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kdavid

Graduate School in China – A History Major’s Perspective

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gato

Great writeup, kdavid.

Can you say a bit more about the assigned reading? Is there a written syllabus? How many pages per week? What kind of material? Textbooks, scholarly books, or articles?

(Are you able to read Ray Huang's 万历十五年 in Chinese, yet?)

What are you supposed to read for the two classes without assigned reading?

How much are classes about memorizing/learning about facts, as opposed to analysis?

I wonder if the "close" of the modern history departments at both schools is due to recent conservative political climate.

That lack of interest in intellectual matters is unfortunately common among Chinese university students. I've seen that with graduates of the top-tier schools, as well. It's very much a "get a degree with as little effort as possible and get a top-earning job" attitude.

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amandagmu

I've met, sat in classes, or dealt with extensively with people at the following schools: 北大,北体,人大, and 华师大(上海)。I have found 北大 and 华师大 PhD candidates and professors in politics, political history, and international relations to be of very high caliber. I believe this is largely because most of them have spent a significant amount of time dealing with non-Chinese scholars (so, participating in a global community of researchers) and/or they have done significant research and presented it outside of China. (Many 北大 and 华师大 professors and their graduate students have held long-term fellowships at places like the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. and GiGA in Hamburg.) I have also experienced what gato mentioned with some people from 北大, particularly with some people who must have had good 关系 to get in or work there. They are the outliers in my field, however, as most people are quite good. (Of course, having a few bad apples is not unusual elsewhere -- I heard a terrible presentation the other day from someone in my field who has a PhD from Harvard, the kind of presentation with completely ridiculous conclusions and vacuous statements that made several of us in the audience think "Really? They let YOU get a PhD from Harvard?")

I think in part because it's located in Shanghai, the 华师大 history and politics people seem much more open to discussion, new research, and new ideas. It hardly seemed surprising that the 上海市档案馆 and 上海图书馆, in contrast to any of the archives or libraries I used in Beijing, were always full. I didn't need as much 关系 to talk to people either. Most were more than willing to go get a drink or lunch with me and get straight into research chats. No topic was forbidden or awkward. Likely this is also due to the long-standing ties and the number of their people who have studied elsewhere and/or been engaged in discussions with foreign scholars.

In sharp contrast to these two schools and groups of people, the professors and students from the other two universities I mentioned are much more of a mixed bag. They have all been friendly, but only a few of them have engaged in serious research with non-Chinese scholars, meaning that they are often unaware of debates on certain topics I thought most people knew about. When I was in Beijing last year I found myself aggravated with their students as well - so many of them were just lazy, didn't do assignments, and seemed to be on track to just get out as soon as possible and find a job. I attended a regular graduate student seminar at one place and most the time only half the people seemed to show up. No one engaged in discussion or debate with the professor, even when one particular professor encouraged and begged them too. (This was a professor who I often debated with over lunch and in his office all the time. He was quite familiar with issues in the field in and outside China and he always wanted to know about my new research, even gave me some great ideas for directions on certain issues.)

Oh, and I thought it was funny that kdavid mentions the research presentations - I found that even when the professor I mention above assigned people a date well in advance they would come in either 1) totally unprepared or 2) with a sloppy powerpoint presentation that had been written entirely based on some book they had read and/or baidu, and occasionally with some theory that seemed like it had come from left field. My favorite to this date is the guy who said that Stephen Hawking can help us understand the mentality of Formula 1 racers. (I thought I had misheard him until I saw the powerpoint slide with a clip of Hawking in a wheelchair and the Formula 1 clip next to it.) The funny thing was that, even though they technically were doing projects in history, anthropology, and the social sciences, it seemed like no one had ever been to an archive. When I asked for people's advice and experience with them, they shrugged their shoulders but offered to call and get the address for me.

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gato
My favorite to this date is the guy who said that Stephen Hawking can help us understand the mentality of Formula 1 racers. (I thought I had misheard him until I saw the powerpoint slide with a clip of Hawking in a wheelchair and the Formula 1 clip next to it.)

This was a PhD student, right? 华东师大 has a number of famous professors in modern history. 杨奎松, who focuses on the 1920-1950 period, is my personal favorite.

China has had a Great Leap Forward in university expansion in the last decade. It has resulted in a disastrous decline in the quality of university education. Some say that the damage will last at least a generation.

From 1993 to 2007, the number of undergraduate students admitted increased by 500%, and the number of graduate students increased by 900%.

Teaching resources have not kept up with the increase in student volume. Much of the new government spending has gone into hardware such as new buildings and campuses. Teacher salaries have not kept pace with the private sector, leading few top students wanting to go into academia (particularly with its emphasis on volume publishing today).

http://nf.nfdaily.cn/nfrb/content/2010-09/19/content_16033911.htm

  1999年以后,随着高等教育大扩招政策的实行, 博士研究生教育呈现出高速扩张。

从1999~2003年,博士生招生规模年均增长26.6%。

1999年全国博士生招生近2万人,2003年招生4.9万人,2004年招5.3万人,2007年招5.8万人(当年在校博士生达到22万人)。

在博士学位授予方面,2001年1.4万人,2004年2.3万人,2006年3.6万人,2007年4.1万人。2008年我国博士学位授予数达到5万以上,甚至超过美国当年博士学位授予数(约5.1万)。

http://news.xinhuanet.com/edu/2008-09/24/content_10100426.htm

教育部官员:高校扩招没问题 政府投入显不足

2008年09月24日 08:24:36  来源:中国青年报

扩招给中国高等教育带来巨大变化。然而,增幅最高的并非公众普遍认为的本科学生,而是研究生。相比于1993年,2007年全国研究生招生数增长了8.9倍,普通本专科招生数同期增长了5.12倍。

1993年~2007年,全国研究生招生数从4.22万增加到41.86万,普通本专科招生数从92.4万增加到565.9万人。扩招带来的明显变化是,高等教育在学人数从500万增加到2700万,增长了4.4倍。高等教育毛入学率从5%增加到23%。

张力指出,教育经费占GDP6%以上是支撑教育现代化的基石。但我国1993年《中国教育改革与发展纲要》规定到2000年要达到4%的目标,并没有实现,2006年也仅占3.01%。"中国能否在2010年实现4%(的目标),还是有疑问的",因为这需要2007年~2010年间,每年至少增加0.25个百分点。需要指出的是,随着GDP这个基数快速增长,提高教育投入比重的难度,无疑越来越大。

教育资源不平衡是另一个矛盾所在。北京当地院校的生均拨款比中央部属院校还多,而四川、江西培养一个公办大学生,仅能得到2000多元政府拨款,"还不足上海培养一个公办小学学生(经费)的四分之一"。张力感慨:"世界上很少能够找到我们国家这样——生均预算内拨款最高省是最低省的8倍!这样的情况下,怎么保证质量?"

我国政府预算内教育经费占教育总投入的比重,从1994年的80.5%下降到2006年的40.8%,"一路锐减"。而教育总投入中,社会捐资集资经费的比重更是连年下降。"没有任何一个市场经济健全的国家,社会捐资集资的比重这么低的,从1991年的8.6%降到2006年的不到1%了。"

教育投入结构表中,主要上升的部分是学杂费。"学费、杂费、其他教育经费的增长幅度太快,实际上就是让学校想各种各样的办法去创收。"

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samitakamaki

Thanks for the thorough write-up! Like you said, information about post-grad studies in China is awfully lacking.

I'm curious about what was demanded from you though, didn't you have any hand-ins or exams at the end of the semester?

Also, what book did you say you recommended for 书面语?

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amandagmu

Re: Hawking - sadly, yes, that was a PhD student.

Interesting article. I like how the obsession with statistics neglects the fact that some of those American PhDs are also Chinese students, usually the top ones, who have leave China to go elsewhere to do their studies.

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kdavid
Can you say a bit more about the assigned reading? Is there a written syllabus? How many pages per week? What kind of material? Textbooks, scholarly books, or articles?

This was perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of this semester for me. I had three courses this semester:

中国近代史 (Modern Chinese History)

This was the elective course I took with my adviser. It's designed for undergraduates studying Chinese language.

The course discussed China from 1840-1911 (the first Opium War through Xinhai Revolution). There was no assigned reading or homework for the whole class.

I didn't find this course difficult to follow as I had studied the material and Chinese terminology before hand.

The final grade given was based on a final written exam (no mid-term exam). I didn't have to write the final as this was just an elective.

史学理论与方法

This was supposed to be a historiography class. I had thought we'd be discussing different points of view of history (e.g. intellectual, social, cultural, narrative, gender, race, economic, etc.). Instead, we spent most of the course discussing topics the professor was familiar with (race and minority issues), and we spent little time on other varying perspectives.

This was the only class with assigned reading. We had somewhere around 4 - 5 books for the semester. The professor did not give us a deadline for reading anything. He just said, "Next week we'll start this." Most books I could read in a week (~200 - 300 pages). As I mentioned above, many students did not do the reading.

While this professor seemed a bit disorganized (canceled classes, didn't want to talk about topics outside his field of study), he was good at providing us with alternative points of view and requiring us to think out certain issues (as opposed to just lecturing and requiring us to memorize facts).

中国古代史通论

Perhaps the best way to translate this class is as "A Narrative History of Ancient Chinese History". There were no assigned books or reading. The professor had a different topic each week on which he lectured (e.g. centralization of power, the civil examination system, etc.).

The lectures for this course were insightful and informative, especially as I had no background in Ancient Chinese history. Again, the lack of an organized syllabus and assigned reading made it difficult for me to read ahead, and subsequently follow along in some lectures.

(Are you able to read Ray Huang's 万历十五年 in Chinese, yet?)

I can read it, with a dictionary and a lot of time. The main obstacle for me in reading this is the difficulty of the language. It's very flowery and there's A LOT of period-specific terminology.

What are you supposed to read for the two classes without assigned reading?

No assigned reading for these classes.

How much are classes about memorizing/learning about facts, as opposed to analysis?

There aren't a lot of demands on us. We're assessed on our term papers, not tests. This makes life a bit easier for me as I can choose whatever topics I want for my term papers. This is great as I can focus more on my period of interest (early 20th century) and less on ancient China.

That lack of interest in intellectual matters is unfortunately common among Chinese university students. I've seen that with graduates of the top-tier schools, as well. It's very much a "get a degree with as little as possible and get a top-earning job" attitude.

I've been told by many people that as long as you get accepted into a university program, you're guaranteed to graduate and get the degree, regardless of your performance.

I'd think the only ones serious about research would be those planning on pursuing a PhD at a good school.

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gato

When I taught at a middle-tier university in Beijing several years ago, students used to tell me that I was the only teacher that assigned readings or that they had to do more reading for my class than for all their other classes combined. I was teaching American law in English.

This was supposed to be a historiography class. I had thought we'd be discussing different points of view of history (e.g. intellectual, social, cultural, narrative, gender, race, economic, etc.). Instead, we spent most of the course discussing topics the professor was familiar with (race and minority issues), and we spent little time on other varying perspectives.

王力雄's "天葬" on the history of Tibet is a read if you are at all interested in race and minority issues in China. It's often recommended as one of the best history books on Tibet. If you are interested in a copy (I have both PDF and ePub versions.) Posting it here would probably get this site banned.

Wang is an ethnic Han and married to a Tibetan woman. In the book, he mentions the strategy of the Manchu Qing emperors of forming alliances with the Dalai Lama in order to pacify the Mongolians. Mongolians had converted to Tibetan Buddhism in the years following Genghis Kahn. Even though the Tibetans were nominally subjects of the Qing Empire, the Dalai Lama would sit next to the emperor when visiting the palace, which is not allowed of almost anyone else.

More recently, he's also written a book on Xinjiang, "我的西域你的东土" (My Western Territory, Your East Turkistan).

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WestTexas
I've been told by many people that as long as you get accepted into a university program, you're guaranteed to graduate and get the degree, regardless of your performance.

yeah, pretty much. Yet there still seem to be so many people on these forums who don't quite understand how broken the Chinese education system is.

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kdavid
Yet there still seem to be so many people on these forums who don't quite understand how broken the Chinese education system is.

Slightly off topic, but it doesn't seem quite possible that all these PhDs (those not pulling their wait and doing the coursework) are the ones going on to do ground-breaking research, running the economy, dealing with complex social issues, etc.

This then leads me to ask, "Who is?" If these students aren't getting the education they need in school, when and where are they getting it?

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amandagmu

Just like in those who ran things in the 20th century -- most of them will be at least partially educated in Europe and North America.

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gato

The greatest damage to the universities only came in the last decade. Many people doing the bulk of research in China might either be educated in the better days. There are a number of good people who came of age in the 1980s who only have Master's degrees and not PhD because PhD were so rare in those days. It's not the degree that matters, but one's dedication and the amount of freedom one has to do the work. Nowadays because so much emphasis is put on volume, lots of professors just put their names on students' work, and students often plagiarize, so not much original work is being done.

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carlo

Subject may be an issue. I would guess fields such as finance or engineering would get more resources thrown at them and a more motivated student body (even assuming "greed" is a motivation!) In the current environment, it wouldn't be surprising if the history department wasn't a magnet for intellectual energy.

Very interesting write-up, thanks!

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kdavid
Nowadays because so much emphasis is put on volume, lots of professors just put their names on students' work, and students often plagiarize, so not much original work is being done.

I'm not saying that I'm going to produce something ground-breaking, but I do worry that my work will be plagarized based soley on the fact that it will be an original point of view (I hope!)

I'm putting an enormous amount of energy into my research as I'm hoping it will be my ticket to a good grad school back home. I worry about how being plagarized may affect this....

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renshanrenhai
I'm putting an enormous amount of energy into my research as I'm hoping it will be my ticket to a good grad school back home. I worry about how being plagarized may affect this....

I believe your worry is not unnecessary. I have heard about a case of being severely plagarized happened in one of the top-tier universities.

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wushijiao

Wonderful write up KDavid!

After having a university experience in which I found the teaching/studying aspect to be very shaky, I've often felt that one of the best benefits of getting a Chinese degree would be in the interaction with fellow students and teachers (ie. integrating yourself with other, similar people in Chinese). It sounds like that may not quite be so in your particular circumstances.

Nonetheless, I'd be curious to know whether or not in your opinion if you see interaction with other Chinese students as a big attraction in deciding whether or not to get a higher degree.

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kdavid
I'd be curious to know whether or not in your opinion if you see interaction with other Chinese students as a big attraction in deciding whether or not to get a higher degree.

While my classmates are friendly enough, in the case of both me and my Japanese classmate, there is clearly case of "us" and "them".

There were a couple times during the semester when a professor canceled a class. When this happens, I think the prof notifies the 班长 who in turn is supposed to notify everyone. Regardless of the protocol, neither me nor the Japanese student were notified on many cases, which resulted in both of us showing up to an empty classroom.

My apartment is 45 minutes from the university by bus. When class starts at 8 am, I have to be out the door before 7, so I'm up at 6. It's a huge waste of time to wake up and travel all the way down there for nothing. After this happened several times, I made a point to express my chagrin. It was only toward the end of the semester that I was promptly notified of cancellations.

In addition to this, there were cases where a prof had told the 班长 about a conference or meeting we may be interested in attending and had asked her to notify us. When she did this, she addressed only the Chinese students. She'd turn her back to us and speak to everyone.

My classmates were roomed together by the university, so most of them spend 24/7 together. I'm also about five years older than them. I think this adds to the ostracization.

Not being able to integrate is not a huge deal for me personally. At the risk of sounding smug, I'm very, very busy, and I don't really have time for much else other than my family, studying and working.

I make it a point to remain open to them, speak up in class, and answers questions about cultural differences, how academics in the US differ from China, questions about their English classes etc. Perhaps for them it's a bit odd having a foreigner in their class who can participate (largely) at the same level they can.

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renshanrenhai

@ kdavid could you recommend some books or references about Chinese history (especially Song or Qing dynasty ) ? (either English or Chinese versions will be helpful)

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kdavid

@Sally-txl

I'd be able to help more with Qing references. What topics are you interested in?

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renshanrenhai

@ kdavid

I am especially interested in two topics 1) the international relationship between Qing dynasty and Europe, Japan, 2) Manchu's history in terms of all aspects .

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