MPhil in Traditional East Asia | University of Oxford
Carved dragon at the Sensoji temple
(Image Credit: Agustin Rafael Reyes / Flickr)

MPhil in Traditional East Asia

About the course

The MPhil examines the Sinitic tradition and its development and adaptations in China, Korea and Japan. It will appeal to students wishing to develop an intimate knowledge of the region for academic purposes or as preparation for careers in museology, libraries, journalism, diplomacy, international banking, business, law, government service, secondary education or non-governmental organisations.

First year

In the first year, you will prepare a 2,000-word essay every two weeks.

You should have some proficiency in an East Asian language (Chinese, Korean or Japanese). A three-hour qualifying examination in a modern language is held at the end of the third term. If your proficiency in your main language is not up to academic standards you will prepare for an examination in that language. If on arrival your proficiency is up to academic standards you will choose a different modern East Asian language for research purposes and prepare for the examination in the selected language.

You will be required to follow a general course in Classical Chinese, Classical Japanese or Middle Korean for another three-hour qualifying examination at the end of the third term. Instruction may take the form of lectures, text classes or some combination of the two. You will prepare and present English translations in text classes. Depending on your ability you may be permitted to follow more than one classical language, but you must choose only one classical language for your qualifying examination.

You will attend a general overview graduate seminar, for which you receive a reading list and write four 2,000-word essays per term. Students meet together every two weeks in a 90-minute seminar to present the gist of their essays and discuss the topic at hand. The qualifying examination for the seminar consists of an assessment of your three best essays from the twelve prepared over the year. No marks are given, and you must choose and submit one essay at the end of each term that you feel presents the best of your work.

Second year

In the second year, you will spend a good portion of your time researching and writing your dissertations.

There are no modern language requirements in the second year, but you may opt to monitor or audit classes in a modern or classical language that you were unable to study or for which you would like further study.

The classical language requirement consists of reading prescribed texts in Classical Chinese or Classical Japanese or Middle Korean. Texts are chosen in consultation with one of the Course Coordinators and drawn from canonical literature in the areas of history, literature, and philosophy. The final examination is a three-hour written examination at the end of the second year. You have eight one-hour classes spread over three terms.

For the Bibliography and Methodology requirement, you will choose a country specialisation (Korea, China or Japan) and prepare answers to a series of exercises requiring you to find specific and general information in the classical bibliography of one of the three countries. You have eight one-hour classes spread over three terms.

You will also prepare a thesis of between 20,000 and 30,000 words, using information gathered through at least one East Asian language. You will present your interim research results at one public colloquium held at the end of the fifth term. The dissertation is due during the sixth term.

At the end of the sixth term, you will sit examinations in your chosen classical language and in bibliography and methodology on your chosen specialism.

Further information on the course and examinations 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 museology, libraries, journalism, diplomacy, but also international banking, business, law, government service, secondary education and non-governmental organisations.

Other courses in this area

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 2019-20

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.

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.

Entrants are required to have a reading ability in at least one modern language (Chinese, Korean, or Japanese). If you are not a native speaker in one of these languages, your level of proficiency must be supported by one of the standardised proficiency tests accepted by the department.

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 may be conducted. If interviewing takes place, candidates will be shortlisted based on their qualifications and appropriateness for the course. Interviews will be held at times convenient to both staff and applicant. The interview will be held by Skype if you are outside Oxford and will consist of around 30 minutes of question and answer and around 30 minutes of a short language examination. There will be a minimum of two interviewers, usually three.  


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 Faculty of Oriental 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 Faculty of Oriental 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 Faculty of Oriental 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.


Oxford's libraries preserve one of the largest and most important collections on materials on East Asia to be found in the western world. For Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, the Bodleian Chinese Library in the Dickson Poon University of Oxford China Centre, the Bodleian Japanese Library in the Nissan Institute, and the 'Window on Korea' Library in the Oriental Institute are most useful, together with the Eastern Art library in the Sackler Library. The Oriental Institute also has a computing room for the use of graduate students, and common rooms are to be found in or near many of the libraries where staff and students can meet for tea or coffee.

For Chinese, there is also the Dickson Poon University of Oxford China Centre Building (hereafter China Centre), which has a dedicated library with study carrels and a reading room, which holds books from the Bodleian Library's China Collection. The Bodleian Library has been collecting books in Chinese and on China since the early seventeenth century and presently contains one of the largest collections in Europe.

For Korean, the ‘Window on Korea’ project - sponsored by the National Library of Korea - provided the Bodleian Library with around 4,000 volumes in 2012 to augment the 10,000 volumes already in the collection and will provide 200 volumes per year until 2022. The National Library of Korea also provided funding to help create a Korean Studies Library with an audio-visual seminar room at the Oriental Institute Library. This will provide the opportunity to expand the collection as well as bringing all necessary Korean materials (reference, newspapers, teaching, audio visual and research materials) into one location at the Oriental Institute. The Weston Library houses the Korean collection of pre-modern books and manuscripts and the Bodleian intranet system maintains subscriptions to most of the key online databases, eg DBPIA, KISS, KRPIA and KSI e-book.

For Japanese, the Nissan Institute houses the Bodleian Japanese Library, the University’s research collection of Japanese books. The library was constructed in 1993 and contains certain rare items. The first known accession of Japanese printed material was three volumes printed by Hon’ami Kōetsu’s press at Saga, Kyoto, c.1608-15. There are also rare printed volumes produced by the Jesuit press in Japan (Kirishitan-ban) before they were expelled in 1614 as well as log books by William Adams (1564-1620), the first Englishman known to have visited Japan. The collection grew with Western-language publications on Japan from the seventeenth century onwards, and as an active research library serving the Oxford community, there is also an extensive and expanding modern collection.

There is also the Research Centre for Japanese Language and Linguistics in the Faculty of Oriental Studies, which functions as an umbrella for research activities related to Japanese language and linguistics through the University. The centre serves as a forum for publicising teaching, lectures, seminars, and other activities of interest to Japanese linguistics, and as a point of access to information for prospective graduate students interested in Japanese language and linguistics.

Adjacent to the Oriental Institute is the Ashmolean Museum, which houses superb Chinese, Japanese and Korean collections.


There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course 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.

Applicants to this course may also be eligible to apply for other scholarship and funding opportunities, including the Ertegun Scholarship Programme.  In order to be considered for this award you will need to complete the scholarships section of the course application form and submit additional supporting material. The programme’s website provides more details about the application process as well as any eligibility criteria which apply.


Annual fees for entry in 2019-20

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£12,570

Course 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 course fees). 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.

Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.

For more information about course fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave 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 course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2019-20 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,058 and £1,643 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. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2019-20, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

How to apply

You are not required to make contact with an academic member of staff before you apply.

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.

Statement of purpose/personal statement:
Up to three pages

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. The overall page count should include any bibliography. 

This will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying, especially to Oxford
  • evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
  • commitment to the subject
  • preliminary knowledge of research techniques
  • capacity for sustained and intense work at a high intellectual level
  • reasoning ability
  • ability to absorb new ideas at a rapid pace.

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:

  • 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.

Certificate of proficiency in an East Asian language

Applicants whose native language is not Chinese, Japanese, or Korean must supply scores from one of the major international proficiency examinations. For Chinese, scores should be submitted from the HSK (Chinese Proficiency Test) with a target level of 4. For Japanese, scores should be submitted from the Japanese Language Proficiency Test with a target of level N2. (Additionally, applicants will be required to submit a JCAT score). For Korean, scores should be submitted from the Standard Test of Proficiency in Korean (S-TOPIK) with a target level of 4.

Documentation of your scores should be uploaded to your application as a transcript.

This will be assessed for your language proficiency.

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 chosen course of study.

Start or continue an application

Step 1: Carefully read the entry requirements on this course page to make sure you meet all the criteria.

Step 2: Check above what documents are required and prepare to apply by reading our Application Guide.

Step 3: Apply as soon as possible. Consult the Application Guide for more information about deadlines.

Application GuideApply

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