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Chinese Studies is a multi-disciplinary programme focused on studying and learning through direct engagement with China. With an emphasis on teaching in English and training for effective communication in international arenas, the programme offers an integrated exploration of the complexities of Chinese history, culture, languages and contemporary society, including the integrated realms of the economy, governance, and business, for majors intent on becoming the globally-oriented China-specialist analysts, cross-cultural communicators and network builders of the twenty-first century.

This major is designed for two streams of students distinguished by Chinese language fluency, i.e. (1) International Stream (IS) and (2) Chinese Native-Speaker Stream (CNSS). Students in each stream pursue a subset of learning offerings tailored to their language capacities while completing most of their course work in a shared learning environment in which international and Chinese native-speaker students learn from each other and pursue collaborative projects together.

Special features of the programme include (1) the commitment to having students attain a high level of proficiency in both Chinese (Putonghua) and English; (2) the commitment to having all students undergo an intensive term-long target-language, social-cultural ‘immersion’ experience; (3) the commitment to directing ‘on-the-ground’ learning about China through required experiential and social enterprise courses; (4) the commitment to a student-centered, ‘liberal arts’ interactive mode of instruction that emphasizes developing skills in critical-thinking, rational analysis, and logical persuasive argumentation to carry out original in-depth research on Greater China.

Gateway to China

The vicissitudes in the history of China have created a rich diversity that both fascinates and puzzles us. And today, as the most populous country and an emerging superpower, China is a force to reckon with. Hence, there is always a great demand for teaching that helps students from different cultural backgrounds to acquire the essential skills and knowledge for getting a grasp on the many faces of China. It is this awareness of cross-cultural engagement that makes CUHK’s Chinese Studies stand out. The BA in Chinese Studies programme was designed to give students a good understanding of China and Chinese communities throughout the world through scholarship and first-hand experience.

Multi-disciplinary and committed to strengthening language capabilities in Chinese and English, the programme guides students to pursue their own paths of investigation into the myriad aspects of China’s history, culture, literature, religion, philosophy, arts, contemporary society, economy, governance, and regional and global relations. There is a strong emphasis on cultural immersion, on-the-ground research, and exchanging of views among a distinctive mix of learners and faculty from Chinese societies and from around the world. Students are encouraged to broaden their understandings and think critically, and from that basis explore deeply and innovatively.

‘Take the study of Chinese business as an example,’ pointed out Prof. Jan Kiely, the programme director, ‘we will start with the history and culture of doing business in China so students can see better how the current environment came into being. Then we want students to delve into current economic and governmental structures, pursue research on specific cases, and undertake fieldwork or an internship to learn by seeing and doing.’‘Although some courses are tough, we learn a lot. I think the design of the whole programme is excellent.’ Dayoung Lee, the final year student, reflected on her learning trajectory. Once, she asked to join in a fieldwork project in rural China. ‘It was supposed to be for graduate students only, but I asked the professor and he was very welcoming and said, “You can join us.”’

Learning through Cross-Cultural Dialogue

Featuring a special commitment to admitting about half of its students from Hong Kong and from all over China and about half from among international student applicants, the programme prizes both learning through cross-cultural dialogue and tailored, individualized student development. Prof. Kiely explained, ‘Our local and non-local students will take courses and undertake fieldwork together, while having the chance to work on their strengths and weaknesses individually. Through sharing and learning from each other, they will be able to see different sides of political cultures, governance and much more. There will be an opening up of perspectives which shakes up ideas of and deepens understandings about China. Hong Kong, from its longstanding position as a site of convergence, multilingualism and cultural exchange, remains an ideal place to practise this mixed learning model.’

Final year student, Austin Bliss from the US, said, ‘It is the perfect combination of essentially being in China and a good Western-Eastern education system. I’m really happy with my choice to study in Hong Kong. I think that it’s probably the single best choice I’ve made in my life so far.’

And this education is not restricted to the classroom, as opportunities to learn through experience are all around. This extends even to going with a group of classmates to Shenzhen and having hot pot or barbeque. ‘We would just go and have a nice dinner,’ Austin recalled, ‘and talk about China a lot. I mean, you’re there! I walked around a shopping mall once with a classmate, just looking at the stores and talking about the propaganda. You can have those experiences in Hong Kong as well.”

Brilliantly Bilingual

The programme stresses improvement of English and Chinese language skills. International students studying Chinese as a second language take intensive language study courses, with the aim of attaining the high levels of proficiency necessary to work or study in Chinese context after graduation. Local and non-local students from Chinese communities, meanwhile, devote time to strengthening their spoken and written English to the degree expected for graduate study or employment at the highest international level. ‘We believe it is essential that our international students planning to work with China in the future be functional in reading, writing and speaking Chinese. And, we want our Chinese students to be able to go anywhere in the world and feel confident about how they present themselves and their ideas in English,’ stressed Prof. Kiely.

Joseph Li, a local graduate and sports reporter for HK01, is a beneficiary of the programme’s rigorous language training: ‘All my presentations and all my journal reviews were written in English. It forced me to learn more and read more. Reading is the most useful… The programme required you to study Mandarin and helped improve my English writing skills. It’s useful to my job.’

Engaging with the Richness and Complexity of China

Critical thinking, an open mind and a willingness to engage with China and the diversity of Chinese cultures are prerequisites for making the most out of the programme. Prof. Kiely advises, ‘Don’t put yourself on a narrow track. Think big, learn how to talk to lots of different kinds of people, and open up your perspectives. Get out, get to China, get to different parts of the world. This kind of opening up of perspectives is what really defines our students.’ Joseph encapsulates his version of this advice as, ‘You have to get more into it. You have to learn.’

Published: Summer 2017
Revised: Summer 2018
Last Updated: Summer 2020