"MUN provides an important alternative to systematic education in China. Through constructing consensus, we could instill civic values. These components
already exist in classrooms in the U.S.," he observed.
Model UN Becomes Commercial
Between 2005 and 2010, national MUN conferences such as those organized by PKU and the rivaling Fudan University in Shanghai drew the best high school
students from around the country, who competed for limited spaces. Through financial sponsorship by corporations, many of these students' fees were
subsidized or even covered in full, further increasing the draw of the events. Over time, lesser-known national conferences, as well as regional and even
local conferences for high school students, began to spring up and gradually spread to second-tier and even third-tier cities.
The work of Weland Education Company is one reason for MUN's quick growth. Established in 2008, Weland is a commercial enterprise founded by some of Peking
University's first MUN participants. Weland's business model consisted of providing training programs for students interested in participating in MUN, and
shepherding students abroad to attend MUN conferences in the U.S. and Europe.
Li Yuanyuan, a senior administrator, asserts that Weland was "the most important factor" behind the rapid development of MUN in China. MUN no longer
attracts only the most prepared students from elite high schools. Students can now travel to the U.S. and attend a conference hosted by an Ivy League
university by paying Weland $5,400. They can then use these experiences to pad their resumes, regardless of their actual level of preparation or
engagement. Yet the activity still offers an outlet for Chinese students seeking the experience itself, a platform for political practice and exploration.
The distinction between non-profit conferences and commercially-oriented conferences in China has also blurred. Certain conferences have even gone so far
as to offer high school Model UN club faculty advisors kickbacks for requiring students to attend a particular conference. Given that students pay several
thousand RMB (several hundred US dollars) for registration, both the teacher and the organizer can profit from this activity.
Dengyang Liu, a former MUN participant, complains, "There is no established norm [in this industry]...unlike in the [U.S.], where Model UN has been run by
universities and students for a few decades."He continued, "Since the recent first MUN conference in China, only a few reliable government-led educational
institutions have been able to muster sufficient academic and logistical resources to organize national conferences that adhere to high standards."
Recently, unofficial student-run grassroots conferences have begun to dominate the MUN scene. Dengyang explains, "High school students have quickly learned
to link Model UN conferences with study-abroad educational consulting agencies to obtain financial support, given the similar demographic backgrounds of
the participants." However, desirable academic resources, including well-trained chair members and access to college-level international relations
curricula, remain scarce.