The Value of a Master’s in Chinese Economics

In a recent post entitled Why China for Grad School? I opined:

Aside from reduced cost, there is one main reason a westerner might choose to go to grad school in China over a western country: because one’s object of study is inherently Chinese. This includes Chinese history, Chinese art, Chinese language, etc.

There are definitely foreigners in Shanghai that have elected to earn their advanced degrees in China, but in fields other than those mentioned above. Curious about how they see their education, I’ve decided to interview a few. The following is an interview with American Zachary Franklin, a writer who also maintains the blog Writer’s Block on his website, DeluxZilla.

John: Can you tell me what graduate degree you’re working on?

Zachary: I am currently a first-year master’s student working toward an M.A. in Chinese Economics from Fudan University, a two year degree program taught through the School of Economics.

John: So what kind of program is it? Is it meant for foreigners, or is it all Chinese?

Zachary: It is an English-taught, M.A. program, focusing on both economics and the Chinese economy in the context of the past 30 years of development and where the Chinese economy is heading in the coming decades.

It is meant for foreigners. My class has 15 other students from around the world, including countries such as Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Hungary, Norway, Italy and the United States. This specific degree program has been around since 2006.

The difference between myself and the other 15 students is they are taking the degree completely in English, whereas I am taking half the degree in Chinese.

Both Fudan University and the Economics School have been extremely supportive and encouraging in allowing me to split my degree. What ends up happening is I take core economics classes — microeconomics, macroeconomics and econometrics — in English, learning theory and mathematical formulas, while getting to take more discussion-oriented classes in Mandarin. Last semester I took “World Economies” in Chinese, and this semester I am taking both “Regional Economics,” which focuses on why Chinese provinces have developed the way they have over the past 15 years, and “Chinese Dynastic Economic Thought.”

John: I mentioned in a recent blog post that I thought it mostly only makes sense to earn a graduate degree in China if the subject matter is inherently Chinese. I guess you would take issue with that statement?

Zachary: I don’t take issue with your statement so much as it is going to be a moot point. The invasion is coming. In the next 10 years there will be masses of foreigners from all corners of the globe coming to China to study in universities, in numbers far greater than what China has seen previously. In the United States alone, President Barack Obama said back in Nov. 2009 he wants to send 100,000 American students to study in China over the next four years. Even if you feel universities here need to change their methods and improve their standards, it won’t matter. The increased demand will naturally change the system. It has to.

Will foreigners be coming to China to study subjects such as Russian literature or peace and conflict studies in the Middle East? I don’t know, but it seems there are already several other universities around the world that have those programs and are more well-known for those degrees.

Instead, what we’re going to see is many coming to China to learn the language, but many more who already have a very accomplished level of Mandarin. To cope with increased overall demand, universities around China will have to adapt to handling a higher percentage of foreigners. They’re going to have to meet demands, change standards where necessary and offer a more diverse curriculum.

John: You almost make it sound as if the subject matter is only secondary, and the important thing is getting in with the Chinese before “the invasion.”

Zachary: Of course the subject matter is important, but as I am in China and studying economics, it is important to take stock in the economic changes happening all around and apply what I’ve learned in the classroom accordingly.

So, in terms of value, how do you see your M.A. in Economics from Fudan?

Zachary: I see an M.A. in Chinese economics from Fudan University to be three degrees — though I am certain I will only receive one of them from the school.

There is the obvious, the economics degree. There is also what I feel will be my completion of Mandarin. I spent 18 months in Beijing before coming to Fudan, reading, writing and speaking Chinese six hours a day, five days a week, in an intense program at a private language institution. Trying to earn a master’s degree utilizing my Mandarin was simply the next logical step.

The last degree is the least obvious, but nonetheless one that is of great importance. I feel my time as a student at a Chinese university allows me to understand the educational system in this country. For the majority of Chinese students graduating, what they study at school goes to the industry where they will eventually begin work. Understanding why they’ve chosen a particular major to continue their education, what their classroom activities are doing to prepare them for the real world, where they hope to see themselves in five or 10 years; all this contributes to understanding the people around. And 10 years from now, who knows where my former classmates will be and what field they will be working in.

John: How do you see your M.A. in Economics from Fudan compared to one you might get from an American university? What are the trade-offs?

Zachary: Economics is economics regardless of where one is studying. There are core principles everyone is taught and everyone understands. The differences come when one considers where I am located and the language I am using to obtain my degree.

I am studying economics in China, and I’m using another language for part of the degree. Physically being here is priceless in terms of the perspective I am being exposed to. You cannot compare studying economics in Shanghai — with so much going on around — and studying economics 9,000 miles away in the United States. I step out my front door every morning and see everything Americans can only read about in the New York Times. In my mind, there are no trade-offs when you think about it like that.

You can follow Zachary’s progress in his M.A. on Writer’s Block.


John Pasden

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


  1. Tom Harrison Says: March 12, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    John, this is a great idea for a series of posts – certainly likely to be a field of growing interest among students who speak Chinese before arriving for grad programs. I’m not sure if you are open to requests or suggestions for programs (maybe it depends on who you know), but some interesting programs I’d like to hear about from Western students include:
    *The Tsinghua Masters of Law in Chinese Law
    *MBA at either the Cheung Kong Grad School of Business or China Europe International Business School
    *MA at Hopkins Nanjing Center

    I look forward to more in this series.

  2. I’ll second what Tom said, and voice my interest in hearing a foreigner’s impressions of the English (or Chinese) programs at the Guanghua School of Management at PKU.

    To be frank, I feel that your interview ignored the obvious question of “What will this degree do for your career, either here or in China?” – this would be my largest concern, considering its 100,000 RMB for tuition and however much more for living costs. That’s relatively affordable by Western standards for a masters, but then again, Western masters programs generally have explicit listings of their historic career and academic placement records, along with what career assistance services they offer, while these points are lacking on the Fudan EMA website. I’m not saying they don’t exist at Fudan, just that its a curious omission, and I hope you include this question in future interviews (which I’m looking forward to).

  3. I am very interested to read more in this series.

    I am still dubious about the academic freedom that is so necessary to fruitful study. Especially in a field like economics or political science, I would expect a hearty dose of content favorable to the CCP. Devaluing the yuan would be dangerous and absurd, environmental degradation is an acceptable price for economic progress, China is a happy multi-ethnic nation that does not have dissidents, etc. Am I wrong about this? I would like to be.

    Outright lies are only one half of propaganda– the other half is all the stuff they don’t tell you.

  4. I have heard from people who studied post graduate in China that less known unis tend to have more free discussion in class. That is because centers like Fudan are full of party members and have strong links with politicians, etc. Whereas more relaxed unis like Shanghai Ocean or others are less rigid and care less about the risk.

    In the end, I guess it all depends of the teachers and the students in your class. But in places like Fudan, Qinghua, etc those guys have much more to lose and they would want to risk speaking of controversial topics, even if they probably feel inclined to do so (because they are intelligent people)

  5. I’m going to have to chime in here and disagree with Uln. I had several lectures throughout the previous semester dedicated to discussions on the implications of revaluing the Renminbi and the economic changes that would take place if the Renminbi were completely floated (as per Pete’s examples), of which it was concluded the only way to float the currency without the risk of massive capital flight is to do away with communism.

  6. Great series, interesting interview and keep them coming

    But, I don’t think Chinese university standards will improve/change in a hurry because of foreigner demand, as the foreigner non-language market will always be relatively small. But i do think the Chinese universities are desperate to increase their “top world university ranking”.

    I also agree with Brian that the value of such a degree is difficult to gauge. If you want to use it to find a job in SH, it might be difficult because local competition is red hot and the number of foreigners being hired is dropping in non-technical fields (IMHO). And taking it home and away from the Chinese field might be difficult too.

  7. Sorry, can i ask you a question Zac?

    Who concluded that “the only way to float the currency without the risk of massive capital flight is to do away with communism”, was it the lecturer or more a class consensus ?

  8. Ray Walsh Says: March 14, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    @ Zachary…
    the invasion is coming? I’m highly dubious of that comment. 100,000 American citizens studying in China in the next four years? How is that possible? I highly doubt 100,000 Americans could pass the HSK and if it’s a subject taught in English that is not China related it’s not going to be valued in a competitive U.S job market.
    Americans are in general smart and savvy – so if the degree cost less to do in China ( a pro) but is of little value to employers (a big, big con) I doubt we will be seeing the invasion.
    I even doubt we would see the invasion if courses were offered for free and the school will pay for your flight.

  9. […] Sinosplice – John interviews Zachary Franklin and asks him about the value of a Master’s degree in Chinese Economics. […]

  10. So interesting. What I can add concerning “The Invasion”: The german government proactively encourages it’s students to spend at least a year at a Chinese University.

    The state-funded German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has a decent budget to support those willing to go with very generous scholarships, and they aren’t even all that hard to get.

    Interestingly enough, in a promotion film published recently, the DAAD showed happy German students telling what a great experience it is to study in China. Not one of the protagonists was from a Social Sciences Department (let alone Sinology) but mostly engineers.

    In a private conversation I was told, that the goal of such promotional activies is in fact to spark interest in obtaining an advanced degree at a Chinese university.

    So I guess there seems to be a trend towards internationally recognizing Chinese degrees.

  11. I like your blog, but I think Americans
    who get a degree in China are wasting their time. Chinese
    degrees are not valued in the US. Just about the only jobs
    Americans who have degrees from Chinese colleges can do are either teaching Chinese in the USA or teaching English in China. Foreigners with degrees from Chinese colleges will be competing with Chinese graduates and Chinese wages. Native English speakers might get paid more, but not a lot.

    China is getting richer, but I do not see a long-term future for most foreigners. Foreigners in China cannot own cars or houses in their own name and not even Chinese can own land. China is crowded, dirty, and rude. Clothes stores have poor selection and only sell clothes that are
    either counterfeit, poor quality, too small, or too expensive. The weather is cold and most places don’t
    have heaters.

    I am sorry, but Americans who plan to live in China forever make as much sense as billionaires who give
    away their money to live as bums. You can find the best countries in the world by looking at the nations with the immigration rates. Do more people want to immigrate to North Korea or Canada? The USA is the richest and most free country in the world. China is a third-world Communist country. Other than the girls, I don’t know why any foreigner would want to live there.

  12. Lee, you do speak truth in your response, jaded, but pretty accurate. Just like Zachary’s final paragraph comments about no trade-offs, just depends on the individual person and personality/upbrining type whether they see certain aspects as pros/cons. I think Lee hits upon the “forever” versus “temporary hiatus/expatriate” vibe with his analogy about the billionaire. Back on topic, great series John, and discussion good or bad will add value to a Chinese degree.

  13. Interesting topic John – thanks. The diverse responses are interesting too. (I teach economics at a Chinese university.)

    I am kind of intrigued about what ‘Chinese Economics’ is. Strange title for a degree, but I am used to incomprehensible English translations for the courses I teach.

    On the point about freedom of expression, there are no limits placed on material or areas for discussion. The surveillance cameras on the wall don’t work. 🙂 In any case my students tend to be more ‘right wing’ than me.

    There are quite a few foreigners studying here but I don’t think that the universities are particularly well set-up to serve say an Australian or American student, unless your interest is language and culture. A degree in teaching Chinese language at a neighbouring university is popular with foreigners.

    I tend to agree that the main purpose (regardless of the student’s intentions) would be to more fully experience Chinese culture. And of course the contacts will be invaluable.

    As for the the value of the economics teaching – it depends on the particular course, the lecturers, the teaching method, quality of other students etc. As it does in the West. As we learn in economics, you generally get what you pay for.

  14. Olivia Allan Says: April 26, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Dear John,

    I am Olivia, after reading your post i am now more interested in learning the chinese economy. I want to take Master of Art in Chinese Economy so please give more comments about it. and is it hard to get it not Master of Chinese economy program?


  15. Has anyone heard anything about Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University? It’s one of the few university’s in China whose degrees are technically from a western University. I’m very interested in studying there if anybody happens to have any information on it. Thanks!

  16. Thanks for this interesting discussion on the value of Master’s degree in Chinese Economics.

    Does anyone know whether the Master of Arts in Chinese Economy (EMA) a nationally accredited degree programme, i.e. recognised by The Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE)? Has it been approved by the Shanghai Education Commission? Is the certificate you receive on completion a nationally accredited Master’s degree certificate?

    I’m asking because someone told me it’s only possible for a non-Chinese student to get a (Chinese government funded) scholarship for studying in China if he/she studies a (nationally/locally) recognised/approved bachelor’s or master’s degree programme that leads to an accredited degree certificate.

    I suppose the other issue that concerns me is quality assurance. Is it possible to find out whether the EMA has been evaluated according to (national) criteria and satisfies national standards for (post)graduate education?

    I’d be interested if anyone has any information on this. Thanks.

  17. I’ve just arrived in Shanghai and am participating in an exchange program at a think-tank with my master’s program as part of my curriculum in International Economics. The courses are both in Chinese and English. A semester is short period of time, but it does provide a starting place. A hybird degree as such may of value to many.

    • Vince, I’d like to ask about your program! I want to study in China, but I don’t know if it’s really a good option. What was your undergraduate degree like? Why did you choose the program that you’re now in? What do you expect to do afterwards.

      Thanks for the help!

  18. @Zachary,

    have you finished the program? Any advice for future students? I’m still working on my double degree in Economics and Chinese and want to study in China. Would you recommend Fudan?

    I appreciate any kind of feedback,

  19. Hey I am very interested to apply for an English taught masters in Chinese economy in Fudan. I was just wondering what your feedback of the course is at this stage and also how competitive is it to be accepted in the course. Thanks

  20. A very interesting post! I never knew there were others who would pursue a Master’s Degree in China for such reasons. I am in my third year (the program is originally for three years) at a Chinese University, studying Sociology all in Chinese (M.A.) and I did this to improve my Chinese and be a part of it instead of being seen as an outsider. Things didn’t turn out that well, though.I was always a foreigner for my Chinese classmates and my teachers.Plus, the teaching methods were based mostly on the teacher speaking all the time. Did your being a foreigner effected the discussions with the teachers? And, how did you study the terminology? It’s mentioned you took some classes in Chinese, as well, but there are so many theories and specific terms (plus the names) that needs to be studied before/after the classes (the Chinese ones) how did you solve this problem? Did you started learning “economy Chinese” before you start the M.A. program?

  21. […] last interview I did of Zach was all text, for the 2010 interview post The Value of a Master’s in Chinese Economics. Now you get to hear his voice and learn a bit more about how he uses his Chinese for less serious […]

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