Chinese Studies

Deciding on Chinese studies at Reed

Over the past dozen years, Reed has been building a unique program that recognizes the richness of Chinese histories and cultures, unique in the sense that no other liberal arts college of its size – and indeed few large research universities – can boast the faculty and resources here devoted to China. Located on the Pacific rim and on the verge of what many are already calling the "China century," Reed is better positioned than most other teaching institutions for offering its students a glimpse of China's past and our future. Such rhetoric may sound like a typical college prospectus, but the changing global community clearly necessitates that we turn our attention to this quarter of the world.

Why study China at Reed?

Reed boasts eight China-oriented faculty spread across six departments – Anthropology, Art History, Chinese language and literature, Economics, History and Religion – and so students have a choice as to which disciplinary lens they polish when studying this long-enduring multicultural society. These departments work both independently and in tandem with one another.

  • They function independently of one another in the sense that students in each department develop the disciplinary tools unique to that department, becoming well versed in the theories and methods of anthropology, art history and so forth. Students are not just knowledgeable about China; they are knowledgeable about how they are looking at China.
  • They function in tandem with one another in the sense that they regularly coordinate their efforts to maximize learning opportunities. Together they evaluate and administer travel research grants, host interdisciplinary workshops and team teach. The last is most evident in Reed's yearlong Chinese Humanities course to which most of the China-oriented faculty contribute.

Thus the study of China at Reed is discipline-focused, but Reed students have ample opportunity to explore China in other ways outside their own areas of specialization.

Reed also offers other resources such as a residential Chinese language house with film nights and language tables in the commons, a well-stocked library and valuable technological resources, some of which are exclusive to the college such as a digital version of China's most famous hand scroll, the Qingming shanghe tu 清明上河圖 ("The Qingming festival along the river") that was acquired directly from the National Palace Museum in Beijing. Beyond the campus, Portland itself offers additional resources, ranging from the largest Suzhou-style garden outside of China to one of the largest Han Dynasty artifact collections in the country. And beyond Portland, Reed is affiliated with study abroad programs at various universities in China; offers fieldtrip destinations ranging from downtown Portland to Seattle and even to Shanghai; and provides opportunities to pursue independent summer research on Chinese topics anywhere in the world. Between its human resources and instructional tools, Reed thus offers its Sinologists an extensive array of opportunities to engage China.

How does one study China at Reed?

A student must first choose which of the six disciplines is best suited to his or her needs and then contact that department's faculty member who specializes in China (you can find the Chinese studies faculty list on the Chinese studies home page). Each student fulfills the various college, divisional and departmental requirements affiliated with that particular department.

Second, the student interested in China should begin studying Chinese as a language as soon as possible. Not only will an early start let one pursue the language for a longer period of time during his or her academic career, becoming better versed in the language as early as possible opens up more opportunities in later coursework such as the opportunity to use Chinese materials in 300-level courses or in the senior thesis. Furthermore it opens doors earlier to study-abroad programs and to better summer research projects.

Third, students exploring the possibility of focusing upon China should enroll in various 100- and 200-level courses (particularly in their home departments) as early as possible, both because such courses will help them determine whether they feel China merits their further study and because such courses are often prerequisites to upper-level work. One is rarely allowed to study Buddhist sutras without having taken "Idea systems in Chinese religions" or tackle "Media and popular culture in post-Mao China" without having completed "Introduction to Anthropology."

  • Some regularly offered courses that can be taken early in your Reed career (with no requirements of prerequisites) include:
    • "Late imperial China" and "Modern China" in the History Department;
    • "Collectivization and de-collectivization in the People's Republic of China" in the Economics Department; or
    • "The idea systems of Chinese religions" and "Religion and philosophy in pre-imperial China" in the Religion Department.
  • Other courses may be listed as departmental introductions, but when one of the China-oriented faculty is teaching it, it may incorporate a great deal of Chinese material. 
  • Still other departmental introductions may not be heavy in Chinese content but are still usually required before taking the upper-level China-oriented courses in those particular departments. Such is the case with Anthropology and most Economics courses.

Finally, the Reed curriculum offers many opportunities to broaden one's studies, to exercise the "liberal" in liberal arts. If students interested in China carefully choose the courses used to fulfill their general college requirements, they can either develop a well-rounded approach to China or – if those additional courses mostly cluster in one particular department – develop a secondary disciplinary understanding of China. Thus each student must thoughtfully construct his or her educational program from the large array of offerings, and the faculty are here to help in that construction process. Conveniently, departments with Chinese offerings are spread across the college's various group requirements as follows:

  • Humanities: Humanities 232/232
  • Group I: Art history, Chinese language and literature, Religion, Humanities 231/232
  • Group II: Anthropology, Economics, History, Humanities 231/232, Religion

Thus when fulfilling these college requirements, students can choose the China offerings in each. Beyond these group requirements, most students still have electives that can be devoted to Chin-oriented courses as well.

New and relatively new students who begin taking advantage of these courses as soon as possible will naturally have had much more flexibility and have advanced much further in their studies by the time they graduate. Again, please contact us if we can help you map your route through this forest of course offerings.