became clearer and clearer. Therefore, sometimes I could find the answers of the problems I could not find out when I stayed in my room or other places. I suspect this is not only true for me, or only for anyone who likes to see beautiful scenery and thinks lots of things, but perhaps this is for all people. It is famous that Aristotle’s way of teaching, which was called “the peripatetic school,” was just walk-and-talk style. They believed that walking served to purify human spirits and sharpen mental facilities. In this way, walking is the old way of doing study.
Studying abroad is a valuable opportunity not only because we can meet new friends from different cultures, but also because we can rethink ourselves deeply. In order to rethink ourselves, we usually need a place to think quietly by ourselves. While we can share parts of the problems we face with our friends, they may not totally understand how we feel about such serious issues as identity. Weiming Lake was the best place to rethink ourselves during my study here.
Now I have already finished my study at Peking University and come back to Japan, but the memory of the past year still lingers in my mind. In my opinion, this period was very important for my future. If I did not come to study here, I would never think of these questions seriously. I still haven’t found out all the answers to these questions yet, but I will definitely keep searching for them.
By Yuka Shimizu
Updated: May 8, 2014