MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies | University of Oxford
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MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies

About the course

The MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies is a three-term, twelve-month course offered jointly by the Faculty of Oriental Studies and the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies designed to provide high quality graduate research training with an emphasis on an appreciation of research methods and on deepening your understanding of contemporary China.

You will develop or extend your knowledge and understanding of:

  • the key approaches to the social scientific study of modern China
  • research methods, strategies and ethics that will be of relevance to the social scientific study of China
  • critical analysis of sources and ability to present findings effectively, both verbally and in sustained writing exercises
  • framing and executing a workable research topic
  • interdisciplinary research and its potential.

Modules involve lectures as well as seminar or class discussions, for both of which you will receive reading lists. It is a fundamental component of the Oxford educational system that you engage in individual reading and study in order to broaden and deepen your knowledge of your chosen field. There is limited one-to-one teaching on the MSc course. However, staff members will be available to advise you on reading, literature and topics. You will also be given a supervisor to help guide you through your dissertation research through regular one-to-one meetings.

The teaching on the MSc course is built around the two core courses. The first core course, Research Methods, will introduce you to the strengths and weaknesses of contrasting discipline-based approaches to the study of Asia.

The second core course, The Study of Contemporary China, teaches foundational knowledge of modern Chinese history, politics and society needed for further study or research in all disciplines, and introduces the different disciplinary approaches to the study of modern China.

In addition to the two core courses you will choose two option courses and complete a research dissertation of 12,000 words on a research topic of your choosing, subject to approval by the Graduate Studies Committee.

Assessment for Research Methods comprises three parts, each weighted equally - a practical exercise in the collection and analysis of qualitative data; a take-home test in quantitative analysis; and a research proposal.

The Study of Contemporary China core course is assessed by one unseen three-hour exam, as are most of the option courses.

Graduate destinations

Graduate pathways after the MSc typically fall into one of three categories. The first group move on to further academic study, either in China in order to further enhance their language and cultural skills at leading universities, or by pursuing doctoral study in key disciplines, either here at Oxford or at other top-ranked universities worldwide.

The second path taken by the department’s graduates involves government and public service at international institutions, government agencies and prominent NGOs, usually with a direct focus on China or the East Asia region as part of the brief for their positions.

The third pathway chosen by graduates typically involves major private sector firms in industry or finance, commercial research agencies and international consulting.

Related courses

Changes to the course

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Entry requirements for entry in 2017-18

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in any subject or discipline, although preference may be given to candidates who have studied previously in either the social sciences or the humanities.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.6 out of 4.0.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other appropriate indicators will include:

Supporting documents

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview(s)

Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.  


Publications are not expected, but if available, details should be provided.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

  • Research or working experience in China or Greater China may be an advantage.
  • You should have some familiarity with Chinese language. You should indicate this familiarity with Chinese language either though records from formal language training or else by means of an explanation in their personal statements. This may include acquisition of language capacity through an extended period of residence in China or Greater China for work, study or family reasons.
  • Research assistance or related working experience in universities, think tanks, NGOs, the media and other agencies may be an advantage.

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the higher level required by the University.

3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places

The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • The ability of the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work. 
  • Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.

The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:

  • The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. 
  • Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include sabbatical leave, maternity leave or change in employment.

4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties

Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.

Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.

5. Assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

6. Other information

Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.


You will be sent information on IT access as part of your induction material. In particular it outlines the many courses run by IT Services that have proved to be valuable to the department’s students.

The Bodleian Chinese Studies Library and the Bodleian Social Studies Library are the main read-only and lending services respectively, for the material you will require. Reading lists and copies of course PowerPoint slides will be made available to you on WebLearn across the academic year.

The Institute for Chinese Studies-Contemporary China Studies Programme organises weekly seminars during term-time. You should regard attendance at these seminars as an integral part of your programme. In addition, research seminars about China are organised in departments and colleges across Oxford.

A department induction programme is organised to introduce you to the MSc course and graduate study at Oxford. It is also an opportunity for you to meet staff and talk further with them about your research and option course interests.


There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course and college fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.

A number of Research Council awards are available each year from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). A number of awards are also available from the Ertegun Scholarship Programme.


Annual fees for entry in 2017-18

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

(including Islands)

The fees shown above are the annual tuition and college fees for this course for entry in the stated academic year; for courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Tuition and college fees are payable each year for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay tuition and college fees).

For more information about tuition fees, college fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details on the impact of the result of the UK referendum on its membership of the European Union.

Additional information

There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs.  However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Living costs

In addition to your tuition and college fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2017-18 academic year, the range of likely living costs is between £1,002 and £1,471 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our Living costs page.

How to apply

You are not expected to make contact with an academic member of staff prior to submitting your application. However, you may wish to communicate with the department via email to to discuss course content, teaching, assessment or any other course-related questions. Admissions enquiries should be addressed to

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.


A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Personal statement:
Up to 1,500 words

Your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course at Oxford, your relevant experience and education, and the specific areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in.

It should include a preliminary outline of your research interests and your proposed dissertation project.

This will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying
  • evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
  • commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree course
  • capacity for sustained and intense work.

Your statement should focus on your research interests rather than personal achievements, interests and aspirations.

Written work:
One essay of 2,000 words 

Academic essays or other writing samples from your most recent qualification, written in English, are required. Extracts of the requisite length from longer work are also permissible but should be prefaced by a note which puts it in context.

The work must be an academic essay rather than a business or consultancy report or media brief though the topic of the work does not necessarily need to relate closely to the proposed area of study. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.

This will be assessed for:

  • comprehensive understanding of the subject area
  • understanding of problems in the area
  • ability to construct and defend an argument
  • powers of analysis
  • powers of expression.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, of which at least two must be academic

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.

References should generally be academic though one of the three required references may be professional.

Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, ability to work in a group.