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kdavid

Graduate School in China – A History Major’s Perspective

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bande

The book that Wang Lixiong wrote on Xinjiang is really good. It's a flawed book, but its uniqueness still makes it fascinating. By the way, is it safe to write its Chinese name? I have his Tibet book, but I can only read a little bit at a time because I get so depressed when reading it.

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kdavid

@Sally-txl

The history of modern China is the history China's international relationships. The Opium Wars and their subsequent treaties set the tone for imperial encroachment. As the US and Europe were busy with their own affairs, Japan was allowed to do what they wished as long as they did not interfere (too much) with American and European commercial interests.

The history of the Manchus, prior to their invasion in the early 17th century, is definitely worth reading, though you'll need to go as far back as Ghengis Khan (12 - 13th centuries) to get a good foundation. How they integrated into the Confucian system is also very thought provoking.

Have you read any general surveys? If not, I strongly recommend starting with Jonathan Spence's The Search for Modern China. This will shed some light on more of the intricacies of China's modern history. From that, you can pick out a few narrower issues to research further.

As for the history of the Manchus, a lot of what I've read revolves around race and issues of ethnicity. I recommend Pamela Crossley, Mark Elliott, and Evelyn Rawski.

As for Chinese academics, the historiography professor I had this last semester absolutely refused to assign any reading from mainland authors. Most of what we read was translations of American and Japanese academics' works. He did assign some work from Taiwanese academics.

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abcdefg

This topic has been an eye opener. Thanks, @kDavid for spending the effort to write up your experiences.

@gato's comment was also something I will remember for a while. It explains part of the mad scramble for capable students to go abroad to get a quality education, especially at a postgraduate level.

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%.

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kdavid

I've updated the original post with a section on "research". Anyone having to rely heavily on the internet to do research may find this section useful as I've added a few online tools I use quite often.

For the future, I plan on adding any future updates to the original post unless this is otherwise bad form. (?) :conf I'd think this would help keep things central and avoid future readers from having to scour each page for new information.

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wushijiao

Hey KDavid...thanks for sharing your experiences in relation to other students. It reminds me of my school days in which I often did not get important info about classes or other school related stuff, mainly because I suppose the administration assumed that the rest of the students would hear about it through word of mouth. I also lived about an hour from the school, so it was hard to bond with people who lived in the dorms.

If I could do it all over again, I think I would have been more pro-active in addressing the problems that I encountered. For example, I attended a few Sino-American Club events, but I easily could have been more involved with them, or started my own club or association.

As a former teacher, it was also really frustrating to watch people teach using tremendously flawed models, poor lesson planning, or with no structure whatsoever. In one class, about East Asia, no one spoke in class and the prof would often stare out into space when lecturing. However, I was able to get a lot out of it my asking questions in class, and interacting with the prof as much as possible.

So, I suppose my advice would be (not so much for KDavid-- who seems to already get this point) but to others who might considering advanced degrees at Chinese universities is to really try to own the experience, create your own opportunities, improve teaching methods if you can, found your clubs/associations...etc.

By the way, I've posted about it before, but both of those Wang Lixiong books are excellent, especially the Tibet one. They are very depressing though!

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gato
For the future, I plan on adding any future updates to the original post unless this is otherwise bad form. (?) :conf I'd think this would help keep things central and avoid future readers from having to scour each page for new information.

It might be good to add the new info at the end of your post, prefaced with a date added in brackets (like "[Added Jan 30, 2012]"), so people can tell what's new.

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amandagmu

The Kindle is a savior. I finally caved last year and got one of the smaller (cheaper) ones, about $99 shipped for free in the U.S., or a few more euros if you're in Europe. (And now you can rent or borrow from friends at kdavid points out. Check out a cool program called Calibre for sharing.)

Unfortunately, for many reasons, involving costs and/or censorship, most academic books published in North America and Europe cannot be found in any library or bookstore on the mainland. This is quite unfortunate and it really shows in the low-quality of most research produced in China -- often times scholars outside mainland China have easy access to materials printed on the mainland, but not vice versa. IMO Access to high-quality scholarship in English is part of the reason why I think scholars in Hong Kong and Taiwan produce much better research than those on the mainland (the other reason being that they don't really need to deal with censorship issues). Obviously when someone has access to a full range of literature he/she can make more informed and precise arguments. So much of what is produced on the mainland is either written to pass the censors and/or simply lacks this larger body of knowledge.

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renshanrenhai

Can't agree with you more, amandagmu. Being educated in such a strict system, I've always felt lost when there is a debate between Chinese media and Western media. The most tough thing is there is very limited access for mainland people to verify which is closer to truth. The most disappointing side of Chinese education is knowledge is always being told instead of being studied. Therefore, students educated in such a system can put forward a point (very likely the point is being told by someone) and always fail to support his argument with logical, reasonable and comprehensive proof.

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Kongming21

First of all thank you for your helpful post KDavid, such lengthy advice is very valuable when there is so little information on this topic available in general.

I have a question regarding the length of the course. You say your masters course is three years in length. Now is that compulsory or is there some flexibility in how long one has to study for the Masters degree? I am asking as universities and Chinese friends were always rather vague when I asked about this question. My impression is that 2 years are the minimum but that there is some flexibility as to how many courses one takes per semester and how many years one studies for the master. I would want to finish my masters degree in 2 years , so this is quite an important question for me.

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kdavid
You say your masters course is three years in length. Now is that compulsory or is there some flexibility in how long one has to study for the Masters degree?

This is a good question. The answer is I'm not sure, but I should ask. Graduating early would mean I could start looking at PhD programs back home earlier.

We finish all of our classes in the first three semesters (year and a half). The remainder is for research and writing our thesis. If we complete our thesis early, perhaps we could also graduate early.

I'll have to ask my adviser once the semester begins at the end of the month.

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yialanliu

Very interesting to read.

From my experiences, I think the moon cake set was a great thing to do and was most likely very helpful. From the way I see red envelopes in China, I think of it this way:

1) If you need help that is beyond what is typical (something people can't get without grease) you should actually give money.

2) However, if you are doing something that everyone must which is similar to finding the professor, I think gifts of items are a much better choice.

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pearlyriver

Hi everyone. I'm also interested in pursuing graduate studies in Chinese history. My special thanks to KDavid for giving me very helpful insights into graduate schools in China. One thing that bothers me, though, is that I didn't have a history major back in university. I graduated from an Australian university with a BA in Economics, since I didn't set out to pursue history studies until recently. So, my question is, will I need to do some sort of a bridging course or study for a another bachelor degree in history to even think of applying for a Master degree in history in China? I'm especially interested in studying the relationship between Qing dynasty and Europe, Japan, Vietnam. I'm Vietnamese, and cultural similarities between China and Vietnam got me hooked on Chinese history since a young age. I've read a fair amount of books on China' different dynasties.

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kdavid

FYI: I've updated the original post, which now reflects my thoughts on this previous Spring semester.

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amandagmu

Thank you for updating the entry. Here are what I see as the biggest similarities and differences with the courses you have described and those that I have taken at two different universities in the U.S., both (mostly) in history departments.

Differences:

- In the U.S. the professor would probably be shunned for missing so many lectures - true, some professors get away with quite a few absences, but more than 50% of the time seems overboard.

- The professor playing video games and other kind of unprofessional behavior (well, to that level) most definitely seems to be a problem in China. I cannot see this frequently happening in the U.S.

- In the U.S. you often (or are encouraged to) choose specific professors to work with, and that is very important as they should help you when it comes to doing your own work. In the better programs grades/test scores matter far less than compatibility and potential to produce interesting work.

Similarities:

- Professors do not always (or even often) "teach" or lecture at the graduate level. (I think that's an MBA type of thing?) In fact, it is far more common in history seminars that the professor serves as a moderator and commentator on a discussion that begins with student presentations of assigned materials. With that said, the commentary or moderation is usually highly beneficial and informative, keeping students on track, and then elucidating specific points as a seminar-style discussion takes place. (This is only annoying when the professor clearly wants to steer discussion in a direction that students don't find beneficial, and a good professor will let the discussion take on new topics and ideas, often participating and encouraging "thinking outside the box.") But, presentations and comments/questions do usually come from the students rather than the professor. Sometimes seminar feels more like an executive board meeting or an intense and extended lunchtime discussion among work colleagues.

- It doesn't matter if you're interested in what's assigned or even if it relates to what you're researching - in many seminars you must read whatever is assigned. No matter what degree program or institution you choose in the U.S., you will end up with at least a few seminars in which the assigned material seems to have little relation to what you're doing (at least initially). On the one hand, this can seem frustrating and pointless. OTOH, sometimes professors do know best and having a broad theoretical or field base beyond your narrow specialization will help when it comes to other things (like teaching portfolios and syllabi writing for broader classes, or when trying to come up with your own theoretical base).

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gato

Thanks for the update, kdavid. It sounds like you are learning a lot despite the problem. How do you think your Chinese has improved in the last year?

I think the student teaching kdavid referred to is different from the seminar discussions amandagmu. While classes in the US may have students lead presentations/discussion of materials assigned by the professor, what kdavid seems to be describing is that the professors are leaving it to the students to pick their own material. The professors are only picking the topic, and the students do everything else. That sounds like a total abdication of responsibility to me. In the US, there may be lunch time presentations that are led and organized entirely by students, but they are somewhat more extra-curricular. Professors providing a list of required or recommended reading for classes is pretty fundamental.

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amandagmu

Ah, perhaps. I guess it isn't exactly clear from the description whether or not the professors are making any suggestions at all for reading materials.

" In the US, there may be lunch time presentations that are led and organized entirely by students, but they are somewhat more extra-curricular."

But, that's not what I mean at all. Typically, in the four years of seminars I took (one year at a different university), we would receive a syllabus that listed the readings per week. Two or three students were then assigned responsibility for leading discussion that week--for example, one person providing summary or arguments and another opening up new questions for discussion, pertinent to issues in the readings. Sometimes students dividing up the readings, say one book per person, and then did it that way. In all cases the professors intervened only to answer questions from students or steer the discussion back on track, or, of course, offer insight if we seemed totally lost. My main point being: seminars were rarely led by professors. I do agree the list of readings should be provided by the professor, however.

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gato

I think we are saying the same thing. My point is that providing the reading list is a minimum requirement.

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kdavid

I've just now seen replies to my last update.

I think the student teaching kdavid referred to is different from the seminar discussions amandagmu. While classes in the US may have students lead presentations/discussion of materials assigned by the professor, what kdavid seems to be describing is that the professors are leaving it to the students to pick their own material.

At the beginning of the semester, the professor handed out a list of topics. Students picked one each. The topics are organized by week; so the first topic is the topic taught in week one.

There are a number of problems with this approach:

1. Students do not prepare. They bring in a book related to the topic and read from the book.

2. There is little analysis or original opinion on the material.

3. Students sometimes do not even prepare material related to the topic. If a student did not bother to prepare, or even to check out from the library a book related to the topic from which to read, they'll discuss something completely different.

4. The professor participates very little.

5. The students often do not lead a discussion, but instead lecture (i.e. read).

6. Students often switch weeks, so that topics are discussed out of order. For example, we may discuss the problems with a specific system before even covering how and why that system was established.

My personal problem here is that I need to prepare for lectures in order to follow along. The sheer amount of new vocabulary covered makes it impossible for me to follow along if I haven't prepared, and it's impossible to prepare when the students don't even know what they're going to "teach."

Professors providing a list of required or recommended reading for classes is pretty fundamental.

I'm now in my third semester and I've yet to have one professor provide a syllabus. In most cases they don't even tell us what next week's topic is.

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gato

Exactly how I thought it would be and consistently with what I've heard from others. It's quite rubbish. More like a bad slacker high school class in the US rather than a graduate school seminar. I hope you can tell us about some of your more positive experiences at some point.

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amandagmu

That sounds atrocious! I guess that when you apply for your next program you'll have to go back to square one. :-?

On the bright side, your Chinese, and familiarity with what kinds secondary sources exist in Chinese, will be wayyy better than most your classmates at an English-speaking institution!

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