PhD in Chinese Language and Literature Requirements

I. Program Description

The PhD in Chinese Language and Literature at Washington University enhances a traditionally broad grounding in all periods and forms of Chinese literature and a narrow field of research concentration with China-related courses drawn from several departments and programs: Anthropology, Art History and Archaeology, Film and Media Studies, History, Religious Studies, and the School of Law.  It provides a balance of theory and history of Chinese literature and culture, while offering numerous opportunities for interdisciplinary research and study.  In order to participate in international academic conversations on literature, students are required to take a substantial number of courses and seminars in the theory and methods of literary studies, primarily through the program in Comparative Literature.  Given present faculty strengths, students in this program are encouraged to focus on the literature and culture, including visual culture, of the late imperial period through the early 21st century.

II. General Degree Requirements

This doctoral program combines the study of Chinese literature as its major component with roughly equal numbers of courses in two minor fields: in literary theory and critical methodology, in China-related studies in one or more other disciplines, or in a second East Asian literature, Japanese or Korean.  All students will have a range of teaching experiences as part of their professional training, with extensive hands-on instruction in pedagogical methodology.  Some students may have the opportunity to teach in related programs outside the Department as well.  Toward the end of their programs especially, students will spend time abroad in research in various parts of the Chinese-speaking world.

PhD candidates must:

  • Complete 72 graduate units, which may include up to 12 hours of dissertation research credit. Students who have completed their MA at Washington University may transfer up to 30 units; students coming with a similar MA from another American university may transfer up to 24 units.  Transfer credits for students from non-American universities are treated on a case-by-case basis.  The total will include:
  • Seminars, advanced courses, and reading seminars in Chinese literature selected to gain the broad training in all periods and forms necessary for a general understanding of Chinese literary and cultural history, up to a maximum of 48 units.
  • Up to 6 credits in China-related courses offered through other departments and programs.  Students may wish to concentrate on one discipline for their secondary area or take courses from several in order to broaden their expertise. 
  • An additional 6 units must comprise courses in the literary and cultural traditions of a second East Asia region.
  • An additional 9 credits in literary and cultural theory and critical methodology courses (including CompLit 402, Introduction to Comparative Literature: Theory and Methods) to be determined in consultation with advisor; some of these may focus on other literatures. 
  • Demonstrate native or near-native competence in both Chinese and English.
  • If needed for research in the chosen area of specialization, achieve sufficient proficiency in one or more languages in addition to Chinese and English (normally French or German among the European languages, Japanese or Korean among Asian languages).
  • Demonstrate accomplishments by successful and timely completion of Qualifying and Comprehensive examinations. 
  • Complete a doctoral dissertation based on extensive research on a literary or cultural topic that produces new knowledge of publishable quality in the field of China studies.  Normally dissertation research and writing is completed in the last two years of graduate study, years 4 and 5.


Qualifying Evaluation: toward the end of the first year of the PhD program, students submit a portfolio including all research papers written for classes taken in the first semester and work in progress for the second semester as determined in consultation with the advisor and advisory committee.  Students subsequently meet with the committee to discuss the contents of the portfolio and their progress in the program.  During the discussion, the student will also be asked to describe future research goals. The second element of this qualifying evaluation assesses students' progress in their primary languages. (This will be waived in the case of native speakers of Chinese.)

Comprehensive Exams: Near the end of formal courses, normally at the end of the third year of full-time study, students complete three Comprehensive Examinations, preferably in a single semester, on: 1) Major field: premodern or modern Chinese literature, 2) Minor field: premodern Chinese literature in the case of students whose major field in modern literature; modern and contemporary Chinese literature for those whose major field is premodern, and 3) A comparative and/or theoretical field relating to the candidate’s area of research specialization, defined in consultation with and approved by the advisory committee.  For guidance and preparation of their field exams, students will prepare a comprehensive bibliography.  Following successful completion of the three examinations, students will present their dissertation prospectus in a public forum before a panel of relevant faculty.  In conjunction with the Comprehensive Examinations, and before the beginning of the fourth year, students must submit a Dissertation Prospectus for committee approval.

Unless the student has taken relevant graduate-level courses in the relevant research language(s), or has demonstrated sufficient competence in other ways, language competence examinations will be required before undertaking their comprehensive examinations.

Probation and Dismissal Policy: Refer to the EALC Probation and Dismissal Policy for details.

III. Selection of Candidates and Admissions Criteria

Applicants for this program are screened on the basis of: their competence in Chinese and in English; their demonstrated ability to write analytically and to think critically; their commitment to the study of Chinese literature and culture; their interests in areas of research strength among our faculty (early modern, modern, and contemporary China).  The Chinese Graduate Committee, comprised of tenure-line Chinese literature faculty in East Asian Languages and Cultures, will choose candidates from among applicants for recommendation to the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences.

IV. Resources and Support

The Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences will provide the usual support in the form of A&S Fellowships. 

In addition we also have the following resources:

  • Grants from the Taiwan Ministry of Education for research and study at Taiwan’s premier research institutions: National Taiwan University and the Academia Sinica.  Departmental connections with those institutions will facilitate student research in Taiwan and China.
  • McDonnell International Scholars Academy may also be an additional source of support for candidates in this program, given the strengths of the University’s connections with front-ranked Chinese academic institutions, including Peking, Tsinghua, and especially Fudan University.