Postgraduate study

East Asian Studies PhD

Awards: PhD

Study modes: Full-time, Part-time

Funding opportunities

Programme website: East Asian Studies

First established in the University over fifty years ago (Chinese Studies in 1965 and Japanese Studies in 1976), Asian Studies enables both in-depth and diversified knowledge about the inter-relatedness of political, cultural and economic factors shaping international relations in the East Asian region and, comparatively, across the globe.

We cover a broad area of expertise, from regional to comparative Asian studies, classical and contemporary, including:

  • ancient philosophy and religion
  • the comparative politics of Asia
  • classical and modern literature
  • East Asian media and films
  • imperialism
  • colonial rule and decolonisation
  • political and economic transformation

We are a multi-disciplinary unit, where disciplinary and inter-disciplinary research are equally welcome and encouraged.

Asian Studies has close links with the Scottish Centre for Chinese Studies, and the Confucius Institute.

Our internationally respected academic staff, excellent facilities and academic, professional and cultural links with the East Asian community and East Asian organisations reinforce the world-leading nature of our research, and the prestige of our postgraduate opportunities.

Covering a wide spectrum of interests, it also allows for joint supervision, should your research goals be interdisciplinary.

This PhD programme combines work on your individual thesis project with systematic training in research skills.

1st Year PhD students may be required to audit courses in substantive and/or methodologies selected from the MSc by Research programme under the direction of your supervisor.

Satisfactory performance in coursework and an end-of-year panel is required for you to progress further in the programme.

In the 2nd and 3rd year of the programme, your progress is subject to satisfactory performance in the annual review with the department’s postgraduate research committee.

You will follow a programme of research training in your 1st year, drawn from the MSc by Research courses offered by the Department of Asian Studies. This is combined with individual supervised research.

See also the PhD Road Map:


Throughout your studies, you will have the opportunity to liaise closely with a variety of East Asian public and private institutions and organisations, such as the:

  • Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Edinburgh
  • Consulate General of Japan in Edinburgh
  • Confucius Institute
  • Embassy of the Republic of Korea to the UK
  • Japan Society and the Japan Foundation
  • Korea Foundation and the Academy of Korean Studies
  • Korean Cultural Centre

Each of these can offer a variety of events and resources.

Seminars and resources

Interdisciplinary seminars will widen your perspectives and introduce you to fellow students in related areas of research.

You will enjoy comprehensive library resources and exceptional computer facilities, including Chinese word processing.

Confucius Institute for Scotland

We encourage engagement with East Asian culture during your research.

The Confucius Institute for Scotland – a national centre promoting ties between Scotland and China, based at the University of Edinburgh – offers flexible language programmes as well as courses on many aspects of contemporary China, lectures by distinguished visiting speakers, cultural events and space for leisure and social contacts with the Chinese community.

As a postgraduate student, you will be part of one of our Asia-focused research, with strong links to researchers at other Scottish institutions that provide a wealth of networking and collaboration opportunities.

Development opportunities

The Institute for Academic Development (IAD) can also help you develop a range of broad transferable professional skills. For doctoral research students, the IAD offers support to plan, manage, communicate and write about your research. They provide workshops, resources and online information.

LLC also offers a professional development programme which provides you with training in professional skills for PhD researchers.

This is core training for all first-year PhD students in LLC, and students in later years of the PhD. The training includes topics such as:

  • presenting at conferences
  • publishing academic articles
  • blogging and social media
  • developing a teaching portfolio
  • job applications and interviews

University facilities

As well as the comprehensive collections of the University, we can offer you a specialised collection of journals and reference works.

The University Library contains an open-access collection of books and journals in modern and classical Chinese inter-shelved with Western-language works on China, Japan, and Korea. It has also recently invested extensively in electronic databases and other online resources on China.

The School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures (LLC) Resource Centre, on the first floor of 50 George Square, has a growing collection of books in Chinese, Japanese, and English and Chinese, Japanese, Korean Language film videos.

Word-processing facilities including CJK are available in the Chinese section and in the 24-hour College microlab.

The University library has recently acquired access to Korean languages databases KISS, DPIA and other Korean-language journals and newspapers.

City facilities

The nearby Royal Scottish Museum has a fine collection of Chinese artefacts. The Chinese section holds a small reference library with a good collection of books and videos.

As a postgraduate student, you can access the National Library of Scotland and Edinburgh Central Library.

You will acquire an interdisciplinary understanding of the major issues in East Asian society, politics, culture, economy, international relations, and history and will be able to relate those to broader social, political and economic trends in the East Asian region and globally.

During the programme you will also be familiarised with opportunities about further job opportunities in the public and private sector, in the UK, East Asia and beyond.

You will gain the necessary knowledge and skills to analyse, compare and assess competing claims and make informed judgements about them.

You will additionally gain transferable skills, including:

  • analysis presentation
  • communication
  • the use of new technologies in a learning environment
  • team work

Such knowledge and skills will be valuable assets on the job market.

Having acquired the tools to analyse and understand East Asian relations in a global context, you could apply your skills in professional areas, such as:

  • diplomacy
  • national and international organisations
  • research institutions

If you choose to pursue a career in an alternative field, you will find the skills you gain in research, communication, presentation and analysis will give you an edge in the competitive employment marketplace.

A UK postgraduate taught degree or its international equivalent in an appropriate subject.

International qualifications

Check whether your international qualifications meet our general entry requirements:

English language requirements

You must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies, regardless of your nationality or country of residence.

English language tests

For 2021 entry we will accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS: total 7.0 (at least 6.5 in each module)
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Special Home Edition): total 100 (at least 23 in each module). We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • CAE and CPE: total 185 (at least 176 in each module)
  • Trinity ISE: ISE III with a pass in all four components

Your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the programme you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, TOEFL or Trinity ISE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

Degrees taught and assessed in English

We also accept an undergraduate or postgraduate degree that has been taught and assessed in English in a majority English speaking country, as defined by UK Visas and Immigration:

We also accept a degree that has been taught and assessed in English from a university on our list of approved universities in non-majority English speaking countries.

If you are not a national of a majority English speaking country, then your degree must be no more than three and a half years old at the beginning of your programme of study.

Find out more about our language requirements:

AwardTitleDurationStudy mode
PhD3 YearsFull-timeTuition fees
PhD6 YearsPart-timeTuition fees

Featured funding

There are a number of scholarship schemes available to eligible candidates on this PhD programme, including awards from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the Sasakawa Japanese Studies Postgraduate Studentship Programme (for students whose research focus in on Japan).

Please be advised that many scholarships have more than one application stage, and early deadlines.

*(Revised 27 November 2020 to update featured funding information.)

Other funding opportunities

Search for scholarships and funding opportunities:

  • School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures
  • 50 George Square
  • Central Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH8 9LH
Programme start date Application deadline
10 January 2022 31 October 2021

If you are also applying for funding or will require a visa then we strongly recommend you apply as early as possible.

*(Revised 11 November to remove contradictory deadline information.)

You must submit two references with your application.

The online application process involves the completion of a web form and the submission of supporting documents.

For a PhD programme, you should include:

  • a sample of written work of about 3,000 words (this can be a previous piece of work from an undergraduate or masters degree)
  • a research proposal - a detailed description of what you hope to achieve and how

You will also need to supply two references.

Before you apply, you should also look at the interests and expertise of our research community on the programme website. This will help you decide if this programme is right for you and your supervision needs.

Find out more about the general application process for postgraduate programmes:

Further information

  • School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures
  • 50 George Square
  • Central Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH8 9LH