Traditional East Asia MPhil

Portrait of Admiral Kang Mincheom in the early Goryeo dynasty. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The MPhil in Traditional East Asia examines the Sinitic tradition and its development and adaptations in China, Korea, and Japan. It will appeal to students wishing to develop an intimate knowledge of the region for academic purposes or as preparation for careers in museology, libraries, journalism, diplomacy, international banking, business, law, government service, secondary education, or non-governmental organisations.

On arrival, students are required to have proficiency in at least one East Asian language (Chinese, Korean, or Japanese).

First year

Your first-year work has three parts.

Modern Language

You should have some proficiency in an East Asian language (Chinese, Korean, or Japanese). A qualifying examination in your modern language is held at the end of the third term. If your proficiency in your main language is not up to academic standards, you will prepare for an examination in that language. If, on arrival, your proficiency is judged to be up to academic standards, you will choose a different modern East Asian language for research purposes and prepare for the examination in the selected language.

Classical Language

You will be required to follow a general course in Classical Chinese, Classical Japanese, or Middle Korean. Instruction may take the form of lectures, text classes, or some combination of the two. You will prepare and present English translations in text classes. Depending on your ability, you may be permitted to follow more than one classical language, but you must choose only one classical language for assessment in your qualifying examination. 


You will also attend throughout the year the East Asia Colloquium, for which you receive a reading list and write four essays per term. Students meet together every two weeks in a 90-minute seminar to present the gist of their essays and discuss the topic at hand. The qualifying examination for the seminar consists of an assessment of your three best essays from the twelve prepared over the year. No marks are given on each essay but you will receive comments and feedback, and you must choose and submit one essay to Examination Schools at the end of each term that you feel presents the best of your work. 

Second year

Your second-year work has three parts.


In the second year, you will spend a good portion of your time researching and writing your thesis. There are no modern language requirements, but you may opt to monitor or audit classes in a modern or classical language that you were unable to study or for which you would like further study.

Prescribed Texts

You will continue your study of a classical language by reading Prescribed Texts in Classical Chinese or Classical Japanese or Middle Korean. Texts are chosen in consultation with one of the Course Coordinators and drawn from canonical literature in the areas of history, literature, and philosophy. The final examination is a timed examination at the end of the second year. You have eight one-hour classes spread over three terms.

Bibliography and Methodology

For the Bibliography and Methodology requirement, you will choose a country specialisation (Korea, China, or Japan) and prepare answers to a series of exercises requiring you to find specific and general information in the classical bibliography and references of one of the three countries. You have eight one-hour classes spread over three terms.


Handwriting as a competence standard

Mastering the ability to handwrite in Korean, Japanese and Chinese has been identified as a competence standard for a mandatory core element of this course. This means that students will be required to produce handwritten work for assessment and it will not be possible to complete the assessment in an alternative format.

If you are interested in this course and your personal circumstances mean that handwriting may present a challenge, please contact the faculty for further information.



In the first year, you will take two examinations at the end of the third term. One will be in a modern language. The second will be in a classical language.

You will also be assessed on three essays from the first, second, and third terms of your first year.

In the second year, you will prepare a thesis of using information gathered through at least one East Asian language. You will present your interim research results at one public colloquium held at the end of the fifth term. The thesis is due during the sixth term. The last time you are able to consult your supervisor for the thesis is one month before the due date.

At the end of the sixth term, you will sit one examination on the Prescribed Texts you have prepared in your chosen classical language, and you will be given a take-home examination to assess your knowledge of classical Bibliography and Methodology in your chosen field (Korea, Japan, or China).

Further information on the course, and the examination process, can be found in the course handbook here (information is current for the academic year of publication).


Oxford's libraries preserve one of the largest and most important collections on materials on East Asia to be found in the western world. For Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, the Bodleian Chinese Library in the Dickson Poon University of Oxford China Centre, the Bodleian Japanese Library in the Nissan Institute, and the 'Window on Korea' Library in the Nizami Ganjavi Library at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies are most useful, together with the Eastern Art Library in the Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library. 

For Chinese, there is also the Dickson Poon University of Oxford China Centre Building which has a dedicated library with study carrels and a reading room. The K B Chen China Centre Library holds books from the Bodleian Library's China Collection. The Bodleian Library has been collecting books in Chinese and on China since the early seventeenth century and presently contains one of the largest collections in Europe.

For Korean, the ‘Window on Korea’ project - sponsored by the National Library of Korea - provided the Bodleian Library with around 4,000 volumes in 2012 to augment the 36,000 volumes already in the collection and provides 200 volumes per year until 2022. The National Library of Korea also provided funding to help create a Korean Studies Library with an audio-visual seminar room at the Nizami Ganjavi Library. This provides the opportunity to expand the collection as well as bringing all necessary Korean materials (reference, newspapers, teaching, audio visual and research materials) into one location at the Oriental Institute.

The Weston Library houses the Korean collection of pre-modern books and manuscripts and the Bodleian intranet system maintains subscriptions to most of the key online databases, eg DBpia, KISS, KRpia and KSI e-book. The Korean collection possesses the Bishop Mark Trollope Collection (from the nineteenth century and earlier), the Monsignor Richard Rutt Collection (mid to late twentieth century), and the earliest translations of the New Testament into Korean by John Ross in the 1880s.

For Japanese, the Nissan Institute houses the Bodleian Japanese Library, the University’s research collection of Japanese books. The library was constructed in 1993 and contains certain rare items. The first known accession of Japanese printed material was three volumes printed by Hon’ami Kōetsu’s press at Saga, Kyoto, c.1608-15. There are also rare printed volumes produced by the Jesuit press in Japan (Kirishitan-ban) before they were expelled in 1614 as well as log books by William Adams (1564-1620), the first Englishman known to have visited Japan. The collection grew with Western-language publications on Japan from the seventeenth century onwards, and as an active research library serving the Oxford community, there is also an extensive and expanding modern collection.

There is also the Research Centre for Japanese Language and Linguistics in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, which functions as an umbrella for research activities related to Japanese language and linguistics through the University. The centre serves as a forum for publicising teaching, lectures, seminars, and other activities of interest to Japanese linguistics, and as a point of access to information for prospective graduate students interested in Japanese language and linguistics.

In addition to this, there are a number of other specialist library collections in Oxford that focus on  Asian and Middle Eastern studies, such as:

The Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library includes the principal library for Egyptology and ancient Near Eastern Studies. The Khalili Research Centre is the University of Oxford's centre for research and teaching in the art and material culture of the Islamic societies of the Middle East and of non-Muslim members and neighbours.

You will also have access to the University's centrally provided electronic resources, the department's IT Officer and other bibliographic, archive or material sources as appropriate to the research topic. There is a computing room for the use of graduate students in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, as well as a common room where tea and coffee are available and staff and students can meet.

Sources of funding

Applications received for this course by the January deadline will also be considered for funding if applications mee the eligibility criteria. Please use the University's fees, funding and scholarship search tool to find what funding you may be eligible for.

The Faculty has a number of scholarships and funding opportunities across a wide range of subjects. Please see here for a list of these opportunities.