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Chinese Studies at Cambridge

  Welcome to Chinese Studies at Cambridge!





'You have already come to the conclusion that nothing is more fun than immersing yourself with "things Chinese"? Great! Then you have no excuse to not apply!'     

Sarah Eisenacher, current third-year student, 2017


Chinese is spoken by one-fifth of the world's population (though most Chinese people speak some form of dialect and learn standard mandarin and acquire literacy in Chinese in school), and more and more young people all over the world are learning Chinese. But the language is only a means towards a much more important goal, that is, to be able to access a fascinating world through the medium of its own language and conceptions. The BA in Chinese Studies at Cambridge will provide you with extensive abilities in the modern Chinese language, a solid grounding in classical and literary Chinese, and a critical understanding of the rich variety of Chinese culture. You will experience an exceptional challenge that will equip you for rewarding careers and a lifetime of appreciation of the vibrant living tradition of China and Chinese communities worldwide.

Although prior knowledge of Chinese is not a prerequisite for the course, imagination, perseverance, and a sense of adventure are essential! We are looking for students who can demonstrate a serious commitment to learning about this vital, and politically and economically important, part of the world. Our curriculum caters to students learning Chinese from scratch (ab initio) as well as those who have done some substantial Chinese in secondary school (e.g. GCSE, A-level, IB, pre-U, etc.). However, this course is not suited for native speakers of Chinese.

publicity billboard for Chengdu, the home of giant pandas, photo by Adam ChauTo study China, the Chinese language and Chinese culture is a tremendously fascinating challenge. The Cambridge course offers depth and breadth across many topics but it is equally true that no four-year course can cover each and every aspect or academic discipline related to China. It is important therefore that you study carefully whether our course is right for you. The Chinese Studies BA  requires a commitment to very intensive language work; alongside learning modern spoken Chinese (Mandarin) and written Chinese (in both simplified and non-simplified forms, which is why the Chinese welcoming phrase at the top of this page is in both simplified and traditional characters), the study of classical and literary forms of the Chinese language is a required component of the course in all four years. We do not teach Chinese for you to only be able to ask for directions when visiting China as a tourist, order dishes in a Chinese restaurant (though that is an important skill!), or negotiate a business deal with a Chinese company (though many of our alumni have done very well in the 'real world' of business and government). We hope that you will build the necessary foundations for a life-long engagement with, and enjoyment of, things Chinese.

This course demands dedication and hard work. You need to envision yourself spending long hours (for four years!) learning and mastering the Chinese language (literary as well as modern), as well as reading and thinking about Chinese history, literature, art, anthropology, religion, philosophy, etc. Even though the course has a definitive structure, there are plenty of built-in flexibility and paper choices to allow each student to pursue his or her own inclinations (emphasising more on pre-modern or contemporary China, literature and cinema or anthropology and politics, etc.).

A note on joint degrees. Many universities now offer the option of joint degrees, allowing the students to combine Chinese (usually only modern Chinese in simplified characters and up to the intermediate level) with another subject (e.g. law, business, history, politics, economics, linguistics, etc.). The increasing popularity of these joint degrees might reflect the 'hedging one's bets' and 'covering all the bases' mentality of many young people today (as well as that of their parents and career advisers), who think that 'more' must mean 'better', and that 'two' must appeal more to prospective employers than 'one'. However, we believe that an integrated Chinese Studies programme such as ours will produce graduates with genuine proficiency in the Chinese language and sophisticated understanding of China whom all prospective employers in need of China-related expertise will find attractive. Whatever other skills they might need they can easily acquire through on-the-job training.

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

Here is a detailed description of the Chinese Studies course structure and study-abroad arrangement.

What our current and former students are saying about our programme: student testimonials.

What careers do we prepare you for: career opportunities.

Details on the application process and admissions interviews. [see also the faculty-wide admissions web pages]

We invite you to explore our recommended reading list

Visual culture is an amazing gateway to the richness of Chinese culture.

What pedagogical philosophy guides our teaching of modern Chinese?

Why studying the so-called pre-modern forms of Chinese writing style (i.e. literary Chinese) is essential to a Cambridge education in Chinese Studies?

For some details of the Chinese Studies Tripos (e.g. descriptions of papers) you can browse through our Undergraduate Handbook (especially pages 11-19 relating to Chinese Studies).

We also hope to see you at our Open Day activities. Please do not hesitate to contact any of the Chinese Studies teaching staff if you have any questions.

Here is a video about Cambridge Open Days in general.

Here is a recent brief video presentation on our Faculty as a whole featuring some undergraduate students in Chinese Studies.

Here is a student-produced video on their study-abroad experience in China (Beijing) (2012-13) (dialogues and subtitles in Chinese).

You are welcome to follow us on Facebook (with publicity on latest activities in Chinese Studies at Cambridge).


students2First-year Chinese Studies students after their Tang poetry recital in Lent term (2015), together with some of their teachers and fourth-year programme mates.

Chinese Studies students at Peking U 2014-15

Early September 2014: The third-year Chinese Studies cohort beginning their studies at Peking University (a couple of others were in Qingdao), here with their language teachers and Peking University student partners.