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The CAPS Major

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CAPS majors are required to complete four years of college-level Chinese language courses and aim to achieve high-advanced Chinese proficiency upon graduation. The CAPS major gives students experience both on and off campus, including three years in Ithaca, one optional semester in Washington, D.C, and one required semester in Beijing.

In Ithaca, CAPS majors study China’s history, politics, economy, society, and foreign relations (especially with the United States), and they take Chinese language courses in the regular curriculum.

In Washington, D.C., CAPS majors are in residence at Cornell in Washington (whose building near Dupont Circle belongs to Cornell). Their core courses are a seminar on U.S.-China relations and a seminar on American public policy (or, alternately, a seminar on the American experience). In the U.S.-China seminar, students meet with key figures and discuss issues of diplomacy, business, law, journalism, education, and other fields. CIW is not required for the CAPS major, but is highly recommended.

In Beijing, CAPS majors live on the campus of China’s preeminent institution of higher learning, Peking University, and take two CAPS seminars: 4001 with an English-speaking visiting U.S. professor; and CAPS 4002, a course taught partly in Chinese and partly in English by a Peking University professor. 

In both Washington, D.C., and Beijing, CAPS majors hold China-related internships in government agencies, embassies, newspapers, television networks, businesses, law firms, NGOs, and other organizations. 

Back in Ithaca for their final semester, CAPS majors bring their studies to a culmination in a senior seminar (CAPS 4030), and, ideally, with an honors thesis (CAPS 4010 and 4020). 

Course Requirements

There are no prerequisites to the major. Upon enrollment in the program, CAPS majors must complete SIX or SEVEN required CAPS courses and TWO elective CAPS courses (totaling 34 to 36 credits) with a grade average of C or better.

One CAPS gateway course. CAPS majors must take any one of the following courses (taught in Ithaca), normally during the first two years.

  • CAPS 3049 China's Next Economy (also GOVT 3044);
  • CAPS 3403 China under Revolution and Reform (also GOVT 3403)
  • CAPS 3827 China and the World (also GOVT 3827)
  • CAPS 3907 Crises in Asia (also GOVT 3907. Not offered 2017-18)

Five other required courses. CAPS majors must complete all the following required courses:

  • CAPS 3000 Seminar in American Relations with China (taught at Cornell in Washington);
  • CAPS 4998 Politics and Policy: Theory, Research, and Practice (also GOVT 4998), or alternately, CAPS 4997 Research Seminar in American Studies (also AMST 4997) (taught at Cornell in Washington);
  • CAPS 4001 China in Transition (taught at Peking University);
  • CAPS 4002 Chinese Perspectives on International and Global Affairs (taught at Peking University);
  • CAPS 4030 Issues in China and Asia-Pacific Studies (offered during the spring semester of the senior year in Ithaca).

For students opting out of the D.C. semester, they will be required to take the following courses offered in Ithaca as a replacement:

  • Two 4000-level seminars (in any department or college) that has a China focus (subject to approval by the CAPS Assistant Director) (Ithaca)
  • CAPS 3502 Becoming a China Hand (Ithaca)

Two CAPS elective courses. CAPS majors may choose any two of the following courses to fulfill the CAPS elective requirement:

  • CAPS 1622 The World in Modern Japan (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 1670 Understanding Modern China (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 1740 Imperial China (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 1910 Introduction to Modern Asian History (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 2209 Daoist Traditions (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 2210 Pop Culture in China (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 2212 Introduction to China (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 2262 Medicine & Healing in China (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 2264 Contemporary Chinese Popular Culture (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 2267 Women & Society in China (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 2271 China's Literary Heritage (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 2281 Antiquity and Modernity in Contemporary China (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 2840 Capitalism in China (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 2985 Transformations in 20th Century China
  • CAPS 3140 U.S. in the World (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 3303 Modern Chinese Literature in Translation (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 3307 Readings in Classical Chinese Literature (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 3325 Tales of Crime and Justice from Pre-Modern China (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 3329 Literature of Leaving China (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 3337 Love Stories of Early Modern China  (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 3340 Contested Legacies of China's Past (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 3370 Nature Imagined and Experienced: Ancient Chinese Travel Literature (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 3380 China's Economy Under Mao & Deng (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 3434 Chinese Empire and the Cambodian Experience (crosslisted) 
  • CAPS 3502 Becoming a China Hand (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 3967 What is China? (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 4071 Law Culture and Society in China (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 4127 The Body Politic in Asia (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 4241 Religion and the State in Chinese History (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 4355 Work and Labor in China (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 4406 Readings in Chinese History and Business Culture (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 4414 Politics, Violence and the Study of Cambodia (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 4420 Tang Poetry: Themes and Contexts (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 4650 Reading and Viewing Modern China (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 4827 China, Tibet, and Xinjiang (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 4870 China and Asian Security (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 4931 Vitality and Power in China (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 4963 China's Early Modern (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 4997 Research Seminar in American Studies (crosslisted)
  • CAPS 4999 CAPS Independent Study

Students may choose other CAPS-related courses to fulfill the CAPS elective requirement upon permission of the program director. Taking additional CAPS gateway courses counts toward fulfillment of the CAPS elective requirement. 

Chinese Language Requirements

CAPS majors are required to complete four years of college-level Chinese language courses (CHIN 1000 level through 4000 level) and acquire the high-advanced (CHIN 4400 level) Chinese proficiency or higher upon graduation. They are expected to maintain a minimum grade of B+ in their Chinese language courses; failure to maintain this expectation may result in dismissal from the major. 

Native speakers holding regular high school diplomas from Chinese mainland or Taiwan (i.e., not international) schools may be exempted from the CAPS Chinese language requirement, per the discretion of Cornell's Chinese language faculty and the approval of the CAPS director. Alternatively, students may be exempted through placement testing, at the discretion of Cornell Chinese language faculty and the approval of the CAPS director.

Click here to see the explanations about the CAPS Chinese language course sequencing in detail.



Click here for more information on the CAPS internship requirements.

Application Procedures

Any Cornell College of Arts and Sciences student wishing to become a CAPS major must officially apply to the program. Entrance is limited to twenty students per class-year. So students are encouraged to sign into the major early upon their admission to the College of Arts and Sciences. Students who are interested in the CAPS major should

  • Consult with the CAPS Program Manager, Professor Xu Xin. He can be reached at 607-255-4741 or by email at
  • Fill out the Major application package, which is available to download here, or from the CAPS Office at 105A Morrill Hall.
  • Obtain an official transcript from the University Registrar’s office.
  • Return the application package, together with the official transcript, to Professor Xu Xin or Tracey Sherwood in 105A Morrill Hall.
  • Declare the major at any time—even before completing any CAPS course—yet preferably no later than February of sophomore year in order to be admitted to the optional Cornell in Washington semester the fall of junior year; when more than 20 students are likely to declare the major, a selection committee will screen the applications, and only 20 will be admitted to the major.


Honors in CAPS are awarded for excellence in the major. Honors candidates must complete CAPS 4010 and CAPS 4020 (in the senior year), and write an honors thesis. (CAPS 4010 and CAPS 4020 may be used to fulfill the requirement for one CAPS elective course.)

Prerequisites and Application

Honors applicants must maintain an overall average of B+ (3.3) and an average of A­ (3.7) in courses pertinent to the major.  Applicants, in consultation with the CAPS Director, must select an honors thesis advisor from the CAPS faculty and discuss with that faculty member plans for the honors thesis. Applicants must then submit an application form (available as a download below, or in the CAPS office), to the CAPS office in 105A Morrill Hall. The application must include a) a description of the proposed research project for the honors thesis, and b) the endorsement from the applicant’s thesis advisor stating that she or he will advise the applicant’s honors thesis. 

Click here to download the Honors Application.

Honors Committee

The Honors Committee consists of a thesis advisor and one other member of the CAPS faculty (selected by the candidate in consultation with the thesis advisor). The Honors Committee must be organized and then reported to the CAPS Director before the honors candidate’s semester in China (fall of the senior year).

The application must be successfully submitted, and the Honors Committee formed, by the end of the applicant’s junior year in order for the student to be an honors candidate.

Honors Thesis Coursework

During the senior year, each honors candidate will enroll in the year-long tutorial (CAPS 4010 and CAPS 4020) with her or his thesis advisor. 

During the first semester (CAPS 4010 Honors Thesis Research), the candidate is expected to finalize the focus of her or his honors thesis, conduct required research and reading, and submit work to the thesis advisor to gauge satisfactory progress. The work submitted in consultation with the thesis advisor may include: draft portions of the thesis (perhaps a first chapter or an introduction), an extended thesis outline, a relevant course paper, or other approved work. All of the work is graded. If the advisor does not judge the honors thesis to be viable at this point, the candidate will not be allowed to enroll in CAPS 4020 Honors Thesis Writing. Continuation of the honors program into CAPS 4020 is not automatic.


The text of the honors thesis may not exceed 60 pages, except by permission of the Honors Committee. Three copies of the honors thesis are due in the CAPS Office (105A Morrill Hall) by the conclusion of the business day on the Friday of the thirteenth week of classes in the spring semester (usually mid-April) or the candidate's final semester. Two copies are for the Honors Committee, and one copy is for the CAPS Director (and subsequently retained on file by the Program). 

Defense and Honors Award

An oral defense conducted by the Honors Committee is required for honors in CAPS. The defense must take place by early May (usually exam week of the final semester), or sooner. The thesis advisor assigns a grade for the honors work and submits both the grade and the Honor Committee’s written decision concerning the level of honors to the CAPS Director. In the unlikely case that the Committee cannot come to a decision on a candidate’s work, the CAPS Director may seek to review the honors recommendation with the CAPS Advisory Committee.

The final level of honors awarded to a candidate is determined by the CAPS Director on the basis of the evaluation made by the Honors Committee and the student’s grade record in the major. If the candidate’s GPA as a senior falls below honors requirements, the CAPS Director may seek a review of the honors level.

Students are awarded one of four designations: (1) no honors, (2) honors (cum laude), (3) high honors (magna cum laude), and (4) highest honors (summa cum laude).