MSt in Traditional China | University of Oxford
Chinese art
EA1962.225 Gai Qi, 'Epidendrum, bamboo, and rocks'
(Image Credit: Ashmolean Museum)

MSt in Traditional China

About the course

The MSt in Traditional China provides students with an opportunity to develop the skills needed for research on pre-modern and early modern China. It is designed to stand independently as a one-year qualification which can lead on to further study elsewhere, but also to provide the standard training required by graduate students here in Oxford aiming at a thesis degree in pre-modern and early modern Chinese Studies.

On the course you will work closely with certain members of Oxford’s internationally renowned team of specialist researchers from the China Centre, who will help you to tailor your master's degree to suit your needs and interests. The course involves a number of different elements.

The first is the close reading of selected texts which bear on the your area of special interest. The selection will be carefully worked out during the first term of the course, and will balance your particular needs with those of other students working in similar areas.

The second is a basic course in Japanese or another specialist language relevant to the research topic, if taught at Oxford. Time is obviously too short to do real justice to this most difficult language, profoundly different from Chinese. So, teaching focuses on the essential need – to bring you to the point at which you can begin to tackle publications by Japanese specialists in your field. Once basic script and grammar have been covered, instruction moves straight on to readings with a Chinese focus. (There is no time to spare for the skills of speaking and listening.) The teacher for the Japanese course will be a native Japanese instructor.

The third element is an introduction to Sinology. This deals with the procedures of chronology, geography, bureaucracy, biography and bibliography in the context of traditional Chinese studies. The aim here is not so much to transmit information as to lead you away from a dependent, passive approach towards a questioning and free-standing research style.

The final element is a 15,000-word dissertation on an approved topic of the your choice, based on primary sources. Time is short and length is restricted, but this part of the course will still aim to bring out your powers of exposition and analysis, and you will document your work according to professional standards.

Most of the teaching will be on an individual basis or in very small groups.

Evaluation of the course normally takes place entirely during the third term, through a combination of prepared texts, unprepared translation (in Classical Chinese or another approved Asian language), examination papers and a dissertation (an oral examination (viva voce) may also be required).

Further information on the examination procedure for the MSt in Traditional China can be found in the Course Handbook, which can be accessed via the faculty's course webpage.

Graduate destinations

Oriental Studies graduates have found employment in many and diverse fields including business, finance, law, civil service, journalism, government and industry.

Many graduates undertake further research into subjects linked with Oriental studies and have pursued successful careers in the academic world, education and in museums.

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 Chinese studies. You should also have a good knowledge of Classical Chinese.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.5 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 required. 

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 Oriental Institute 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 Oriental Institute 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 Oriental Institute.

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.

There are three Chinese Studies master's degrees available at the University of Oxford. Applicants should consult the Course Comparison Table to find which course is most suitable for them.


Most of the lectures and classes for the MSt in Traditional China are organised and conducted at the Dickson Poon University of Oxford China Centre Building.

The China Centre, brings together academics drawn from across a range of disciplines, who have in common research and teaching interests related to China. The building has a 100-seat lecture theatre, a 200-seat dining area and a range of conference and seminar facilities.  It also has a dedicated library with study carrels and a reading room, which holds books from the Bodleian Library's China Collection.

In addition to this, you will also find useful the Bodleian Oriental collections and the Oriental Institute Library. Adjacent to the Oriental Institute is the Ashmolean Museum, which houses superb collections. You will also have access to the University's centrally provided electronic resources and the Faculty IT Officer.  The facilities at the China Centre provide opportunities for interaction with students on a range of China-related degrees as well as lectures and other academic activities.

A Classical Chinese reading group meets every week in Full Term. The China Centre also organises its own weekly seminar, at which speakers include visiting international scholars, members of the Oxford academic staff, and graduate students. The talks are given in English or Chinese, and discussions are always critical and lively. Other graduate seminar groups with more specialised focus, for instance modern history or art and archaeology, also meet regularly.


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.

The Ertegun Scholarship Programme and the Humanities Research Council (AHRC) each provide a number of awards every year, to support graduate students across a range of disciplines. To be considered for these studentships you must apply by the relevant January admissions deadline.


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

It is not necessary to make contact with an academic member of staff before you apply, but you may contact Professor Barend ter Haar if you have any further questions about the course.

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 and research proposal:
Statement of up to one page, proposal of up two pages

Your research proposal and personal statement should be submitted as a single, combined document with clear sub-headings. These should both be written in English only.

Your statement should 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.

Your research proposal should cover areas such as the background to the research, methodology, expected results and the contribution to the field of learning. The page count for the research proposal does not need to include your bibliography.

The personal statement and research proposal will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying
  • coherence of the proposal
  • originality of the research project
  • evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
  • ability to present a reasoned case in English
  • commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree course
  • preliminary knowledge of research techniques
  • capacity for sustained and intense work at a high intellectual level.

Written work:
Two essays of 2,000 words each

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.

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
  • clarity and accuracy of thought and writing
  • conceptual sophistication
  • critical skill
  • control of relevant primary and secondary sources
  • presentation of material in the appropriate scholarly form

It is helpful if written work relates closely to the proposed area of study, though it is not compulsory, as there are many things that the assessors look for in the written work which are not specific to the subject area, such as ability to construct and defend an argument and presentation of material in the appropriate scholarly form.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally 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.

Whilst it is appreciated that obtaining academic references will be difficult for some candidates, academic references are requested because it is necessary to establish whether a candidate is intellectually prepared for a course. It is unlikely that this is something that can be established from a professional or personal reference, so you should only submit such references if there is absolutely no alternative.

Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, and fitness for your chosen course of study.