Chinese Studies at Oxford

A nighttime shot of the Bank of China bulding in Hong Kong.

Oxford's Bodleian Library began collecting Chinese books already in the seventeenth century. But the University's formal commitment to Chinese Studies began in 1876 with the appointment of the great missionary-scholar James Legge as its first Professor of Chinese. His critical translations of the Confucian scriptures and other classic texts are still used as a standard reference today.

A full honours degree in the subject has been taught in Oxford since the late 1940s. Among the many individuals who have taken the degree in that time some have taken up careers in university teaching, librarianship and museum work around the world, and the great majority of postgraduate students have done so too. Others have used their Chinese in careers with the Foreign Office, the British Council, the Hong Kong Government, and in banking, commerce, journalism, or broadcasting.

The Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

The nerve-centre of the present teaching programme is the Institute for Chinese Studies, which stands in the heart of central Oxford. Apart from offices and seminar rooms it holds a well-developed lending library, designed to support teaching programmes at undergraduate and postgraduate levels (but also containing important research material); a general common-room in which teaching staff, students and visitors can meet informally; a computer room for graduate students; an up-to-date language laboratory; and facilities for receiving satellite broadcasts in Chinese. A special unit within the Institute, the Centre for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, is developing new multimedia language-teaching materials in modern Chinese. A short walk away is the Ashmolean Museum, with rich collections of Chinese art and a specialized supporting library, all of which are open to students working on that branch of the subject. Also within walking distance is the Bodleian Library, housing the University's main research collections on China. Its holdings in Chinese language amount to more than 135,000 volumes.

Since the mid-1990s Oxford has expanded and diversified its effort in the China field with the help of private grants and endowments and grants from public funds. The most visible result has been the creation of posts to develop teaching and research upon China since the start of the twentieth century. These posts are in social science disciplines, including Economics, Social Anthropology, Political History and International Relations. The University intends soon to extend the range of its work on contemporary China to include other disciplines. This balances the work on language, literature and history pursued in the original programme, and offers students of Chinese a wider range of optional subjects to study alongside their core curriculum. The Bodleian Library has also embarked on a plan to develop a research collection on modern China.

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Page last modified: 26th April 2013