Getting in Deeper

Recently I had a chance to tour three of Shanghai’s main universities as part of a last-ditch effort to find someone for my company ASAP. The idea was to visit schools with Chinese study programs, find the foreigners, and possibly recruit a qualified one. I chose a really hot day to do it. In one day I covered Shanghai Jiao Tong University (上海交通大学), then East China Normal University (华东师范大学), and finally Shanghai International Studies University (上海外国语大学). (Notably absent from this list is Fudan University (复旦大学), but I’ve heard really bad things aboput their Chinese studies program, and it’s not in a convenient location, so I skipped it.)

Handing out my fliers to strangers was kind of a weird feeling. I felt like some suspicious salesman trying to perpetrate a scam, or like one of the Chinese promoters on the street attempting to persuade foreigners to come to her restaurant or bar. The difference, of course, was that I was just trying to find one good person for an actually decent job. But it still felt sketchy.

All of the campuses were nicer than I expected. Quite green, with lots of space. Like most Chinese college campuses, the teaching buildings were a mixture of old structures falling into disrepair and newer, more architecturally “inspired” creations with such modern wonders as elevators.

East China Normal University struck me as the most picturesque, with its emerald green streams cutting through campus and shady tree-lined streets. However, East China Normal University also flung its foreign students into an inconvenient corner of campus, a place which aesthetics seemed to overlook.

Shanghai International Studies University seemed very modern. It was also quite small, and I didn’t find any foreign students. (I think they are actually on a different campus than the one that I went to by the Hongkou Soccer Stadium.)

East China Normal University happens to be the school at which I’m considering doing a master’s in applied linguistics. During my lunch break I had time to inquire about the possibility. It turns out there are actually two applied linguistics programs; one is under the Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language Department (对外汉语系), the other is under the Chinese Department (中文系). They recommended I look into the Chinese Department program. Even though the program in the Chinese Department will be more difficult, it has a better reputation in China. I went along with that. I was sent to talk to the Dean of the Chinese Department.

That’s when things started getting scary. The Dean talked to me about the requirements for me to enter the program. I need an HSK score of 6. I have a 7. No problem. Since I’m a foreign student, the foreign language requirement is waived. Great. There are also four entrance examinations prospective grad students need to take. (gulp!) I would only need to take two. Excellent. One was Foundations of Chinese (汉语基础). I was confused for a second. Didn’t they trust my HSK score? No, that’s different. The HSK verifies that I know Chinese. The Foundations of Chinese test verifies that I know about Chinese. Structure and features of modern Chinese grammar, Chinese phonology, special features of Chinese characters, rhetoric, etc. Oh great. I haven’t really studied that. The other test is a Writing Composition test. Uh-oh.

Naturally, these tests made me a bit apprehensive about the whole deal. I talked to the dean about it, and it seems they’re willing to cut me a little slack, but I’m still going to have to bust my ass. They want me in the program, but I’m going to have to really work. Since I don’t want to start until Fall 2005, I have time to study the necessary material on my own. These are the books I was told to pick up: Modern Chinese (现代汉语), Problems in Chinese Grammar Analysis (汉语语法分析问题), Selected Readings from the West on Linguistics (西方语言学名著选读), and Essentials of Linguistics (语言学纲要). I don’t expect much trouble from the latter two other than just absorbing the Chinese for all the linguistic jargon I mostly already know. But the first might two may pose some diffilculty for me to tackle on my own. I think it’s time to start hunting for a tutor again.

Wow, this is looking like quite a challenge. But it’s a challenge I want. So, I guess it’s time to hit those books….


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Hey, it’s Nick from the Wuxi thing.. if you find those books, I’d love to get my hands on them too. Are there any special tricks or anything I should know about finding books in China? The best idea I have is to go around to the bookstores in town asking “Uh, hey mister, you got one of THESE (point)?”

  2. Good luck, John. But then, you really shouldn’t have to depend on ‘luck’; you’re a determined, resolute worker. You know we’re behind you, rooting — and praying — for you.

  3. this sounds like a very disciplined program, and I know you’re up to the task. How’s about sending me your class notes just in case I get the urge to knock off a naster’s in Chinese linguistics someday?

  4. Books #2 and 3 might be better tackled if you find a similar volume by a western author or authors in English and study them comparatively, you know, looking at the same thing from more than one angle, which might even turn you into someone a notch above them Chinese Profs.

    Striving to fit into the category of the Chinese scorcher of a dog trying to catch mice—minding too much of others’ business (gou yao haozi, duo guan xianshiir), I would like to recommend a target for your deputy hunt. While reading’s entry of Why I Don’t Have an English Name, I saw a recent commenter by the name of kaili (ever seen her here?) whose single comment reveals a shrewd student of Chinese in her. Don’t know about her qualification/whereabout/wish except she is a native speaker of a downunder variety, though.

  5. ohh~~ U didn’t see any foreign students in SISU?
    I went to SISU and stayed there for 2 days, the building I lived is namedÉÏÍâÓ­±ö¹Ý, the lower half of the building is international students’ dorm. One of my summer school teacher is from SISU, I may ask him about it.

    Anyway, finding an assiatant is much simpler compared with finding a boyfriend.

  6. hey john, if you want me to pick up some linguistics books for you in the u.s., let me know.

  7. John,
    If you’ve decided to hunt for a tutor, I can do some help.
    One of my friends is also preparing for master’s degree inChinese. She will be a qualified tutor.
    If you are interested, please let me konw.

  8. Hey,John,hope you still remember me,your previous student from ZUCC.
    Glad to see that you’re enjoying your challenge life and has began your Chinese learning systematicly.
    I really think the latter two books are difflcult for u, infact even for me.I hate these boring grammers.
    Good luck for you,hope to meet you again in Hangzhou,and Happy New Year!! @

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