Popular Culture and Social Change

Beijing’s place at the forefront of Chinese popular culture and social change has deeply influenced new generations of Chinese and profoundly shaped their views of the world. Our Popular Culture and Social Change program offers students insider access to the currents driving contemporary Chinese society. Building upon a multi-disciplinary foundation spanning the arts, media, and political culture, students also have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience by enrolling in an internship or exploring their own research interests through the capstone project.  

Program Terms Fall Semester, Spring Semester
Credit Hours 15
Subjects Offered Chinese, Film, International Affairs, Music, Sociology
Language Pre-Requisites None
Field Components Capstone Research, Internships
Housing Dormitory
Excursions Week-Long Field Study Trip
Application Deadlines April 15 (Fall), November 1 (Spring)

All students are encouraged to consider studying abroad for an academic year in China, whether continuing in their current program to deepen their knowledge of Beijing, or at a different Alliance program center to broaden their understanding of China’s regional diversity.

The Popular Culture and Social Change program invites you to examine the currents driving contemporary Chinese society through the lens of popular and political culture. The 15-credit semester is comprised of a required core course and Chinese language plus two electives.

Required Courses

SOCI260 Contemporary Culture and Social Change in China (3 credits)

This course examines the transformation in Chinese society since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, with emphasis on the changes brought about in the wake of the economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s. Topics include the developments in urban and rural social transformation introduced by the reforms, the changing relationship between the individual and society, the urban and rural divide, and population control and the one child policy. Students explore the social consequences of China's rapid integration into the global economy. All students complete a capstone research project as part of this course.

Chinese Language (6 credits)

No prior language study is required. A placement exam during on-site orientation determines each student's appropriate language level.

CHIN 100 Beginning Chinese I 
CHIN 101 Beginning Chinese II 
CHIN 200 Intermediate Chinese I 
CHIN 201 Intermediate Chinese II 
CHIN 300 Advanced Chinese I 
CHIN 301 Advanced Chinese II 
CHIN 400 Advanced Chinese III 
CHIN 401 Advanced Chinese IV 
CHIN 600 Advanced Readings in Chinese

Elective Courses

All area studies courses are taught in English. Not all electives may be offered in a given semester depending on enrollment and faculty availability.

FILM 360 Contemporary China through Film (3 credits)

This course will examine contemporary China through study of the themes in Chinese cinema from the May Fourth and Republican era (1911-1949), the Maoist era (1949-1978) and the Reform era (1979-present), including films by 5th and 6th Generation Chinese directors. Students explore the artistic merits of these films and will consider Chinese representations of the themes of cultural, social, and political change.

IAFF 370 Continuity and Change in Chinese Foreign Policy (3 credits)

This class provides an overview of Chinese foreign policy from 1949 through 2008. The first six weeks of class present historical and cultural background from 1949-2002. The remaining portion of the semester is devoted to exploring China's foreign policy during the Hu Jintao administration (2003-present), providing an overview of foreign policy structures, principles, general practices, and characteristics of China's current interstate relationships.

INTS 380 Internship (3 credits) 

Students must have completed three semesters of Chinese language for this course.

Interns are placed in Chinese, joint-venture, or foreign-owned companies; research institutes; non-governmental organizations; or media and art studios. Placements are highly competitive, and other foreign languages and professional skills assist in the placement process as well. Interns spend approximately 10 hours per week at the internship site and complete a final academic paper with an accompanying oral presentation. Internships are supervised by a faculty advisor who meets with students at least twice individually and at least three times as a group.

MUSC 365 The Sounds of the Chinese City and the Location of Music (3 credits)

China is urbanizing rapidly, and its cities are shifting from production to services. Factories and heritage buildings are demolished to make room for retail and entertainment industries. Throughout China, music festivals promote real estate projects in the urban periphery. Despite this complicity with the top-down forces of state power and globalized capital, Chinese popular music also gives voice to experiences of migration, exploitation and alienation. This is where music is located. Not in instruments, scores, music venues or smart phones per se, but in social interactions that define specific times and places. By considering all these sounds and places, this course explores what it means to live in a Chinese city.

A distinctive component of the Alliance's programs in China is the capstone research project embedded in the required core course. Students are challenged to engage with Chinese people and deepen their own understanding of one aspect of Chinese policy, society, culture, or business practice through their research. While utilizing academic research and articles as a foundation, students are encouraged to use local resources, such as interviews, participant observation and surveys, to craft their final paper and presentation. Graded project work includes a project abstract with a problem statement and research methodology outline, a PowerPoint presentation, and a final paper.

Featured Capstone

Kristen Prevost (Kenyon College)

Teaming up with Alliance professor, Jeroen Groenewegen, Kirsten analyzed the origins and development of modern-day rock music festivals in Beijing researching the role that social and political factors may have played. 

“The objective of my research is to ultimately explain a particular method through which such a notoriously controversial and seemingly chaotic genre of music was able to enter the mainstream music scene in Beijing. This question interests me due to the prevalence of two perceived notions of Chinese culture in particular: That Chinese state governments are quick to suppress large public displays of creative expression, and the notion that Chinese people in general may be too reserved or cautious to find such themes appealing. If these western perceptions of Chinese culture were true, why would these festivals, and fandom for the genre, exist? Could they be in some parts true? If so, in what ways did this challenge the rise of rock music performance?”

Examples of Student Capstones

  • Attitudes Toward Gay and Lesbian Life in China
  • Birth Control Policy and Women's Social Status in China
  • Chinese Contemporary Arts - 798 Art District
  • The Education of Migrant Workers' Children in Urban Areas
  • Intellectual Property Rights and Entrepreneurs in China
  • Street Vendors: Another Side of Chinese Culture
  • Rising Nation, Falling Hearts: Heart Disease in China
  • The Popularity of Wuxia films among Chinese Youth
  • How American Media Affect Intercultural Communication in China
  • The Increase of Cosmetic Surgery in China
  • The Chinese Beauty Standard
  • Video Games Consumption Habits amongst Chinese College-aged Youth in Beijing
  • Tracking anti-Japanese sentiment in China: Reasoning and perceptions
  • Cultural and Language Barriers African Students Experience While Studying at BLCU
  • Impact of South Korean soap operas on Chinese pop culture

For more Capstone project ideas from Alliance students in all our China programs, click here. To read more abstracts of Alliance students' capstones, click here.

In Beijing, students have the opportunity to participate in a 10-12 hour per week, 3-credit internship at sites that may include Chinese and foreign businesses, NGOs, and government organizations. Students must have completed at least three semesters of college-level Chinese language, and will be expected to complete the academic requirements of their internship to receive credit. For more information, see the Beijing Internship Handbook. 

The Alliance makes every effort to place student interns at companies or organizations that match the organization’s needs with what each student brings to the table - including but not limited to the student’s Chinese language level and communication skills, prior experience, and work competencies. Students should not contact organizations themselves. The placement process begins with the submission of the Field Component Form during the program application process, and placements are typically finalized after an in-person interview in China. 

Featured Internship Placement

Christie Civetta (Northeastern University)

"My internship was with Black Sesame Kitchen, a small, privately run restaurant that caters towards expats and foreigners. The goal of BSK is to bring traditional Chinese cuisine to those who do not normally have the opportunity to experience it. The most surprising part of my internship experience was how easy it was to assimilate to the BSK family and way of working. I actively looked forward to spending my weekends with them cooking, laughing and working. In addition, my Chinese improved immensely! Adapting to a new work environment, especially not in your native country, can be difficult. But at BSK, they welcomed me with open arms. Communication was tough at times, but they did their best to help me out – it was like being accepted into a mini family. Working at BSK was probably one of the highlights of being in China. From customs to everyday life, I was able to experience it and not just hear about it. I have learned so much from my experience there – not just about the Chinese culinary world."

Sample of Past Beijing Internships

Although the Alliance makes every effort to accommodate student preferences during the placement process, applicants are also encouraged to be flexible. Certain fields and industry sectors may limit the types of work available to undergraduate interns. The internship field in China’s large cities is highly competitive and the number of available placements is limited.

  • Pickatale, an international publisher based in Beijing that creates interactive children's books across multiple platforms and languages
  • International Committee of the Red Cross, an independent organization ensuring humanitarian assistance for victims of war and other situations of violence
  • Huiling Community Services, a charitable organization helping mentally challenged individuals and orphans learn basic life skills
  • Modern Sky, a music company that organizes rock and electronic music festivals and performances
  • EventBank, an IT service company offering an integrated event-to-revenue software platform for marketing decision makers in organizations of all sizes
  • Peking University International Economic Law Institute, a research think-tank servicing multinational corporations and organizations
  • Atlas-China, a human resources and staffing company focused on placing bilingual foreigners in companies in China
  • CTB/McGraw-Hill, a leading publisher of standardized and standards-based achievement tests for primary, secondary and higher education
  • Geometry Global, a brand new activation agency specializing in deep data and the consumer decision-making process

Language classes taught by full-time language faculty selected and trained by the Alliance. Area studies courses are taught by faculty from various universities in Beijing.

Dr. David Groth 
SOCI 260 Popular Culture and Social Change in China

Dr. CHENG Xiaohe 
IAFF 370 Continuity and Change in Chinese Foreign Policy

Dr. Jeroen Groenewegen-Lau 
INTS 380 Internship
MUSC365 The Sounds of the Chinese City and the Location of Music

Prof. TENG Jimeng 
FILM 360 Contemporary China Through Film

A study abroad experience is first and foremost an academic experience. All Alliance for Global Education courses have undergone a faculty review and approval process, and are transcripted by Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. While in most cases students who have received approval from their home institution to study on an Alliance program can be assured of credits transferring, it is each student’s responsibility to work with the home school study abroad advisor and faculty or academic departments to ensure credit transfer for specific courses.  

Credits and Accreditation

Credits granted for Alliance courses are identified in course listings on the Curriculum page for each program, and appear on the official transcript issued at the completion of a student's term. Credit is issued in U.S. semester hours, ensuring that students continue to make progress toward their degrees and verifying the full-time course load they completed while abroad.

All Alliance courses have been reviewed and approved by Butler University’s Undergraduate Academic Programs Committee. Butler University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Programs approved by the Butler University College of Business—which include the Alliance’s International Business in China Program—are accredited by AACSB International, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.


Students receive a letter grade on a scale from A to F for every course taken while enrolled on an Alliance program. Withdrawals may be granted due to exceptional circumstances. Although policies at students' home institutions may differ, the Alliance does not permit students to take courses on a credit/no credit or pass/fail basis. Student grades are determined by criteria set forth in course syllabi. The grading scale used in determining letter grades is as follows:

Excellent      A 93-100% Acceptable C+ 77-79%
A- 90-92% C 73-76%
C- 70-72%
Good    B+ 87-89% Unsatisfactory D+ 67-69%
B 83-86% D 63-66%
B- 80-82% D- 60-62%
Failing F < 60%


At the conclusion of a program, an official transcript is sent to the participant's home school, with an unofficial copy forwarded to the participant. Please use this form if Alliance has accepted you into a program and you have changed your home, school, or billing address. Federal regulations require official documentation and a signature for address changes.

Because timelines for final evaluation may vary due to respective program calendars or administrative structures of partner universities abroad, transcripts may take longer to issue than they do at U.S. institutions. While the timeline varies by program, a general timeline for issuing transcripts is:

  • Fall programs - transcript issued in late February
  • Spring and Summer programs - transcript issued in late September

Transcripts are not released for students with an outstanding balance of program fees or other charge incurred while on the program. Students enrolling in consecutive terms with the Alliance do not receive their first term transcript until their second term fees are paid in full.

Students in Alliance programs from Summer 2014 and beyond can request additional transcripts of their transcripts online at any time from Butler University's online transcript ordering service provided by the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization serving the higher education community. 

For all Alliance programs through Spring 2014, transcripts were issued by Arcadia University. Students enrolled during that time can request additional copies of transcripts online or in writing from the Arcadia University Registrar's Office.

If you have a question about the transcripting process or timeline, please contact your Academic Records Coordinator.

Academic Record Appeal

The Institute for Study Abroad, Butler University (IFSA-Butler) can assist you with your academic record appeal for any IFSA-Butler or Alliance program by contacting the host institution you attended and/or program instructor as well as our staff abroad for further information.

Academic record appeals can be varied in nature, including grade appeals, credit appeals, courses missing from the transcript, course title, etc.

Students may appeal the content of their academic records according to the official procedures set by the host university and/or program. All appeals must be submitted to IFSA-Butler promptly after receipt of the Butler University transcript via our online Academic Record Appeal Form. IFSA-Butler allows students one year from the program end date to submit appeals, however it is the student’s responsibility to be aware of and meet the deadlines set by the host university and/or program attended. The earliest deadline takes precedence.

No appeals will be undertaken for those students who have taken early examinations, have arranged to submit any course work outside the scheduled dates, have a financial hold on their account or have been accused of academic dishonesty for the course in question.

The appeals process may be lengthy due to differences between universities abroad and the U.S. academic systems and calendars. Therefore, you should expect that an appeal may take three weeks to three months to resolve.

What constitutes a valid academic record appeal?
You must have reason to believe that an error has been made in calculating your grades or credits (i.e. submitted work was not received; an error may have been made in marking your final exam, etc.) or that you were exempt from a portion of the coursework due to a documented medical or personal emergency.

The following arguments, on their own, are insufficient reason for an appeal:

  • “My home university requires a higher grade for transfer of credit.”
  • “I feel I deserve a better grade.”
  • “I was over my head in this class.”
  • “I worked hard and spent a lot of time, effort and money on this class.”

Complete the IFSA-Butler Academic Record Appeal form, clearly describing the nature of your academic record appeal. Upload any supporting documentation. You must be polite, specific, and when appropriate, substantiate your well-written logical appeal by providing relevant documentation. Upon receiving a response from your host institution and/or program instructor, your academic records coordinator will notify you of the results as soon as they are available.

All decisions made by the host university and/or program instructor are final. An academic record appeal may result in a higher or lower grade. IFSA-Butler reserves the right to withhold the submission of those appeals that do not meet the above criteria and to issue a final decision.

Click here for the academic record appeal form.

Academic Calendar

  • Spring 2017 term: February 8  June 3
  • Fall 2016 term: August 24 – December 17

The program generally runs from late August to mid-December in the fall semester and mid-February to early June in the spring semester. The Alliance orientation is mandatory. You should make your travel plans accordingly. More details can be found in the Accepted Students: Travel Arrangements section.

Given the program’s busy academic schedule, weekly local activities and excursions, and field study trips, the Alliance strongly discourages students from hosting visitors until the end of the semester. Please encourage family and/or friends to visit after the program has ended.

2017 Spring Beijing Program Calendar

  • Suggested flight departure: February 7
  • Arrival in Beijing: February 8
  • Orientation: February 9-11
  • Classes begin: February 13
  • Field Study Trip*: April 1-8
  • Independent Travel*: April 29 – May 6
  • Final exams: May 29 June 2
  • Program ends (students must depart by 12:00pm): June 3

* Organized trip dates are subject to change at any time.

2016 Fall Beijing Program Calendar

  • Suggested flight departure: August 23
  • Arrival in Beijing: August 24
  • Orientation: August 25-27
  • Classes begin: August 29
  • Independent Travel*: TBD
  • Field Study Trip*: TBD
  • Final exams: December 12-16
  • Program ends (students must depart by 12:00pm): December 17

* Organized trip dates are subject to change at any time.

Students are housed in the International Student Dorm #17 in double rooms with other Alliance students. Rooms include: two single beds, two desks, two chairs, small book shelves, cabinets, desk lamps, TV, and air-conditioning, and a private bathroom. They are also wired for high-speed internet. Bed linens, including blankets and pillows, are provided by the dorm and cleaned once a week. Towels are not provided. Each floor is equipped with washing machines. Students can purchase tokens for the machines at the front desk of the dorm. Tokens cost approximately 4 RMB for the washing machine and 8 RMB for the dryer. There is also a kitchen with a stove and microwave on each floor. Students are able to borrow some basic cooking equipment from the Alliance.

Each student in Beijing is paired with a Chinese graduate student whose major is teaching Chinese as a foreign language. Alliance students and language partners meet one-on-one for Chinese tutoring three times a week for an hour per session. However, students and their language partners often meet more regularly than the minimum requirement to explore Beijing together. Language partners provide Alliance students with additional opportunities practice their Chinese in an informal setting, pick up popular Mandarin slang, and deepen their cultural understanding. In addition to tutoring, language partners help orient Alliance students to campus life. A consistently popular component of the Beijing program, language partners serve as valuable linguistic and cultural resources throughout the term.

Meals are not included in the Alliance program fee. Students can choose to eat at the small restaurants on or nearby campus or eat in the dining halls, using meal debit cards. Students should budget around $10 per day for meals.

Vegetarians will find that good food is available in China. Most restaurants serve lots of vegetables, tofu dishes, and staples such as rice, noodles, or dumplings. Note that some restaurants may use animal fat in preparing dishes.

The Alliance arranges extra-curricular classes which may include Chinese painting, calligraphy, cooking, taiji or other martial arts, pottery, seal carving, or paper cutting. These classes offer a wonderful opportunity to learn more about traditional Chinese culture.

Throughout the term, students are invited to take part in a full schedule of excursions, events and lectures - all designed to enhance their understanding of China and the historical and modern influences that impact its culture and people. Students explore the great historical and cultural monuments of the capital and benefit from visits to Beijing's art districts, lectures on China's environmental protection policies, or workshops on Chinese food culture. Below is a sampling of activities from previous terms. Specific activities for future terms are subject to change.

Forbidden City and Tian'anmen Square Tour

Students visit the Forbidden City and Tian'anmen Square, typically during their orientation. The tour is followed by Wang Fujing shopping street tour and Chinese acrobat show.

Houhai Lake Hutong Tour

This tour includes some of the oldest residential neighborhoods in Beijing, with beautiful traditional Chinese courtyard houses. Previous students visited a local artist's house and paper cutting gallery. They also enjoyed lunch with a family in one of the courtyards and learned to make dumplings.

Hiking the Great Wall of China

For the hiking expedition, students travel to Hebei province to hike an 11 kilometer stretch of one the best-preserved original sections of the wall.

Chinese Ethnic Minority Park

Students and their sociology professor visit the Chinese Ethnic Minority Park for an introduction to the 56 official minority groups in China via their unique dress, cuisine, music, and dance.

American Chamber of Commerce

Four "AmCham" staff members met with Alliance students to talk about US-China relations, trade policies, and cooperation between the American Chamber of Commerce and the US and Chinese governments. They also introduced their personal study abroad/work abroad experience and offered suggestions for professional development in a China focused career.

Lectures and Film Screenings with Local Artists

Past Beijing students had the opportunity to learn firsthand from local writers, filmmakers, musicians, and/or calligraphers about Chinese art forms.

Ming Dynasty Tombs

During this activity, students visit the resting place of 13 Chinese emperors. The tombs are located approximately 30 miles north of downtown Beijing at the tranquil foot of the Jundu Mountains.

A Guided Tour through Chinese Popular Music

Film students enjoyed a guest lecture from Professor Jeroen Groenewegen on the evolution of popular music from the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party through the present time. He shared a fantastic selection of video clips highlighting each genre, including official Chinese propaganda music, Miao ethnicity folk music, and performance in mainland Chinese talent shows.

Program Fees

Total Tuition Housing
Fall 2016 Program $14,650 $12,700 $1,950
Spring 2016 Program   $ 14,650

What's Included

The program price includes tuition and fees, housing, pre-departure materials and advising, student visa authorization documents, orientation, organized activities, field study trips, course materials and basic stationary supplies, phone and internet set-up assistance, the services of a full-time resident staff, and medical/evacuation insurance.

what's not included

The program price does not include airfare to China, the cost of your student visa, meals, transportation, phone and internet, deposits required for local services, independent travel, and other items not mentioned as included.

out of pocket expenses

When making your budget, think about your spending habits – are you a “Just the Essentials” Traveler, happy to eat all meals at the campus canteen and exploring the city on foot? Or are you more of the “Everything Extra” Traveler, who wants to experience everything – nights out at the clubs, shopping at boutiques, and traveling every weekend?

Estimated Out of Pocket Expenses for One Semester

Roundtrip airfare to China $ 1,300-1,800
Visa processing and shipping $ 260
Meals $ 1,000-1,200
Local transportation (varies by distance) $ 700-1,000
Phone usage (varies with data plan) $ 80
Internet usage $ 80
Incidentals and personal care items $ 50
Independent travel week $ 300-500
Entertainment $ 100-500
Weekend travel $ 100-500
Estimated Total $ 3,970-5,970

*Estimated in-country expenses based on 1.00 US Dollar = 6.36 Yuan Renminbi


Remember to check in with your home university and visit our Finances pages to learn more about financial aid and study abroad scholarships.

Our program center at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) is your home away from home, nestled in the vibrant international neighborhood of Wudaokou. Meet our on-site staff members!


Wudaokou (五道口) is located in the Haidian District (海淀区) of North West Beijing. Wudaokou is close to a number of universities and research institutes and is home to a growing student population. Minutes from campus, students will find themselves surrounded by a large shopping mall, movie theater, grocery stores, and many restaurants serving Japanese, Korean, Mexican and American cuisines in addition to a wide variety of Chinese cuisines. Students also have easy access to coffee shops and book stores along with other cultural resources and the rich academic ambience in the immediate vicinity of BLCU and the Haidian District at large. The Wudaokou subway stop, located on line 13, makes exploring the entire city extremely convenient. Even the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube of the 2008 Olympic Games are just a short bus ride away. BLCU’s exciting central location is a perfect place for international students in Beijing.

Beijing Language and Culture University

Founded in 1962, the Beijing Language and Culture University (北京语言大学) is considered to be one of the nation’s premier institutions for the teaching of Chinese language and culture to foreigners. The majority of Chinese Language textbooks are written at BLCU by BLCU professors. These books are used in Chinese classrooms across the United States and throughout the world. BLCU confers degrees at the bachelor, master, and doctoral levels and is comprised of 11 faculties and research institutes. The university hosts 14,000 foreign and Chinese students. It is located in the Haidian district, which is home to the majority of Beijing’s universities.

Check out this interactive map to locate the Alliance's resources across Beijing:

View Alliance On Location: Beijing in a larger map.

The Alliance organizes a one-week field study trip for students during the fall and spring semesters and a five-day field study trip during the summer term. Destinations may vary but usually include Yunnan or Qinghai province. Through exposure to China’s social, economic, and geographic diversity, as well as regional and ethnic inflections to the Chinese language that has been a focus of their studies, students gain a richly textured sense of the many realities that exist within China.

Yunnan Province

Yunnan province in southwestern China offers China's most diverse ethnic minority population, stunning scenery, and a rich history. Students gain deep insight into Yunnan's local culture and artistic heritage. They have the opportunity to experience urban life in Kunming, visit small Yi and Miao minority villages, and hike in the gorgeous, mountainous areas of this province. Participants of the trip may also explore the great natural beauty of the Stone Forest, the rain forest of Xishuangbanna, or participate in an extensive encounter with the Bai minority culture in the ancient town of Dali.

Alliance alumna Richelle shared her Field Study Trip experience on her blog in a six-part series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

Qinghai Province

Located on the Tibetan Plateau, Qinghai is considered one of the most beautiful regions in China. Students may visit Ta'er Monastery, one of the six most famous Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world, travel to Qinghai Lake, the largest salt water lake in China and one of China’s best bird watching sites, or explore the ancient tombs of Liuwan. Students behold the breathtaking scenery, witness the contrast in development in the region versus the coast, and gain a deeper understanding of Qinghai’s minority nationalities.

Alliance alumna Rebecca shared her Field Study Trip experience on her blog in a two-part series: Part 1 and Part 2. You can also watch a past Qinghai trip video here.

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