Zijie "Bill" Peng


“I would say a lot of my classmates who were taught by ELIs [Yale-China Teaching Fellows] were really influenced by [the ELIs’] attitudes and by their way of life.”


Yali Middle School Alumnus
Manager, Greater China, Yale-China Association

There is little doubt that Zijie “Bill” Peng’s story would bring smiles to the faces of the founders of Yali Middle School. Born and raised in Changsha, Hunan province, Bill—who fought in English class for the name of the 42nd President of the United States—might never have attended Yali were it not for a family move that precipitated the need for a school of suitable rigor. Yali stuck out as the best choice. Bill says “It had a reputation for educating people with more comprehensive talents than just ‘book talents’.”

Yali’s strong emphasis on liberal education—something that is uncharacteristic of most Chinese middle schools—and its Yale-China Teaching Fellows had a big impact on Bill and his classmates. “I would say a lot of my classmates who were taught by ELIs [Yale-China Teaching Fellows] were really influenced by [the ELIs’] attitudes and by their way of life,” Bill explains. “That is why many of us went overseas to study things like international affairs, public policy, international relations, nonprofit work, and social work. These areas are not really common in a class in China, where most people want to do engineering or business, which are reasonable choices in a developing country. But I think the liberal arts influence directed us into humanities-based areas for research and work.”

Part of the Teaching Fellows’ influence relate to their level of curriculum freedom relative to Chinese English teachers. Yale-China Teaching Fellows baked apple pies in class, shot movies with students (influencing Bill to direct his own feature film in college), and opened their home for a lunchtime salon where foreign culture and politics were common topics. Recently, the Fellows have been actively engaged in community service projects with their students, significantly impacting student life at Yali.

Bill’s post-college years have been a whirlwind of international activity. After receiving his BA from the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, Bill found his way to the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. There he obtained a master’s in public policy and developed a taste for nonprofit work. As program assistant for the Minnesota International Center, he helped coordinate World Cultures Day which brought more than one thousand international speakers to dozens of local elementary schools to share their stories. “It was a really fascinating experience for the children,” Bill says. “They are always very enthusiastic about different countries and very interested in learning about different cultures.”

With a growing passion for public service, international education, and children’s work, Bill headed to New Delhi in 2007 to work with the Pratham Delhi Education Initiative. In India, he developed evaluation tools for a preschool program that engaged local adults to teach impoverished children. Again, the young were a source of inspiration. “They did not know how bad their situation was. So they were always very optimistic, they were very interested in seeing people from outside, particularly foreigners.”

Bill joined the Yale-China Association in July 2008 as the health program officer, working with Director of Yale-China’s health programs Hongping Tian. He now serves as the Manager of Greater China with Yale-China, a position he has held since May 2011.

--By Mattias Daly, Staff Intern

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