Harvard Summer Program in Beijing, China

Modern Chinese language immersion in China’s cultural and political center

Faculty: Jennifer Liu and additional Harvard University faculty

Beijing is a 3,000-year-old city that has been the capital of China for most of the past 600 years. In recent decades, it has gained international importance as a political and economic hub, while retaining a rich historical and contemporary cultural heritage. Combined with its status as a center of Standard Mandarin in a linguistically diverse country, these qualities make Beijing an ideal location for your intensive Chinese language study and cultural immersion.

The Harvard Summer Program in Beijing, also called the Harvard Beijing Academy (HBA), offers you the opportunity to gain a full academic year’s worth of Chinese language study in the course of a nine-week summer session. The program offers five intensive courses in modern Chinese at the intermediate and advanced levels, all of which include a one-week Social Study project, as well as curriculum materials designed to develop and reinforce all aspects of Chinese language ability—including speaking, oral comprehension, reading, and writing, in authentic cultural contexts.

The course structure is designed to maximize your language acquisition, with five hours of class (lectures, drill sections, and a one-on-one session) every day, Monday through Thursday, from morning until early afternoon. Written and oral exams are held every Friday. You will devote much of the remainder of each weekday to homework, study, and review, but also have the opportunity to participate in a variety of extracurricular activities, as well as semi-weekly “Chinese tables” where you eat lunch with other students and teachers in a relaxed setting. Teachers hold office hours in the evenings from Sunday through Thursday, and you are encouraged to come by for help with their lessons or just to talk with teachers and classmates.

On the weekends, there are performances (e.g., acrobatics show) and excursions (e.g., the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, and the Beijing Art District). You may also spend time on weekends with host families to experience the daily lives and customs of Chinese families. This school/society nexus gives the program its unique participatory flavor, with language instruction continually related to its Beijing setting.

“I’m amazed at how much progress we’ve made in our Chinese classes. Our teachers are all kind, friendly, inordinately hardworking, and tirelessly passionate. It was an absolute pleasure being one of their students.”

– HBA student

“HBA has been a wonderful experience. It’s been tiring, but extremely rewarding.”

– HBA student

Social study project

You will spend the fifth week of the program conducting a social study in a location of your choice, and visit factories, villages, and schools to conduct interviews with local people on some aspect of Chinese society. In this practical extension of the classroom experience, you will experience facets of China’s geographically and socially diverse landscape that you may not be able to during the classroom study weeks of the program. You will use the insights gained during the Social Study to write a report in Chinese as part of their course requirements.

Below is the tentative list of Social Study trips that will be offered in 2016:

  • Martial arts and religion (at the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province)
  • Rural life and development (in Anhui Province)
  • Business and globalization (in Beijing)
  • Minority nationalities, culture, and economy (in Inner Mongolia)
  • Economics, business, and modernization (in Shanghai)
  • Ancient history and its modern influence (in Sha’anxi Province)

Graduate students may elect either to join one of these program-organized trips or design your own trip within or outside Beijing for specific research purposes, with the approval of the Program Director.

“The Social Study week was excellent—a really in-depth experience in a part of China I never would have seen if not for this program.”

– HBA student

Course of study

You enroll in one of the four courses listed below. You are placed in a course commensurate with your level of fluency, which is assessed based on your written and oral application materials and a placement test taken after you arrive in Beijing. Because all language progress is relative and student strengths vary, every effort is made to ensure the best placement.

The textbooks, written by faculty of the program, use both traditional and simplified characters, and you are encouraged to learn both.

Prerequisites for all courses: Harvard College students must be taking a Harvard Chinese course or have taken the Harvard Chinese placement test and received an assignment of intermediate-level Chinese (120a) or higher. Taking a Chinese language course before the program increases a student’s chances of being accepted. Students from other colleges must have at least one year of college-level Chinese or the equivalent.

CHIN S-120c Study Abroad in Beijing, China: Intermediate Modern Chinese (32805)

Jie Ying
(8 credits: UN, GR) Limited enrollment.

In this second-year course, students develop their conversational and narrative skills using carefully selected vocabulary and grammar. The textbook is based on authentic conversation, moving gradually from casual to formal styles. The text covers the most important communicative skills needed by American students studying in China and provides a deeper understanding of cultural and intellectual differences between US and Chinese societies.

CHIN S-130c Study Abroad in Beijing, China: Pre-Advanced Modern Chinese (32806)

Haibo Hu
(8 credits: UN, GR) Limited enrollment.

In this third-year course, students study contemporary China and develop their speaking and writing skills by constructing new compounds, using idiomatic expressions, and mastering formal and informal styles. The curriculum is designed to further improve listening and reading abilities through texts geared specifically to the understanding of Chinese culture and society.

CHIN S-130xc Study Abroad in Beijing, China: Pre-Advanced Modern Chinese for Heritage Students (33270)

(8 credits: UN, GR) Limited enrollment.

In this third-year course intended primarily for heritage speakers, students develop their Chinese proficiency at the pre-advanced level. The curriculum is designed to help students to further expand their vocabulary, to recognize formal and informal styles, to improve their reading and writing skills, and to hone their oral communication. The course makes use of texts related to contemporary issues in China and the wider world, including newspaper articles, dialogues, and essays, as well as supplementary audiovisual materials.

CHIN S-140c Study Abroad in Beijing, China: Advanced Modern Chinese (32807)

(8 credits: UN, GR) Limited enrollment.

In this fourth-year course, students read authentic texts of varied genres and styles emphasizing social and cultural issues in contemporary America and China. Through the extensive readings, students learn reading strategies, and stylistic transformations (casual and formal). Students also write compositions and papers, do formal presentations, and participate in classroom discussions to develop a solid foundation in the four skills—listening, speaking, reading, and writing—in conversational and formal Chinese.

Course credit

See Study Abroad Credit Information.


Jennifer Liu, PhD, Director of Chinese Language Program, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

Haibo Hu, MA, Preceptor in Chinese, Harvard University
Jie Ying, MA, Preceptor in Chinese, Harvard University

Who should apply

This program is open to students and recent graduates from all institutions and countries. It is designed for English speakers who have completed at least one year of college-level Chinese or have substantively equivalent ability. With a two-to-one student–teacher ratio, the program provides the best environment for you to make substantial improvement in all areas of Chinese language ability.


Before applying, review the Admission and Policies and FAQs pages.

You must be at least 18 years old, have completed at least one year of college or be a first-year student, and be in good standing to apply.

The application materials, outlined below, are due no later than January 15.

Although the online component of the application will not officially close until January 28, please be aware that we can only guarantee review to applications submitted in full (including all components listed below) by January 15. Applications completed and submitted after this deadline will only be considered for review if spaces remain.

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis; early application will increase your chances of admission. Students may submit the various components of their applications as early as they wish. The online registration component may be completed at any time after it becomes available in early December. All admissions decisions will be released during the last week of January.

  • A completed online application (available in early December) that includes:
    • A $50 nonrefundable application fee
  • A paper application that includes: 
    • A typed English statement of interest
    • A handwritten Chinese statement of interest
    • A recommendation form from a Chinese language teacher, written in either English or Chinese
    • Transcripts (student record accepted for Harvard students)
    • First-year college students who do not yet have any course grades must include a sealed recommendation from their academic advisor or the equivalent
    • If your transcript with fall semester grades is released after you have submitted your application, you may mail it in separately for consideration as part of your application file
  • An audio recording in Chinese (approximately 3 minutes) introducing yourself and explaining why you would like to study at HBA. The recording should be done in an impromptu manner, and should not be scripted
    • E-mail your recording (in MP3 or WMA format) to hbazhaosheng@gmail.com
    • Include both your Chinese and English names in the subject line of the e-mail
  • Two photocopies of the photo and signature pages in your passport
    • Please make sure that the entire two pages are included in the photocopy and that all text is clearly legible
    • If your passport expires before February 2017, you should apply for a renewal immediately, as Chinese government regulations stipulate that visas may only be granted to applicants whose passports are valid for at least six months after their planned departure from China.
  • Applicants not currently enrolled in Harvard may be asked to have a brief Skype interview with an HBA faculty member. The purpose of this interview will be to enable us to get better acquainted with students whom we do not already know through the Harvard Chinese program. 
    • You will be notified in advance of the details and timing of the interview, which will be scheduled once all the student’s application materials have been received.

Mail the paper application form, teacher recommendation, transcripts and passport photocopies directly to the HSS Study Abroad Office, preferably in one envelope. Harvard students may submit their application materials in person to the Harvard Beijing Academy program office (5 Bryant Street, room 104).

Notice to all applicants and accepted students

Due to the lengthy nature of HBA, we recognize that it may overlap with other potential commitments. You should only apply to HBA if you are able to commit to attending for the full nine weeks, from the listed arrival date to the listed departure date. This has been the tradition of our program since its founding, and while we regret any inconvenience it may cause, we also found it essential to maintaining the intensive and high-morale environment that makes HBA so successful each year. In addition to attending all class sessions and other mandatory activities, you are required to remain within Beijing for the duration of the program.


There is a nonrefundable $50 application fee. The program cost includes the following:

  • Tuition
  • Room and two meals each week
  • Course materials
  • Scheduled local excursions and extracurricular activities in Beijing

In addition to the program fee, you are responsible for:

  • Most meals
  • Laundry
  • A health insurance fee (waived if you have US insurance that provides coverage outside of the United States)
  • Transportation to and from Beijing
  • Transportation within Beijing
  • All costs relating to the social study project (including room, board, and travel expenses if staying outside of Beijing); rooms at the university are covered for students doing their social study in the Beijing area
  • The cost of passports and visas
  • Any immunizations

A laptop computer is strongly recommended. Every student must have at least an iPod or other MP3-capable device to listen to the audio recordings that accompany the textbook.

How to pay and funding options

See Payment and Funding for payment deadlines and more information, including funding options for Harvard College students.

The Chinese-only pledge

You must speak only Chinese during the entire program (with exceptions for emergencies and private communication with friends and family). Every student signs a pledge agreeing to this commitment, which is a crucial factor in the effectiveness of the HBA immersion system. 

OPIc (Oral Proficiency Interview—computerized)

HBA students take the OPIc, a computer-based assessment of spoken Chinese ability, during both the first and last weeks of the program. This assessment, designed by the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages, provides a standardized and substantive measurement of students’ improvement in spoken ability over the course of the summer.

Obtaining a visa

To attend HBA, students must obtain a 180-day X2 visa. Accepted students should refer to the HBA Student Handbook and emails from the program coordinator for more information on the details of the visa process.


The host institution, Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU), is located in the modern and trendy Wudaokou District of Beijing. You will live in comfortable, single rooms at the university’s conference center with private bathrooms, air conditioning, television, and other amenities. The conference center is steps away from the classrooms. You must stay in program-provided housing.

The conference center and the BLCU cafeteria both offer reasonably priced Chinese and foreign food, and there are many restaurants and shops within short walking distance of campus.

Additional information

Contact the program coordinator, Alex Lopatin, hbamishu@gmail.com.

Watch a video project by HBA student Bo Young Choi, taken during the 2014 Inner Mongolia Social Study trip.

Students with disabilities

Contact the disability services coordinator as soon as possible. See Students with Disabilities for more information