SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of China and Inner Asia

Modern Documentary Texts

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Full Year

Graduates of Chinese studies programmes embarking on postgraduate study often find that their reading and research skills, although advanced, are not yet at the level where they can handle complex primary sources with ease and confidence. This text-based course, not available elsewhere in the UK, provides the training necessary to bridge this gap. It sets out to convert the sometimes passive reading skills acquired at undergraduate level into an active and confident familiarity with the modern academic language in its various forms, and at the same time introduces students to many of the intellectual movements and debates that have shaped the modern Chinese-speaking world.

The course is structured around seminal texts from twentieth-century China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong in the fields of philosophy, literary history, political science, gender studies, media and popular culture, neo-nationalist discourse, democratization movements, and international relations. Each text is thoroughly contextualized through lectures and research assignments, and this attention to background allows students to locate their reading with a wider cultural frame. In terms of language work, the course moves beyond the word for word translation of the kind often practised in undergraduate programmes, and instead builds students’ capacity to absorb the basic content of a text at speed. The course also develops such parallel skills as an alertness to varieties of style, linguistic register, and different modes of discourse. Practical research skills are also developed, and instead of having automatic recourse to the dictionary when dealing with unfamiliar material, students are encouraged to make more creative use of the outstanding library and reference facilities available at SOAS. Each session includes a brief lecture, extended discussion of the text, translation of key passages, and oral presentations by students on related research assignments.


A competence in Chinese equivalent to at least the level reached by the end of the SOAS 3rd year BA Chinese course is required for entrance to the course. Language assessments can be carried out prior to enrollment whenever necessary.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

By the end of the course, students can hope to have acquired advanced skills in the areas of translation, speed-reading, and close textual analysis, together with a broad vocabulary that extends across a range of disciplines. In addition to these linguistic assets, students should be well-versed in the key debates that have shaped political, intellectual, and cultural life in the Chinese-speaking world over the last century. Students will also have sharpened their research skills, for example by drawing more easily on a wider range of both printed and web-based materials.

This range of skills can be deployed in a variety of arenas. Some students elect to continue with academic research, whilst others put their training to work in the fields of professional translation, journalism and media research, business and commerce, the financial sector, the civil and foreign services, other government-related projects, NGOs, development agencies, and indeed any field where an extensive reading knowledge of Chinese is an asset.


2 hours per week of lectures and seminar-based discussion.

Method of assessment

One three-hour written examination taken in May/June (70%),and one research proposal to be submitted on day 5, week 1, term 2 (10%); one essay of 3,500 words to be submitted on day 5, week 1, term 3 (20%).

Suggested reading

A comprehensive reading list will be made available to students at the beginning of the course.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules