The 21st century has been referred to by some as “The Chinese Century”, with experts predicting China’s economy will soon outpace that of the United States. China is home to around a sixth of the world’s population and its economic transformation from one of the world’s poorest countries to a world-leading economy is unparalleled in modern times.
If you’re interested in exploring these developments, a degree in Chinese Studies or Sinology may be worth considering. Read on and learn more about it:
Chinese Studies (sometimes also China Studies or Sinology) is, as its name suggests, the study of China and the Greater China region. Interest in this area has exploded over the last few years.
The world’s factory and an inspiration to many developing nations, China has become a huge player on the global stage in recent years and the decisions, traditions and policies of the country have a massive impact worldwide. But it’s also a region in a state of flux and working to find a comfortable position in the twenty-first century global community; as its influence grows, so does the scrutiny it is subject to.
A good China Studies course aims to offer a well-rounded introduction to this complex and complicated region, instruction in Mandarin and the freedom to focus on topics that particularly interest you such as history, media or politics.
China Studies is no longer the preserve of specialist institutes. More and more universities across Europe are offering China Studies or related courses and their number is only likely to increase in the future. Most programs are found in the UK, but there are also many options in other countries like Ireland or Germany.
Generally speaking, courses will begin by introducing the subject with modules on Chinese history society and politics, and a crash course in Mandarin. After that you can choose from a range of modules related to Chinese culture and society or opt for a pathway such as history or teaching Chinese as a foreign language. In most cases, one year will be spent abroad, usually in mainland China or Hong Kong.
The amount of choice you get when it comes to different modules and pathways varies a lot from university to university. The more developed programs will offer modules in things like philosophy, business, arts, media and contemporary studies. Universities with really well developed programs will also have courses in other languages of the area, and modules focused on fields like religion or China’s relations with its regional neighbours.
Here’s where things get really interesting and there are some fascinating, highly specialised modules on offer at European institutions under the umbrella of Chinese Studies, including Chinese archaeology, Chinese economic transformation, China’s political process, and nationhood and identity. Some Masters courses will also include exchange semesters or placements in China.
Doing a Masters in the subject will additionally prepare you for the rigours of doing a PhD and your own further research in the field.
China Studies can be combined with a range of other subjects. You can pair it up with the study of a nearby region, such as Japan, with business or politics, or even with something completely different.
A few universities will let you pair China Studies with another language such as French or German; but think carefully about this, especially if you are a beginner in both that language and Chinese: Learning two languages will be a lot of work (although that is absolutely no reason not to do it if that’s where your interests lie).
Other universities also have programs such as “China and International Business” or “China and Economics”, which is ideal if you already have a good idea about what sort of career path you’d like to take.
As interest in the region grows, more and more institutions are offering a wider variety of China-related courses, particularly at masters level
Courses on offer that are similar to China Studies include Modern Chinese Studies, Sinology, and Traditional Chinese Studies, the latter two of which put a particular emphasis on non-contemporary culture and philosophy. Additionally, there are a range of combination courses such as Chinese and Developmental Studies, Chinese and Economics, and Chinese and History.
You can also shift the scope regionally, and potentially go for a more general subject like East Asian Studies or Asian Studies, which will place Chinese society in the context of its neighbours.
If it’s specifically the language you are interested in, there are also plenty of options out there to pair learning Mandarin with other subjects.
At Bachelor level, you won’t need any previous knowledge of Mandarin Chinese, and learning the language will be part of the course. That said, Chinese is a notoriously difficult language, and the teaching of Chinese to foreign learners is a relatively young field that just isn’t supported by as much research as learning French or English as a foreign language yet.
As such, Chinese is commonly taught to non-Chinese the same way it is taught to Chinese children in school: Courses rely heavily on textbooks and focus on things like handwriting, traditional culture and poetry (and the latter is about as useful for learning modern Chinese as reading Shakespeare is for modern English). While some teachers are really dedicated to modelling their teaching after approaches that emphasize speaking skills and immersive environments, they’re still the minority.
Plenty of people take Chinese courses at university and emerge after four years unable to hold a basic conversation. Mastering Chinese is going to require significant self-study outside of the classroom. But don’t let that put you off; not only is learning the language immensely rewarding, but speaking Mandarin is an increasingly sought-after skill.
At Masters level, some courses require some understanding of Mandarin for admission, but for the vast majority it is not a requirement. You are however strongly encouraged to incorporate learning the language into your studies.
The other thing to know is that there are two forms of written Chinese currently in use. Most courses will focus on Simplified Chinese, which is used in China and Singapore, as opposed to Traditional Chinese, which is used e.g. in Hong Kong. It should also be noted that the main language in Hong Kong is Cantonese, not Mandarin. While the two share similarities, they aren’t mutually intelligible when speaking.
Strange as it may sound, there just aren’t that many English-taught China Studies courses in China, particularly at Bachelors level. It’s undeniable that studying in China gives you the opportunity to live in the country for several years immersed in the culture and, at Masters level, there are some great courses available (Chinese energy policy or China-Africa relations, for example).
But aside from the distance and the need to be willing to live in a very different society for a longer period, there are some other reasons why you might choose to study in Europe instead. It very much depends on what your goals are. Teaching style and course content can be quite different in China, with a preference for teacher-focused lectures over debate and discussion. Additionally, if you’re interested in really exploring some of the issues that gets China in the headlines from a range of different viewpoints, there is an argument to be made that this can best be done elsewhere.
However, you should make studying at least part of your course in the country a priority: Any China Studies course worth the name will include significant time abroad.
Whether or not you’re set on one day moving to and working in China or elsewhere in Asia, the demand for staff with an expertise in China is growing. This opens up many opportunities to pursue your interests in countless fields such as:
China also has a booming tech industry and an increasing amount of opportunities for foreign entrepreneurs working in science and technology.
The salary you can earn varies significantly with a degree in this field. Particularly if you end up working in China itself, salaries can vary depending on your employer and the part of the country you’re working in. For example, a foreign teacher’s monthly salary can range from 5,000 RMB (640 EUR) to 25,000 RMB (3,200 EUR) for jobs of the same type requiring the same qualifications. Jobs on the higher end of the salary spectrum will usually be with large multinationals and require you to speak fluent Mandarin.13272 Programmes in Europe