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The PhD in Chinese Studies

The Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies welcomes aspiring scholars to apply to do research in Chinese Studies for the PhD Degree. Cambridge offers world-class library resources as well as academic staff who are world-recognised in the study of both modern and pre-modern China.  Our graduate students meet regularly with their supervisor/advisor and attend lectures and seminars in the Faculty and across the University. There is a weekly China Research Seminar with guest speakers from all over the world, as well as several established distinguished lecture series. Doctoral students at Cambridge also have the unique opportunity to work with the collections held at the Needham Research Institute (NRI) and attend weekly seminars at the NRI, where a constant stream of visiting scholars with exciting projects share their ideas and the pleasure of using pre-modern, textual primary sources in their various fields of research. During your time at Cambridge you are likely to be involved in one or several conferences or workshops. The collegiate environment stimulates exposure to ideas and work by colleagues and fellow graduates in other disciplines. Whenever opportunities arise, we also do our best to engage our advanced doctoral candidates in undergraduate teaching and college supervisions to enable them to gain teaching experience. Our graduate community in Chinese studies is very international and friendly, and nearly all our doctoral graduates have secured postdoctoral and/or continuing academic employment.

The proposed topic of research is the central element in any application, and an application is strengthened if a topic is clearly described. The Teaching Officers in Chinese welcome inquiries. Before applying to our programmes, please email your prospective supervisor for initial consultation (sometimes a staff member will be on sabbatical or research leave and cannot take on any new research student during that year). 


Application and Funding Opportunities

We recognise that doing a PhD is a considerable investment in time, energy and money. While occasionally individual students manage to finish in three years, the more typical scenario is four years. Because all PhD students are required to pay three years of full fees, the financial cost of doing a PhD is considerable (even more so for non-EU students). However, if you have performed exceptionally well in your undergraduate and master's degrees (i.e. high GPA) you should have a decent chance of getting a scholarship to cover most of the cost over the three to four years of PhD studies. Many of our past and current PhD students have been funded by scholarships. We encourage you to explore widely various funding opportunities, including those that are based in specific countries and are for nationals of those countries (e.g. Gates US for US nationals, China Scholarship Council for Chinese nationals, Cambridge-Taiwan for Taiwanese nationals, etc.). For applicants who are not native speakers of English their chance of being considered for a PhD scholarship would be greater if they had IELTS scores considerably higher than the minimum that Cambridge requires for postgraduate studies (currently 7.5 average and above 7 in all sections).

Please note that if you are not a native speaker of English your chance of being offered a place in our PhD programme would be greatly reduced if you did not supply, upon applying, IELTS results that already satisfy the above-mentioned Cambridge postgraduate admissions requirement. So please plan well ahead and make sure that you will get the IELTS results before the particular application deadline by which you plan to apply.

Here are some information on funding opportunities that are specific to the Faculty and are University-wide.


The Louis Cha Scholarship for Pre-Modern Chinese Studies

The Tunku Abdul Rahman Fund (for Malaysian nationals studying in Cambridge, especially in humanities and social-science fields relating to Southeast Asia and East Asia)



The PhD degree involves writing a thesis which should not exceed 80,000 words exclusive of footnotes and bibliography. The overall word limit is 100,000 words, exclusive of bibliography. PhD students must meet a residence requirement of not less than six terms at Cambridge.

The First Year

A graduate student is allocated a Supervisor, with whom he or she meets regularly to discuss his or her research programme in detail. The first year of research is regarded as probationary, and at the end of it candidates take a PhD Progress Examination. This usually consists of two submissions, the first an account of the topic of research in the context of secondary scholarship relating to it, and the second an exercise in the sort of research that will ultimately form part of the PhD thesis itself. If the first year's submission is assessed as satisfactory, the Degree Committee will recommend registration for the PhD Degree.

The Second and Third Years

The second and third years are spent in research and writing. Graduate students also participate in the seminars and reading classes organised in the Faculty. If there are opportunities to do so, they may also help in teaching undergraduates, through the supervision system (paid on an hourly basis).


The Graduate Handbook

The Graduate Handbook contains detailed information on the PhD programme.


Past Dissertation Topics

Some recent Cambridge PhD theses have formed the bases for important books. Examples include:

The Manchurian Myth: Nationalism, Resistance and Collaboration in Modern China, by Rana Mitter (Stanford Unversity Press, 2000).

The Politics of Cultural Capital: China's Quest for a Nobel Prize in Literature, by Julia Lovell (University of Hawai'i Press, 2006).

The Animal and the Daemon in Early China, by Roel Sterckx (State University of New York Press, 2002).

Rituals of Recruitment in Tang China, by Oliver Moore (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2004).

Public Memory in Early China, by Kenneth E. Brashier (Harvard University Asia Center, 2014).

The River, the Plain, and the State: An Environmental Drama in Northern Song China, 1048-1128, by Ling ZHANG (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

A list of past PhD topics completed in Chinese Studies is available.