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kdavid

Graduate School in China – A History Major’s Perspective

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kdavid

@tooironic

Old HSK level 6 was required by the CSC for a degree in the humanities, 8 for sciences, which seems backwards, IMHO.

The odd thing was that even with the HSK scores I had (two 7's and two 8's), the university still required me to take their entrance level exam, which was simpler than the HSK and included an essay component. (The old HSK elementary-intermediate exam has no essay component.)

I took the HSK twice, actually. Once in 2009 and again in 2010. The first time I didn't prepare at all, and thus didn't get the score I needed. For the second testing, I worked through the "Essentials of HSK" series; reading, listening, 综合, and grammar. Note that if you're in China, you can get these books for much cheaper from domestic distributors.

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kdavid
Sounds like political censorship unfortunately.

This is what I was thinking. My advisor is a card-carrying member of the CCP. The classmate who was assisting him also recently took the 国务院 exam, so he may be working toward membership as well.

Yet I don't see how my topic would threaten the political narrative. Perhaps any and all elements of anything which would be considered to have a modicum of subversion are scotched.

Two things make my advisor's volte-face incredibly disconcerting:

1. I've invested easily over a thousand dollars getting books I need for my original topic to China. Relevant resources, specifically English-language monographs, are few and far between at my university.

2. This topic is one I plan on continuing in the US when I move on to do graduate studies there next year. What they want me to write here won't help me in my graduate admissions, which means I may end up needing to write two theses. One for China, one for US graduate school admissions.

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fanglu

Yet I don't see how my topic would threaten the political narrative.

I'm guessing they don't either, but they know for sure that their edited topic will be fine, so better to avoid any possible problem by pre-emptive self-censorship.

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amandagmu

We should backchannel chat some more. Unfortunately I'm swamped the next 2-3 weeks... but if you e-mail or message me I'll give you my take on it.

Oh, and you said

*I've changed this from characters to pinyin as I don't want a professor or classmate searching this topic and then coming across this post, which, in in some regards, does not reflect glowingly upon my experience thus far.

But the title/characters are still in the above paragraph where you describe the edited proposal change. Might want to get rid of that.

Also,

The most frustrating aspect of all of this is that the department is being so inflexible with my topic. I'm not sure how graduate programs in the States are, but I'd assume that you'd start out with something broad which would be refined as you did more research and worked with the primary sources. I don't understand how students are supposed to start with a chapter outline and write to that before they've even looked at a primary source.

It depends largely on the program and where you're at when applying for fellowships (research, writing, etc.). Most people don't know exactly what the project will be when writing the research proposal, nor do they 100% know their chapters when asking for funding to finish writing. That's because funding schedules are totally stupid and the calls are usually an entire year away from when you will actually get the money. You may not know what primary sources are available because the scouting trip or library research isn't going to take place until winter or spring break, but guess what! All those funding proposals are due October-December. It's amazingly impractical.

With that said, it IS true that your advisor typically realizes you can't possibly know all the details for chapter titles and what not that far ahead of time. So, you don't have to worry too much about that right away.

Regarding the censorship issue - I am not sure how much of it is censorship and how much of it is simply Chinese historiographic practices, and in particular over the past half century since the anti-rightist movement (and other similar campaigns). I have a colleague - who's Chinese, but at an American university - finishing a dissertation that traces the development of a specific academic discipline through twentieth century China. The way people seem to get ahead in this particular discipline? By divorcing themselves from toying with any forms of grand theory or 思想 and instead focusing on minuscule details ("clothing and food"), trivial facts (names, dates, titles of books, things everyone knows), random statistics (I've also noticed that there is an obsession with quoting unqualified and random stats in my sources from the mainland as well), and, as your advisor wants you to do, plagiarism via translation.

So, what I'm basically saying is, you probably won't be able to do what you want to do. But I do think you could spin this in a favorable direction that will still benefit you in the long run... such as collecting sources, stats, and information for lit review that you would eventually need for a dissertation in the U.S. -- the kind of information you are not going to have time to gather while you scramble to finish reading assignments and response papers/term papers for your seminars while TA'ing. Anyways, I'd be happy to help you narrow in on getting something out of this so you don't feel like it was a complete waste your time.

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kdavid
Might want to get rid of that.

Done. Thanks for pointing that out.

I've relented to the fact that my Chinese thesis will not be what I want to submit to graduate schools in the US as a writing sample. I imagine chairs would be looking for original research, not just writing technique, correct?

With that said, there's one chapter of the "revised" outline which allows for some original research; namely the students' views on international affairs. I'm going to use this section to comment on issues like national sovereignty and the 新文化-五四 movements. If it's edited out of the Chinese version, fine. I can still use the English.

And, as luck would have it, I'm pretty sure I'll be continuing this topic in the US, under the guise of diaspora/transnational studies. So, we may have more to talk about in the near future.

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RJoep

Hey kdavid your posts on graduate school in China have been very helpful for me. An original experience of studying in China. Thank you very much! I have studied in China twice before (exchange during bachelor and one year language study after bachelor) and I am considering doing a PHD in China in the future. Your story about the state of graduate education in China is rather worrying though. I suppose that at the end of the day the usefulness of Chinese universities depends on the effort you put into it yourself, e.g. how much research you do for your thesis. So you seem to be on the right track, at least.

I had some questions on the writing of your thesis. If I were to do a PHD in China I would also have to write a thesis in Chinese, which to me seems a daunting task at least. Could you tell some more about how you have experienced this process? Do you draft in English first and translate to Chinese after, or do you write in Chinese straight away. What about your sources, are they mostly English-based or Chinese? I noticed that your reading list in the original post consists entirely of English language sources.

I think you have just started your fifth semester in Harbin, good luck with the last year! Is there going to be another update soon :)

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kdavid

The thesis and its research has been entirely self-driven and self-supported. My advisor, aside from "editing" my original research plan, hasn't helped at all. Also, during the first committee review, none of the professors provided any insightful reflection or constructive criticism. One was forthright enough to say, "this isn't our sub-field, so we can't help." The others just commented that the topic was "too broad." Ironically, the first unedited topic was very focused (i.e. Radicalism in Chinese Study Abroad Student Thought in America from 1915 - 1925).

The reading list I've provided is comprised mostly of general works which I've found useful in helping me establish a broad foundation of knowledge on my period of interest. While some of those are included in my biography, many are not, just as many sources in my bibliography are not included in the reading list.

With that said, the bibliography is mostly English-language sources, and for a few reasons.

First, while I'm comfortable reading in Chinese, I'm much, much faster in English. Sure, this won't change until I do more reading in Chinese. However, the nature of the project and the time constraints I have require me to do as much work as I can with the time allotted.

Second, I'm more confident reading in Chinese when I already have an understanding of the main events/subject matter. In this case, reading the Chinese is a "review" of sorts. I understand many future sources won't have English parallels, etc. from which I can derive such comfort; yet, again, in the future I'll have more time to afford to such endeavors.

Third, the Chinese-language 民国 and 五四 monographs I have perused have been largely narrative, anti-feudal, anti-imperialist, and anti-Western. While I understand this later meta-narrative is ubiquitous throughout mainland scholars' works, it's difficult to take such works which have clearly been censored and/or written for a specific, ideologically-narrow audience seriously. Yes, it's another perspective, and it's an important one to be familiar with, but it's not important to my current project, and I need to manage my time for this project wisely.

Lastly, the primary source I'm using is the Chinese Students' Monthly, a periodical published in America by the Chinese Students' Alliance of the United States of America from 1900 through the late 1930s. The focus of the project is to analyze how students in America thought about various current events, how they organized and expressed their grievances regarding the various issues taking place back home, etc. The books I've used for this search, including the primary sources, have all been sent to me from the States. I've amassed a decent sized library (at my own expense). I'm also fortunate enough that the primary sources are available for perusal online through various institutional subscriptions.

I'm confident that I'd long have drown up-creak without a paddle had I not personally invested in books and shipping. The HeiDa library has a dearth of English-language material. Most students seem to get everything they need via online download. And while I've found e-copies of many books I've needed and used, many more have not had e-copies.

The whole process has taught me how imperative it is to have a superb working relationship with professional, knowledgeable, and patient scholars in your field of interest. My current advisor is a nice man who takes an interest in me personally; unfortunately he just doesn't take an interest in my work, which is what I really need. While my experience has been enlightening and done wonders for my Chinese, it has been much more daunting and perturbing. I'm the type of person who needs a lot of help up front, but, once I know what I'm doing and pointed in the correct direction, I run on autopilot. I never received the direction initially needed for this project, which has lent a good amount of stress to the entire process.

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gato

Good job on persevering, kdavid! I am sure you've learned a lot in the process.

Can you say a bit more about how your Chinese has progress over the period and how it's been affected by the graduate school experience?

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kdavid

Enrolling in and completing an MA in Chinese History alongside Chinese students has been a great experience. I've been exposed to a lot of terminology and academic language that I wouldn't otherwise have come across.

Though the professors' "teaching" methodology wasn't what I had hoped for (see the first post on how we were required to teach from the second semester on), it required me to prepare lessons in Chinese and use what I was learning.

I would have benefited from the experience more had I been surrounded with more collegial and motivated classmates. Of my class, only two seemed to be taking their studies seriously. The others were clearly just going through the motions for the piece of paper. Had I had others around me who were interested in my sub-field, and with whom I could have spoken with at length about our assignments, I would have received more oral practice, and likely be at a much better level.

We also had very few assigned texts, so I wasn't pushed to read for class. Instead, the reading I did do, both in English and Chinese, was self-searched and chosen. It was very frustrating not having anyone who could tell me, "This is the quintessential work on xyz which you absolutely *must* read." Instead, I've had to search around on Baidu, etc. for suggestions.

As I'm not a full-time student, and don't hang around in the dorms all day with my classmates, I've missed out on key bonding and rapport-building time. It seems very rare for people my age (I was 28 when I started the program) to go "back to school" for an MA in China. It seems more rare that such a person would have two full-time jobs and a family. My responsibilities to my family and job have stolen a lot of time away from associating with peers and professors.

Ideally, I would have been able to devote 100% of my time to this experience and been able to gain much more. Really, I came in already when a near-native speaking proficiency. What was key was being exposed to academic terminology. This has helped my writing (which is still very poor) and reading.

At present, I feel very comfortable reading just about anything written in modern Chinese. I can also talk about just about any period in Chinese history comfortably. I still desperately need to work on my 文言文, and I have a study plan in place for once I finish my thesis.

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kdavid

Final update added!

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roddy

Got to say a big thanks for doing all this writing!

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abcdefg

Congratulations on sticking it out and thanks for writing it up! Glad I'm not doing an advanced degree in China, at least not at 黑大。Happy to hear you got accepted to a good program for further studies back in the US.

 

Having followed your struggles from the start, this reinforces my belief that China is a great place for doing some things and a poor place for doing others.

 

Admitting in advance that all generalizations are to some degree false, It seems to be a great place for eating fresh dumplings, visiting historic temples and palaces; but a poor place to have complex surgery or undertake post-graduate study.

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gato

Congrats, kdavid! Remember to post a review of the shipping service :)

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kdavid
Got to say a big thanks for doing all this writing!

 

 

No, thank YOU, roddy! If it weren't for this site, I likely would not have heard of CSC. I also would not have such a great outlet to share my experience. Chinese-forums has been an invaluable resource over the last eight years. I hope to be able to continue to contribute to the community in the future.

 

I wish I had this kind of insight on doing a graduate degree in China before I started. Though I likely still would have followed through, I would have had a different set of expectations which would have helped me plan out the experience better.

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洋人丹

I'd like to ask a question about grad school...

 

Is taking Chinese required of all foreign students? The reason I ask is that I don't feel I would get anything out of it.

 

Japanese will be important for my research, and my future adviser thinks it would be great for me to take it (she spent a lot of time in Japan before). Has anyone ever traded, or know if it's possible to trade in the Chinese language classes for another language? I have no idea if it's actually possible, or how these things work. Just curious on others' experiences.

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kdavid

At HeiDa we took a language proficiency exam on the first day. If you passed, language classes weren't required. If not, they were, and at your own expense.

 

I imagine it varies by school.

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洋人丹

Thanks kdavid, for the reply.

 

You were on scholarship right? Even if you were on scholarship, Chinese classes were at your own expense? That's crazy.

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kdavid

Yes, that's how it was explained to me at HeiDa.

 

It was odd as an HSK score was required for admittance. You'd think that would suffice. However, HeiDa explained that all students were required to take the university's own exam. I'm confident it was simply a revenue-generating scheme to skim extra money off students.

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