China’s Most Unusual Courses: Arts & Cultural Studies

Still not sure what to study at university? While traditional courses like business, engineering, and language studies have always been popular choices for international students, there are also a lot of unconventional subjects that are much more exciting to some. We gathered some of these unique and interesting courses in the field of arts and culture that you can undertake across universities in China.

Keep your eye out on our blog for more unusual courses in different fields!

Ethnomusicology – Shanghai Conservatory of Music

Ethnomusicology is the study of music in cultural context, encompassing traditional, contemporary, and popular music. It is an interdisciplinary field that seeks to understand the social, cultural, and historical contexts in which music is created and performed. An ethnomusicologist is not the same as a musician, as musicologists are trained to be experts in music as an academic subject, rather than in the performance or composition of music. In particular, ethnomusicologists may focus on the analysis of specific musical genres or traditions, the role of music in society, or the cultural and historical impact of music on different communities.

Shanghai Conservatory of Music is one of the leading music schools in China, with a rich history of producing world-class musicians. The faculty in this program is composed of renowned scholars and musicians who are passionate about sharing their knowledge. You won’t have to play it by ear though, as they’ll guide you through the program and help you develop the necessary skills to become a proficient ethnomusicologist.

The Ethnomusicology program’s curriculum includes both theory and practical aspects of studying music. Students are exposed to various music genres from around the world, including traditional Chinese music, African music, Indian music, and more. They also learn about the cultural, social, and historical context of each genre, allowing you to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the music. Some of the classes on offer include:

  • Chinese Music Culture: the history and development of Chinese music, including traditional music forms, regional variations, and contemporary styles.
  • Fieldwork Methods in Ethnomusicology: how to conduct fieldwork in order to collect and analyze musical data from different cultures and regions.
  • Music and Ritual: the role of music in religious and ceremonial contexts, with a focus on various world cultures and their musical traditions.
  • Popular Music Studies: the history, aesthetics, and social significance of popular music, with an emphasis on its global diffusion and impact.
  • Musical Instruments and Performance: an overview of various musical instruments and performance techniques from different cultures, and includes hands-on training and practice.

This program is perfect for you if:

  • You’re passionate about learning about music from different cultures and traditions
  • You’d like to gain a unique perspective on music and its impact on the world.
  • You’re looking for a music program that goes beyond the traditional Western classical music curriculum.

Potential career paths:

  • Ethnomusicologist (conducting research on music and culture, documenting musical traditions, and preserving cultural heritage)
  • Musicologist (researching and writing about music history, theory, and culture)
  • Music Therapist
  • Music Teacher
  • Music Producer
  • Cultural Consultant
  • Music Critic

Shadow Puppetry – Longdong University

Photo: / IC and VCG

Daoqing shadow puppetry is a significant branch of Chinese shadow puppetry and has been recognized as part of the national intangible cultural heritage since 2006. However, with the rise of films and television series as popular entertainment in the late 1980s, the artform experienced a decline in popularity. Recognizing the importance of preserving this traditional art, Longdong University took the initiative to introduce Daoqing shadow puppetry into their curriculum, investing in textbook compilation, talent training, and repertoire innovation.

Longdong University, located in Northwest China’s Gansu Province, is a prestigious educational institution renowned for its commitment to preserving and promoting traditional Chinese arts and cultural heritage. It aims to develop long-term interest in intangible cultural heritage among students, paving the way for future practitioners of traditional arts.

This program focuses on the study and application of Peking Opera, a traditional form of Chinese theater that combines singing, acting, and acrobatics. Also known as Jingju, it has a history of over 200 years and is considered one of the major cultural treasures of China. It features elaborate costumes, makeup, and props, as well as complex musical and vocal performances. Peking Opera often depicts historical events, legends, and myths from Chinese culture, and is known for its combination of music, poetry, and martial arts.

The introduction of Daoqing shadow puppetry into the university curriculum not only revitalizes this ancient artform but also serves as a catalyst for cultural preservation. Led by renowned performer Liu Aibang, students immerse themselves in this ancient art form, exploring its rich history and learning the intricate techniques required to bring shadow puppets to life. Through the course, students not only learn the technical aspects of Daoqing shadow puppetry but also delve into its cultural significance. They gain insights into traditional Chinese culture and folk art, fostering a deep appreciation for this unique form of expression.

Some of the areas you can expect to learn about include:

  • Shadow puppet manipulation techniques: master the intricate techniques of manipulating shadow puppets with rods, bringing them to life on a translucent cloth screen.
  • Musical accompaniment: Learn to create the perfect ambiance through live musical accompaniment, using traditional instruments such as gongs, drums, and suona horns.
  • Cultural context of shadow puppetry: Explore the historical and cultural context of Daoqing shadow puppetry, tracing its origins back to the Han Dynasty and understanding its evolution over time.
  • Repertoire development: explore new ways to bring the ancient artform to contemporary audiences while respecting its traditional roots.
  • Shadow puppetry and storytelling: learn the art of storytelling through shadow puppetry, understanding the narrative structures and techniques that captivate audiences.

This program is perfect for you if:

  • You have a passion for preserving and exploring traditional art forms.
  • You are fascinated by the cultural heritage of China and wish to delve into its rich history.
  • You seek to develop practical skills in shadow puppetry, from puppet manipulation to musical accompaniment.
  • You desire to bridge the gap between ancient traditions and contemporary artistic expression.
  • You are eager to contribute to the preservation and promotion of intangible cultural heritage.

Potential career paths:

  • Shadow Puppetry Performer
  • Cultural Heritage Preserver
  • Arts Educator
  • Artistic Director
  • Cultural Events Organizer

Calligraphy and Seal Cutting – Nanjing University of the Arts

Calligraphy and seal cutting are traditional Chinese art forms which involve the creation of intricate and highly stylized designs using ink and specialized tools. Calligraphy deals with the art of writing Chinese characters while seal cutting involves carving designs into a variety of materials. Both are deeply rooted in Chinese history and culture, and continue to be highly valued today as forms of artistic expression and cultural heritage.

Nanjing University is a prestigious public research university that’s known for its strengths in the natural sciences, engineering, social sciences, and humanities. The university o ers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs in a wide range of fields, including sciences, engineering, medicine, law, business, education, and the arts.

The Calligraphy and Seal Cutting program instills a deep appreciation and understanding of these ancient arts, along with practical skills that can be used in a variety of artistic and professional contexts. There is a wide range of topics covered, including the history and aesthetics of Chinese calligraphy, the di erent styles of calligraphy, and the techniques for creating traditional Chinese seals. Examples of some of the classes students can expect are:

Introduction to Chinese Calligraphy: an overview of the history and development of Chinese calligraphy, as well as an introduction to the basic tools and techniques used in the art form.
Chinese Calligraphy Styles: the various styles of calligraphy that have emerged throughout Chinese history, including regular script, cursive script, and seal script.
Introduction to Seal Cutting: an introduction to the history and techniques of seal cutting, including the use of specialized tools and materials.
Seal Carving Techniques: the practical skills needed to carve seals, including design, layout, and carving techniques.
Calligraphy and Seal Cutting Workshops: students have the opportunity to practice their skills under the guidance of experienced calligraphers and seal cutters.

This program is perfect for you if:

  • You have an interest in traditional Chinese art forms and culture.
  • You want to develop your artistic skills and explore new forms of expression.
  • You wish to pursue a career in art, teaching, or other fields that involve an appreciation of Chinese traditions.
  • You’re looking for a unique and culturally immersive educational experience

Potential career paths:

  • Professional Calligrapher or Seal Cutter
  • Art Educator
  • Art Administrator
  • Cultural Consultant
  • Art Therapist

If these course aren’t for you, don’t worry; there are plenty of options for you to study in China. Browse through some of the other programs on our platform and click Apply Now to submit your application for the 2024 intake.

Kay is a marketing assistant at China Admissions. A "third-culture kid" based in Thailand, she has had lifelong exposure to international communities and has worked with top global brands. Having studied abroad herself, she encourages young minds to invest in their self-development and foster an appreciation for new countries and cultures.
Kay Marlowe

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