skip to primary navigationskip to content

The MPhil in Chinese Studies


The Chinese Studies MPhil programme is an intense one-year research course with substantial taught elements primarily designed for students who intend to go on to do a PhD in Chinese Studies or related fields at the University of Cambridge or elsewhere. It is designed for highly-motivated future researchers who have a substantial undergraduate background in Chinese Studies or related fields but need more exposure to topic-specific or discipline-based analytical frameworks and more intense training in primary source language(s) and research skills. 

All prospective MPhil applicants are advised to peruse the staff profiles on our website to familiarise themselves with the research and teaching interests of staff members. Applicants should contact potential supervisors by email and discuss potential MPhil dissertation topics. Each member of our staff has much wider academic interests, so you should explore potential topics of interest freely. Do not feel obliged to find a topic that caters to the specific interest of potential supervisors.

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). 

Applicants with a substantial training in the relevant skills and with a very specific research interest are advised to consult with individual staff members to explore the possibility of doing a MPhil in Chinese Studies ‘by dissertation only’. Those who do 'dissertation only' will write a longer dissertation (up to 25,000 words) and the assessment includes an oral examination of the dissertation (viva).

Testimonies of past and current MPhil students.

Admission requirements

All applications for graduate study at the University are made online via the Graduate Admissions Office (GAO). Applicants should ensure that they are familiar with the admission requirements.

Please note that any applications submitted before the beginning of January, with the exception of those applying for Gates US funding, will be reviewed as a gathered field.  You will therefore not receive a decision on your application until the beginning of February.  Applications submitted after the beginning of January will be reviewed within the normal guidelines.

Language requirements

Applicants must already have good reading skills in the Chinese language, though a student can choose to enhance his or her skills in reading and interpreting texts specific to a particular topic (more on this below). For those whose interests are in pre-modern, medieval or early China, at least two years of experience of literary Chinese (文言文) is essential.

Those applicants who are not native speakers of English must have an excellent command of the English language (evidenced by the appropriate English-language test scores). 

Application and Funding Opportunities

If you have performed exceptionally well in your undergraduate degree (including a high GPA) you should have a decent chance of getting a scholarship to cover the cost of your MPhil studies. A number of of our past and current MPhil 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.). If you are not a native speaker of English your chance of being considered for a scholarship would be greater if you 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 MPhil programme would be 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.

New funding opportunity for studying dynastic China: The Louis Cha Scholarship

Also check out 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)

Papers ('courses' are called 'papers' in Cambridge)

Once admitted into the MPhil Programme in Chinese Studies, you will have the option of following one of two streams:

  • Modern and contemporary Chinese Studies; or
  • Pre-modern Chinese Studies

With the consent of your supervisors and the relevant teachers, you may combine papers from both streams.

You are required to choose three papers – courses usually run over two terms – in addition to doing a 15,000-word MPhil dissertation under the supervision of a supervisor. The dissertations are submitted no later than mid-August following the start of the course.

Modern and Contemporary Chinese Studies

For modern and contemporary Chinese Studies, you need to choose three of the following papers:

  • Asia in Theory [team-taught; theoretical and methodological approaches; required paper for all MPhil students doing modern and contemporary Chinese Studies]
  • Advanced Readings in Chinese on a relevant subject [e.g., Qing and Republican historical documents, modern literary texts, etc.]
  • War and Modern China [Professor Hans van de Ven]
  • Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature [Dr Heather Inwood]
  • The Anthropology of China [Dr Adam Yuet Chau]
  • China in the International Order [Dr Kun-Chin Lin, POLIS]
  • Chinese Linguistics [Dr Boping Yuan]
  • Alternative exercise [to be arranged with specific instructors]

Pre-modern Chinese Studies

For pre-modern Chinese Studies, you need to choose three of the following papers:
  • Classical and literary Chinese texts (received and excavated texts, manuscripts) [Dr Imre Galambos, Professor Roel Sterckx]
  • Early China, specified topic [Professor Roel Sterckx]
  • Medieval China, specified topic [Dr Imre Galambos]
  • Japanese for sinologists
  • Alternative exercise [to be arranged with specific instructors]

An individual student or a group of students sharing similar interests can arrange an 'Alternative Exercise'. Possible topics include:

  • Ritual and religion [Professor Roel Sterckx and Dr Adam Yuet Chau],
  • Dunhuang & Silk Road Studies [Dr Imre Galambos]
  • China and Globalisation [Professor Hans van de Ven and Dr Adam Yuet Chau]
  • Developmental Linguistics [Dr Boping Yuan]

Most papers are assessed by long essays and research projects; some advanced text papers are assessed through an examination. Please note that not all papers will be available every year.

Subject to approval by the Degree Committee, a student who has special needs in disciplinary or other kinds of training can use a course (paper) outside the Department or Faculty to serve as one of the option papers (called 'alternative exercise').

You can find out about the details of our graduate programmes (including brief course descriptions) in our online Graduate Handbook.

Intensive Further Training in Chinese-Language Skills

If you only have an intermediate-level command of Chinese and wish to improve your Chinese skills in preparation for advanced-level research, our MPhil programme can cater for that specific need. For example, one recent MPhil student who is a non-native speaker of Chinese was working on contemporary Chinese art and elected to work intensively on improving her readings skills in Chinese-language texts relating to her dissertation topic (involving meeting with her supervisor every week to translate and discuss a wide range of texts) and this constituted one of her two option papers (as a specially-arranged 'alternative exercise') (see above for the MPhil course structure and paper options). Students can also audit advanced undergraduate text-reading and liteary Chinese classes. Many other venues in Cambridge provide excellent opportunities for improving one's Chinese-language skills, e.g. the Friday text-reading seminars at the Needham Institute (primarily texts in literary Chinese), student-organised readings of Chinese classics, the Cambridge University Language Centre, language-exchange partnerships, etc.


Even though your dissertation (up to 15,000 words) needs to be a piece of original research with fresh insights, it is not supposed to be a magnum opus. One should understand the process of researching and writing the MPhil dissertation as part of your training to be a future researcher (in academia or elsewhere). Applicants should consider carefully the formulation of a potential MPhil dissertation topic before applying to the programme. However, the proposed topic is not considered binding. Students work with their supervisors to fine-tune their focus or even find a different, more suitable topic.

For a list of some of the past MPhil dissertation topics click here. Please note that these topics reflect not only the personal intellectual interests of the students but also the shifts over time of the research expertise of the staff members. 

Current graduate students and their projects.

A Fantastic Environment for Chinese Studies

Besides the above-mentioned coursework you will have plenty of other opportunities within and beyond the Department of East Asian Studies or the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies to hone your research and other professional skills. You will have the opportunity to meet many well-known scholars who are invited to speak in our DEAS Seminar Series, the China Research Seminar Series as well as other numerous China-related events. Weekly text-reading seminars are held in the Needham Research Institute (李約瑟研究所) where scholars share their current research and the pleasure of using pre-modern Chinese texts in their work. You can also participate in the popular student-run graduate research presentations in the department. The University of Cambridge has a large number of researchers and scholars who specialise in China or have research interests in China who work in other faculties and departments (e.g. at the Needham Research Institute, the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Judge Business School, in History, Social Anthropology, Politics, History and Philosophy of Science, Architecture, Land Economy, Development Studies, Theoretical and Applied Linguistic, etc.). And every year we also host quite a few visiting scholars and PhD students from many parts of the world. These are all valuable resources for you to draw upon. Cambridge has a vibrant and welcoming Chinese Studies community and we would like to invite you to join us and the world-wide community of Chinese Studies scholars.


And of course if you study with us you will be living and working alongside other intellectually-serious young people in one of the most famous and beautiful university towns in the world.


Chinese Studies at Cambridge

Here is a webpage that integrates various sections of faculty websites relating to Chinese Studies (including a section on news)


Some Useful Resources Relating to Chinese Studies

Funding Opportunities for Postgraduate Studies at Cambridge [Link]

The Needham Research Institute [Link]

Reviews of Doctoral Theses Relating to China [Link]

Bibliography of Western-Language Works on Chinese Popular Religion (maintained by Prof. Philip Clart of Leipzig University) [Link]

British Association for Chinese Studies [Link]

European Association for Chinese Studies [Link]

Association for Asian Studies [Link]

Bibliography of Asian Studies [Link]

Great Britain China Centre [Link]

Fitzwilliam Museum's Exhibition on Tomb Treasures of the Han Dynasty [Link]

The British Museum's China-Related Resources [Link]

China Scholarship Council [Link]

The Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange [Link]

Center for Chinese Studies (National Central Library of Taiwan) [Link]

Chinese culture through visual materials

You can follow 'Chinese Studies at Cambridge' on Facebook (with publicity on latest activities in Chinese Studies at Cambridge).