Chinese language calligraphy

Chinese is one of the six official languages of the United Nations, along with Arabic, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

Chinese Language Day is recognised each year on 20 April, to promote multilingualism and cultural diversity.

The significance of 20 April

20 April roughly corresponds to Guyu (rain of millet) in the Chinese calendar.  It is on that day that Cangjie (倉頡) is celebrated.

Legend tells that Cangjie was a scholar during the period of the Yellow Emperor (c. 2650 BCE) and he is attributed with discovering the Chinese writing characters.  He is described as having four eyes, and on the day that he discovered the Chinese characters grain fell from the sky like rain.

Undergraduate options for studying Chinese

Dr Rossella Ferrari is Reader in Chinese and Theatre Studies at SOAS University of London.

She is the course convenor for BA Chinese (Modern and Classical); BA Chinese Studies; and BA Chinese and… (combined degree).

Rossella introduces the options for undergraduates wishing to study Chinese at SOAS.

How did you first get interested in China and Chinese language?

“I studied languages in high school and I was interested in Asian philosophies, but growing up in a relatively small place (and before the internet!) I was not even aware that one could pursue a degree in Asian languages and cultures. I only found out by chance that the University of Venice offered such a degree, so I applied to study Chinese language and literature there.”

What is your particular area of research?

“I specialise in the performance cultures of the Sinophone region. Most of my work so far has dealt with the experimental theatres of mainland China and Hong Kong and, to a lesser extent, Taiwan and Singapore. I am especially interested in the relationship between performance and politics, practices of transnational and intercultural collaboration, and interactions between the performance communities of the Chinese-speaking world and other Asian cultures.”

What is special about the BA Chinese Studies programme? What kind of students will it appeal to?

“Our department offers three BA degrees in Chinese. BA Chinese (Modern and Classical), a 4-year single honours degree that includes a year abroad in China in year 2; BA Chinese and…, a 4-year joint degree that also includes a year abroad in China in year 2, and BA Chinese Studies. All our degrees can cater to students with different levels of language proficiency, from ab initio to intermediate and advanced – for example, those who come to SOAS with A Levels in Chinese. We also offer various modules on classical and literary Chinese, Hokkien (Taiwanese), Cantonese, and Tibetan.

“What is special about BA Chinese Studies is its flexibility. It does not require students to go on the year abroad and can be completed in 3 years. It will therefore appeal to students who, for any reason, are unable, or do not wish, to spend a year away from the UK, as well as those who would rather complete their degree before going to China to pursue further studies or career opportunities. The language curriculum in this degree is not as intensive as in the 4-year single-honours degree, and the structure is flexible, so that students can choose from a range of modules in both the humanities and the social sciences, including cultural and literary studies, media, film and theatre studies, anthropology, music, history, study of religions, art and archaeology, politics, economics, and law. Our students are also what makes our programmes special; year after year, they never fail to take the top prizes in national and international competitions, such as the Chinese Bridge.”

What advice would you give to a student considering Chinese Studies? 

“To be curious and open-minded and to be prepared to work hard, but also to be surprised. Chinese is not an easy language to learn, but it is an incredibly fascinating one. Students will be amazed at the advanced level of proficiency in reading, speaking, listening, and writing that they can achieve with a degree at SOAS.”

Find out more

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