China Studies (History and Archaeology) | Look at History in the Mirror of History

The Yenching Academy’s master’s program in China Studies is conducted in six areas: Law and Society, Politics and International Relations, Economics and Management, Literature and Culture, History and Archaeology, and Philosophy and Religion. Every concentration features distinctly designed courses for YCA Scholars to explore China-related issues.

China Studies (History and Archaeology)

We cannot resist looking for our origin, despite the whirling pace at which the world continues to advance. It is a remote call resounding in the history of Chinese civilization. Observing and understanding where civilization started and how it has evolved paves the path for the future. The History and Archaeology track in YCA’s China Studies program allows our Yenching Scholars to explore Chinese civilization, learn different theoretical perspectives and assess their experiences across cultural backgrounds.

The History and Archaeology track offers five courses between the 2020 and 2022 academic years, namely: Development of Chinese Civilization, Formation of Chinese Civilization, Archaeology of Cultural Exchange between China and the West, Ethnographies of Modern Education: China and Beyond and History of the Field: Sinology and China Studies from a Global Perspective.

Development of Chinese Civilization and Formation of Chinese Civilization investigate how Chinese civilization has formed and evolved—a key motif in history and archaeology—but with different approaches.

Development of Chinese Civilization

In the course, Development of Chinese Civilization, Prof. Lu Yang, Director of Graduate Studies of Yenching Academy and Professor from the PKU Department of History, led scholars on a time travel, reviewing aspects of the Chinese society that have changed and remain unchanged throughout the ages. Students had pre-class readings and in-class presentations and discussions.

In one stance, Rumi Khan (USA) from the 2021 Cohort gave a presentation on The Art of Being Governed: Everyday Politics in Late Imperial China, authored by historian and Sinologist Michael A. Szonyi. Khan introduced the book from the angle of economic history and historical institutionalism, supplemented by political and social theories, and commented on the author’s main points, approaches, and conclusions. This presentation and the book’s ideas sparked thought-provoking discussions between Prof. Lu and the students.

In another instance, Hui Xin Wong from Malaysia studied the society, culture, politics, and economy in late imperial China. She gained new insights from class assignments, extensive readings, and in-class discussions.

Formation of Chinese Civilization

This course discussed the nature of Chinese civilization in its early days. Different archaeological perspectives were employed in the class, co-lectured by Assistant Professor Cao Dazhi, Associate Professor Qin Ling, Professor Qu Tongli, and Professor Zhang Hai from the PKU School of Archaeology and Museology. The teachers emphasized their excitement about giving lectures to Yenching Scholars.

In a conversation with YCA, Prof. Qin Ling noted that field trips were a core part of the course, but the pandemic has disrupted this activity. Previous class trips featured visits to historical sites like Zhoukoudian, Liangzhu, Yinxu Ruins, and Confucian temples, exploring cultural items in museums, joining archaeological excavations, and visiting warehouses of cultural relics. The professor was happy to see students’ enthusiasm for early Chinese civilization and archaeology, despite being only able to take online classes. Prof. Qin hoped to someday receive our Scholars at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology at Peking University to further explore the history of Chinese civilization.

In YCA’s China Studies program, our History and Archaeology study is never confined to China itself; instead, we focus more on the close ties between China and the world.

Archaeology of Cultural Exchange between China and the West

Through this course, Professor Giuseppe Vignato from the PKU School of Archaeology and Museology highlighted the close ties between China and the world, drawing on the Academy’s idea of China’s relations with the world.

Prof. Vignato explored the Eurasian trades and cultural exchanges and the connection between the Mediterranean and China. Our Scholars had ample new experience in such a cross-regional and cross-cultural approach to history.

Ashely Tan Yuan Zeng (Singapore) from the 2020 cohort marveled at Prof. Vignato’s passion for archaeology and the Silk Road. Zeng was particularly impressed with the lectures on the historical facts of Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism. He also recounted his experience of having a map at hand and marking every country along the Silk Road the class had discussed.

Ethnographies of Modern Education: China and Beyond

YCA prepares its Scholars for traditional disciplinary training with a multi-topic historiographical approach, a complementary echo to the Academy’s multidisciplinary program. We invited Associate Professor Wang Liping from the PKU Graduate School of Education to teach Ethnographies of Modern Education: China and Beyond, evaluating how power relations, nation-states, and social strata have emerged and grown from the angle of modern education.

Kang Xiaomeng (China) from the 2021 cohort loved the rich reading materials on the course's classic pedagogical theories and education-related issues. Every chapter focused on a single point. She enjoyed listening to her classmates’ ideas, case analyses, personal experiences, and the online videos from her classmates.

The course ignited a new academic interest in Hannah Brock (UK) from the 2021 cohort, who took the course to study early education and found the class readings on higher education remarkably resourceful. She was excited about being able to assess education from a philosophical perspective.

Claudia Jiang (USA) from the 2021 Cohort has been interested in China’s higher education, particularly the imperial examination system. She loved the reading materials the teacher selected for the course and admired the professor’s inspiring way of teaching.

History of the Field: Sinology and China Studies from a Global Perspective

Taught by Associate Professor Brent Haas, Associate Dean of Yenching Academy, the course investigated China Studies in different countries and regions in various historical periods, contextualizing China Studies in the broader world. The topic-based class adopted a new approach to observing how China and the world are connected and interact, equipping Scholars with the requisite knowledge in this area.

Lei Yaoxiang (China) from the 2020 cohort gained a more comprehensive understanding of contemporary and historical issues in China Studies. With an observation of China Studies across regions, the students learned how the discipline had been constructed and reconstructed in political, economic, and cultural contexts. Looking at the past, modern development and new challenges of China Studies, Lei and his fellow students better located themselves in today’s academia.

Following the History and Archaeology track, our Scholars peer into the past to pave a path for the future. In this time travel, we admire the splendor of Chinese civilization and trace its lifeline. In the mirror of history, we see the past, present, and the future, the changed and the unchanged. And we invite you to join us on this marvelous journey.


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