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, the cultural and political center of China, is a 3,000-year-old city that has been the national capital for most of the past 600 years. While maintaining its deep historical roots, Beijing is quickly becoming a modern city and an important center for international business. Among the historical riches students may experience are the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, classical teahouses, and Beijing opera theaters. This program provides students with full linguistic and cultural immersion.

The Harvard Summer Program in Beijing, also called Harvard Beijing Academy (HBA), gives Chinese language students the opportunity to explore this richly historic city while participating in intensive language study. The program offers four intensive courses in modern Chinese at the intermediate and advanced levels, all of which include a one-week social study project. The language training is embedded in the Chinese setting, with speakers from many sectors of Chinese society joining the students to discuss their lives.

On a typical weekday, students have four hours of class in the morning (lectures, drills, and quizzes) and a 50-minute one-on-one conversation session with one of the teachers in the afternoon. The rest of the afternoon is left open for study and extracurricular activities in Chinese. There is a quiz every Friday morning and two weekly teacher-student luncheons where students can get to know the teachers and practice Chinese in a relaxed social setting. Teachers hold office hours in the evenings.

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). Students 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.

In addition, students are encouraged to take lessons in Chinese arts, such as martial arts, calligraphy, cooking, or music. One special event is a speech contest in which students from various Beijing summer Chinese language programs—including HBA—participate.

“The teachers were all very enthusiastic and dedicated. I’ll miss them when I leave!”

– Beijing Summer School student

Social study project

Students spend the fifth week of the program conducting a social study in a location of their 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, students experience facets of China’s geographically and socially diverse landscape that they may not be able to during the classroom study weeks of the program. They use the insights gained during the Social Study to write a report in Chinese, and may even develop the report into a paper for publication.

In past years, some students have travelled as far as Shanghai or Mongolia for their social study projects, while others have stayed in Beijing and visited businesses or city-planning centers. Students may organize their own social study or choose from the organized programs (the following are tentative):

  • Martial arts and religion (at the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province)
  • Rural life and development (in Huangshan, 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 Xi’an, Sha’anxi Province)
  • Traditional Chinese religion and folklore (in Shandong Province)

“I really enjoyed HBA, especially the week of social study because it really allowed students to be immersed in the culture and not just the language of China.”

– Beijing Summer School student

“This program was great! It is the strictest and most intense language program in Beijing. This is what I asked for, this is what I paid for, this is what I got. Thank you!”

– Beijing Summer School student

Course of study

Students enroll in one of the four courses listed below. They are placed in a course commensurate with their level of fluency, which is assessed based on their written and oral application materials and a placement test taken after they 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 students 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)

Huijie Zhu Kang Zhou
(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. The textbook for this course is When in China.

CHIN S-130c Study Abroad in Beijing, China: 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 media. The textbook for this course is Understanding the People and the World.

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

Panpan Gao
(8 credits: UN, GR) Limited enrollment.

In this fourth-year course, students read authentic articles, novels, and newspapers emphasizing social and cultural issues in contemporary America and China. Through the extensive readings, students learn reading strategies, rhythmic writing rules, 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 4 skills—listening, speaking, reading, and writing—in conversational and formal Chinese. The textbook for this course is On the Present and Past.

CHIN S-150c Study Abroad in Beijing, China: Formal Chinese Writing and Speaking (32808)

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

This fifth-year course enables students to speak and write formally, preparing them for future research and engagement in all fields where Chinese is used professionally. Students read academic articles from different genres and classical stories from different periods compiled in the textbook. They also write compositions and papers, do formal presentations, and participate in classroom discussions. Students learn a complete set of written grammar, including formal vocabularies (about 300 monosyllabic and 300 disyllabic words), formal sentence patterns (about 200), and rhythmic rules that govern sentences as well as words. The textbook for this course is Writing and Truth.

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
Huijie Zhu, MA, Drill Instructor in Chinese, Harvard University
Jie Ying, MA, Drill Instructor in Chinese, Harvard University
Panpan Gao, MA, Drill Instructor in Chinese, Harvard University
Kang Zhou, MA, Drill Instructor in Chinese, Harvard University

Who should apply

Open to students and recent graduates from all institutions and countries, the program is designed for English speakers who are intermediate or advanced students of Chinese. With a two-to-one student–teacher ratio, the program provides the best environment for any student to make substantial improvement in all areas of Chinese language ability.


The application period is now closed.

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

Students 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.

When the application period opens, applications are reviewed on a rolling basis.

The application materials, outlined below, are due no later than January 30, 2014 (early application is encouraged):

  • A completed online application that includes:
    • A $50 nonrefundable application fee.
    • A supplementary statement in English (less than 500 words) describing the student’s interest in the program and travel experience (previous travel is not a prerequisite).
  • The following supplementary materials:
    • A recommendation form from a Chinese language teacher written in either English or Chinese.
    • A personal statement handwritten in Chinese characters describing interest in the program, Chinese study experience and overseas work, or travel, if there is any. The length of the Chinese statement depends on a student’s level of Chinese. Statements should not be edited.
    • An audio recording in Mandarin Chinese (three to five minutes) introducing yourself and explaining why you would like to study Chinese in Beijing. The recording should be done in an impromptu manner, not reading from a script.
      • E-mail your recording (in MP3 or WMA format) to hbazhaosheng@gmail.com.
      • Put both your Chinese and English names in the subject line of the e-mail.
    • 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.
    • Two copies of photo and signature page in passport.
      • Please make sure that the entire two pages are included in the photocopy and that all text is clearly legible.
    • Applicants not currently enrolled in Harvard University may be asked to have a brief (five to ten minute) interview via Skype 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.
      • Applicants 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 recommendations, statement, passport copy, and transcript directly to the Study Abroad Office, preferably in one envelope.

Students are notified of admissions decisions on a rolling basis.

Notice to all applicants and accepted students

Due to the lengthy nature of this program, it is likely to overlap with other potential commitments. Please note, absence from class for a day or during the weekends will not be permitted for any reason. This has been the tradition of our program since its founding, and we apologize for any inconvenience it may cause.

Our primary reasons for having such a strict policy are as follows:

  1. Each day of class at the HBA program is the equivalent of one week of class in a standard university-level Chinese course. Consequently, missing even a single day of class from the program is incredibly detrimental to a student’s course of study. Similarly, we lack the resources and faculty to make up coursework with students after class for any reason other than serious illness.
  2. At HBA, we encourage a sense of collective morale amongst the students. To have a student leave for a period is damaging not only to their personal study experience, but also to that of all their classmates. Similarly, if we were to grant an exception for one student, it would be unjust to deny such exceptions to others regardless of circumstances.
  3. Our policies regarding travel during the program are also grounded in our concern for our students’ safety. Travel, regardless of whether it is domestic or international, is often fraught with a number of unforeseeable problems ranging from airline delays to visa problems that may result in students missing their required classes, or also potentially finding themselves in more dire circumstances. Therefore, students are prohibited from travelling outside of Beijing during the course of the program, with the exception of approved Social Study trips during the fifth week.

We have adopted a strict policy of required class attendance and no international travel during the program.


There is a nonrefundable $50 application fee. The cost of the program is $5,750 and 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, students are responsible for:

  • Most meals (about $15/day)
  • Laundry
  • A health insurance fee (waived if students have US insurance that provides coverage outside the United States)
  • Transportation to and from Beijing
  • Transportation within Beijing
  • Entertainment
  • 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 notebook computer is strongly recommended. Every student must have an iPod or other MP3 player to listen to the audio recordings that accompany the textbook. Students can also use a computer if it is properly equipped or purchase inexpensive audio equipment in Beijing.

Suggested budget

See a sample budget for estimated expenses.

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

Students must speak only Chinese during the entire program (with exceptions for emergencies and phone calls with friends and family). Every student signs a pledge agreeing to this commitment. The Chinese-only pledge is considered valuable and critical in learning the language and developing fluency. Students are penalized if they violate the pledge, not only because it impairs their ability to learn, but also because it affects the learning atmosphere for other students. Experience shows that students who make friends with local Chinese people and keep their use of English to an absolute minimum—by limiting phone calls, e-mail, and reading in English—invariably show the greatest progress during the program.

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, which is the shortest-duration student visa issued by the Chinese government. Once enrollment is finalized, we will send the list of students to our host university. The university will then prepare a formal “Invitation Letter” for each student, which they will mail back to the HBA program office, and which we will then mail out to students. This “Invitation Letter” must be included among each student’s documentation when applying for the X2 visa. Accepted students should refer to the HBA Student Handbook for more information on the details of this process. For a fee, professional visa agents can also be used to assist students in obtaining their visa.


The host institution, Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU), is located in the modern and trendy Haidian District of Beijing. Students 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. All students 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

Please e-mail hbamishu@gmail.com.

See the slides from the information session for more information about the program.

Students with disabilities

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