Chinese Department


Chinese Major

Students choose to major in Chinese for many reasons: to pursue a long fascination with and curiosity about Chinese culture and history, to challenge themselves intellectually by learning a difficult new language, or simply to work closely with a small community of students and faculty to study something different from the majority of their peers.

Students who choose to major in Chinese will develop an advanced level of proficiency with the Chinese language, a deep understanding of the literary and cultural traditions of classical, modern, and contemporary China, and familiarity with the linguistic tools and methodological approaches used to study them. Over their course of study, Chinese majors are trained to pursue critical inquiry into topics of their own interest, and to design and undertake intellectual projects of various degrees of complexity from inception through completion, culminating in the Senior Thesis. 

Declaring a Major

Students at Reed typically declare a major at the end of their sophomore year. To declare a Chinese major, students complete a Declaration of major form and meet with a Chinese faculty member, who reviews your transcript, discuss curricular expectations for majoring in Chinese, and signs your form.

Requirements for the Chinese Major

  • A minimum of five units at the 300 and 400 levels, including one unit of third-year Chinese, one unit of classical Chinese, and one unit of either classical Chinese literature or modern and contemporary Chinese literature.
  • Humanities 231 and 232—Foundations of Chinese Civilization.
  • A minimum of one unit in Chinese history, Chinese art history, Chinese anthropology, or Chinese religious thought, to be taken in the relevant departments.
  • Chinese 470—thesis.

Recommended but not required:

  • An additional unit in Chinese history, Chinese art history, Chinese anthropology, or Chinese religious thought.
  • Any other Asia-related course that the college may offer.

Junior Qual

Students initiate the Junior Qual process by contacting the department 5-6 months before when they intend to take the Junior Qual examination. In that initial contact, students should communicate their intention to be a Chinese major, and have some general idea about their tentative senior thesis topic (for example, the genre, period, writer(s), etc. that might be treated in their thesis). Students will then be assigned to work with a Chinese department faculty adviser who will help guide them through the Junior Qual process.

The policies and practices of the Junior Qual differ from department to department. In the Chinese department, we view the Junior Qual as an opportunity for students to develop breadth and focus. On the one hand, students undertaking the Junior Qual will be assigned individually-designed reading lists crafted to fill in gaps in their education about China's rich and diverse literary and cultural traditions. On the other hand, students will develop a research topic of their own choosing, from initial conception through final paper. 

By the end of the Junior Qual process, the Chinese Department requires that students submit the following three pieces of writing:

  1. A substantial research paper that is comparative in nature. While there are a wide range of possibilities for how that comparison may be done, students are encouraged to work across multiple periods and/or genres so as to highlight the breadth of their acquired competence and knowledge. 
  2. A mature thesis proposal. A mature proposal should define the research topic and questions, explain its significance, outline the structure for the thesis, and include a plan that explains how the research would be conducted and a detailed timeline for the project's completion. 
  3. An annotated bibliography of primary and secondary sources that would be used in the writing of the senior thesis.

Once these three documents have been submitted, the department arranges an oral exam.  All three members of the department and the student meet for about an hour, to discuss the comparative paper and the thesis proposal.  At the end of the oral exam, the three faculty members, in the student's absence, decide if the student should pass, fail, or pass with conditions (additional work or revision that must be completed to the satisfaction of the faculty within a designated period of time).

Senior Thesis

The senior thesis represents the culmination of students' academic study at Reed and allows them to apply the frameworks and methodologies of literary study they have learned to research a topic of their own devising. Working in close consultation with a Chinese department faculty advisor and making use of both primary, Chinese-language sources and secondary sources in both English and Chinese, students will over the course of a year produce a 50-70 page essay. After the submission of their written thesis, students will defend their work in a one-hour long rigorous oral examination at the end of the semester.

Criteria for Success in the Junior Qual and Senior Thesis

Assessment for the Junior Qual and the Senior Thesis is based on the collective evaluation of the quality of the student’s presented work and their ability to respond clearly and effectively to faculty inquiries. The following are all considerations that weigh into faculty evaluations: 

  • Originality: To what degree does the submitted work represent an original contribution to the field of Chinese literature?
  • Understanding of Field: How well does the student respond to questions during the oral exam? To what degree does the student’s submitted work demonstrate a strong awareness of gaps of knowledge within existing critical literature?
  • Theoretical/Conceptual Framework and Methodology: How well does the theoretical/conceptual framework used by the student suit the sources they studied or will be studying? How suitable were the tools that the student used to conduct their analysis? How suitable are the tools that the student uses for to research their chosen topic?
  • Quality of Writing: How effective is the submitted work in communicating your arguments?
  • Linguistic Competence: How well does the submitted work demonstrate the student’s ability to engage with and translate primary and secondary sources in Chinese?

Evaluating the work in part lies in the degree to which students fulfill the above criteria (the difference between highly original, original, or unoriginal, for example, or between a rigorously developed, well-focused, and clearly explained framework and methodology as opposed to ones that are ill-considered, inapplicable to the primary materials, or poorly explained). In addition, the Chinese faculty also take into consideration the individual circumstances of the student (for example, written work might be poor but the oral shows a clear understanding of thesis topic, secondary literature, and conceptual framework). Final evaluation on the junior qual reflects the consensus of the Chinese faculty. Final evaluation of the senior thesis is made by the advisor after consultation with the full orals committee.