China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities

Study China’s cultural diversity and minority relations in Yunnan Province and on an excursion to Beijing

offered by SIT Study Abroad

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Please visit our website for more information. Students on the China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities program explore the complexity of China's social groups and develop a deeper understanding of the key social, historical, and cultural issues at work in minority communities. Highlights include: Initial program orientation in Kunming and the traditional town of Tonghai Living alongside Chinese students at Yunnan Nationalities University Daily taiji exercise Small group intensive language study Excursions throughout Yunnan Province and to Beijing The Yunnan Exploration Project Homestay in Kunming Minority areas field excursion to Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-La, with a rural homestay in the Bai minority village of Shaxi The Independent Study Project (ISP) or continued Chinese language study in lieu of the ISP Final evaluation at the Stone Forest and Jiuxiang Cave area Each program component exposes students to the complex and varied challenges and opportunities faced by China’s ethnic minority groups. Students engage with a broad array of knowledge centers, and lecturers are drawn from a wide variety of local institutions and organizations. Institutions we work with include: Yunnan Nationalities University Yunnan University Yunnan Normal University Yunnan Social Science Academy Yunnan Art Institute The Nature Conservancy Family Health International Kunming Medical College Yunnan Traditional Medicine Hospital The Lijiang Dongba Cultural Research Institute Shaxi Rehabilitation Project Shangri-La Association of Tibetan Culture Preservation Beijing University Qinghua University Central Nationalities University Kunming The program is based in Kunming — Yunnan Province’s largest city and political, economic, and cultural center — and includes periods where students live on the campus of Yunnan Nationalities University and in a two-week homestay with families in the city. Students attend lectures by local professors and experts in Kunming and during educational site visits to diverse locales. These lectures and excursions help students deepen their understanding of China's varied cultures and ethnic minorities. Through intensive language instruction and daily interactions with their host families, students refine their communications skills while becoming acclimated to the local culture. This period provides an introduction to the relevant topical issues China faces today, information students later build upon during their educational excursions and Independent Study Project. Chinese Language Study While in Kunming, students undertake 90 class hours of intensive Chinese language instruction. Students at all skill levels receive training in reading, writing, listening, and speaking Chinese. Through a combination of traditional classroom learning, cultural immersion on campus, and the practical application of language skills in homestays, during excursions, and throughout the Independent Study Project, students make tremendous progress in their Chinese language skills over the course of the semester. The language program is distinguished by its excellent teacher-to-student ratio; in addition, SIT students are partnered with Chinese university students so they can practice Chinese with native speakers and apply what they learn in the classroom to the informal conditions of everyday life. Students wishing to focus on language acquisition specifically may, in lieu of an Independent Study Project, pursue an additional 60 hours of intensive language instruction. Chinese Culture and Ethnic Minorities Seminar This seminar includes three sections: Chinese history and religions, China’s social issues and arts and humanities, and China’s minority issues. The unique minority issues component of the seminar — including excursions, visits, and exchanges with ethnic minority groups — distinguishes this study abroad program from any other in China. This interdisciplinary seminar explores the relationship between China’s central government and the ethnically diverse minority populations of Yunnan. The interactions inherent in the relationship between China’s “peripheral peoples” and an arguably constructed dominant “Han” culture form a foundation upon which questions of autonomy and identity are brought to life in Yunnan and its environs. Field Methods and Ethics Seminar During this phase of the program, students participate in educational excursions throughout Yunnan Province. As Yunnan increasingly becomes a major focus of both domestic and foreign tourism, students witness the region's struggle to achieve a balance between developed tourist areas, such as Dali and Lijiang, and more remote sites that retain a strong sense of cultural integrity. By living with local families in a rural farming village, students learn about the cultural traditions that define and sustain these diverse communities.  Excursions relate directly to the program's Field Methods and Ethics seminar, which instructs students on the techniques, methods, and ethics necessary for successful research. Throughout this section of the program, students develop ideas for their Independent Study Project (ISP) and learn to properly refine their research topics.   Independent Study Project In the final month of the semester, students undertake either an Independent Study Project (ISP) or additional intensive language training. The ISP provides students with an opportunity to critically examine a topic, community, or situation related to Chinese culture or ethnic minorities in China. Previous ISP topics have included: Social customs of minority groups Evolution of the free-market system in ethnic minority regions Philosophy and practice of taiji Role of civil society in environmental management and conservation Investigation of family and religious practices of the Hui Naxi Dongba shaman practices Structure of the extended family in the context of China's family planning system Growth and inequality in modern China Domestic tourism and its impact on Dali and Lijiang Preservation and renewal of Tibetan arts Healthcare challenges in China Traditional Chinese painting, music, and medicine Buddhist philosophy and practice Alternatively, students may use this time to pursue one month of additional language study in lieu of the ISP. Students who pursue this option will spend this period participating in intensive and often one-on-one language instruction.


  • Chinese Language
  • Ethnic Studies
  • Area/Ethnic Studies
  • Cultural, Population And Demographic Studies
  • Asian And Asian American Studies


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