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The PhD in Chinese Studies

Training to be a Researcher and Scholar

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. These are excellent opportunities for you to meet many well-known scholars and interact with them in seminars as well as in many informal settings.

Doctoral students working on topics relating to the history of science and technology in China also have the unique opportunity to work with the collections held at the Needham Research Institute (李約瑟研究所) (NRI). Students working on pre-modern topics can 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.

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. the Needham Research Institute; the Fitzwilliam Museum; the Judge Business School; History; Social Anthropology; Politics; History and Philosophy of Science; Architecture; Land Economy; Development Studies; Theoretical and Applied Linguistic; etc.). And every year we 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.

During your time at Cambridge you are also 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.

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.


The proposed topic of research is the central element in any application, and an application is strengthened if a topic is clearly described. The application is done via the Cambridge online application platform. Amongst other application materials such as past academic transcripts, you will be asked to submit up to two pieces of writing samples. One can be a piece of significant writing from your past degree programmes (e.g. an essay or chapter from your undergraduate/master's dissertation), while the other can be a detailed PhD project proposal that includes sections on the research question, review of secondary literature, research design (how you plan to gather relevant data and how you will analyse your data) and significance of the proposed research (i.e. in what ways your research will contribute to scholarship). 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).

Please note that under normal circumstances an applicant to our PhD programme must be currently engaged in a master's-level (or MPhil) academic programme or has already obtained a master's-level (or MPhil) degree.

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.). Some colleges at the University of Cambridge also offer graduate scholarships, though they require that you put them down as first-choice college when you apply.

For applicants who are not native speakers of English their chance of being considered for a PhD place and a PhD scholarship would be enhanced if they have already met the English-proficiency requirement for postgraduate studies (currently IELTS 7.5 average and above 7 in all sections) when they submit their applications. 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)

PhD scholarship offered by the Universities' China Committee in London (UCCL)



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).


Testimonies of Past and Current PhD students


The Graduate Handbook

The Graduate Handbook contains detailed information on the PhD programme.


Chinese Studies at Cambridge

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


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.

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).