Majors & Programs


Chinese Language & Culture

Why Major in Chinese?

The Language

Chinese (Zhongwen) is the only modern language that combines both meaning and pronunciation clues into its written characters. Since the written language has changed little over the centuries, once you master a certain number of these characters and understand the basic grammar rules, you can read not only modern newspapers but also ancient texts such as the Analects of Confucius. Although there are many dialects in China, at Washington University, we teach the standard form of modern spoken Chinese, also known as Mandarin. Our classes are small (limited to 15 students) and all our teachers are professionally trained in language pedagogy. All share the goal of encouraging communicative proficiency and cultural competence from the first day in the language classroom.

The Literature and Culture

As a Chinese major you will also have the opportunity to become acquainted with a full range of China’s rich cultural history and heritage, both past and present. Just a few of the topics and areas you will be able to explore are: Chinese classical poetry; Chinese vernacular fiction; women writers of China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong; Chinese Buddhist literature and Daoist philosophy; and many others. Majors are also encouraged to enrich their program of study with elective China-related courses in history, anthropology, film studies, etc.

Study Options

You may, of course, choose Chinese as your primary major. There is also the option of pursuing a double major that combines Chinese and another area of study, such as history, anthropology, art history, business, international studies, etc.

Qualified majors are also encouraged to work toward senior honors, which will involve working closely with a faculty advisor on a research or translation project culminating in an honors thesis.

Chinese majors and other students in the language program will also have opportunities to practice their language skills and learn more about Chinese culture in informal settings such as a Chinese film series, talent shows, speech contests, an annual New Year “dumpling” party, and other get-togethers.

Career Options

There are a variety of career options open to majors with solid Chinese language skills. Some of our graduates have gone on become university scholars and teachers; others have pursued careers in law and diplomacy. Still others have opted for careers in international business and trade. One of our graduates ended up in Hollywood as an assistant to a famous Chinese film director! Whatever you decide to do, your Chinese language skills combined with your deep understanding of Chinese literature and culture both past and present will be a valuable asset in the job market in our global economic environment, as well as being a great achievement in itself.

Features of the Program

Chinese is one of the three East Asian languages taught in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures (EALC), the other two being Japanese and Korean. While each of these cultures is unique, historically they have had much to do with each other. As a Chinese major, you will be part of a large and growing group of students engaged in the study of East Asian languages and cultures.

Study Abroad

As a Chinese major, you are encouraged to participate in the Washington University program located at Fudan University in the exciting cosmopolitan city of Shanghai. You may attend this program for the summer or fall semester. The program focuses on intensive language instruction combined with a selection of Chinese-related coursework, and there will always be at least on Washington University faculty in residence.

Course Sampler

  • Modern Chinese (five levels)
  • Classical Chinese
  • Chinese Civilization
  • Women Writers of Imperial China
  • Chinese Thought
  • Literature of Modern and Contemporary China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong
  • The Chinese City in the Global Context
  • Early and Imperial Chinese Literature
  • Historical Landscape and National Identity of Modern China

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