China’s Latin American Studies Programs

˙ Asia & Latin America

The following map is a compilation of the major Latin American Studies and Spanish/Portuguese language programs in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. We are certain to have missed quite a few centers/programs – especially those focused exclusively on Spanish or Portuguese language instruction. If readers know of any programs we’ve missed, please let us know by sending an email to

China’s Latin American studies programs/centers/institutions and its Spanish/Portuguese language programs are very limited, even in comparison to Latin America’s China/Chinese programs, which are, by all accounts, inadequate. When comparing numbers of cross-regional area studies programs, Latin America comes out slightly ahead of China, perhaps reflecting the regions’ relative importance to one another. Latin American universities have quite a few Asia studies programs which began focusing more intensively on China over the past decade. The China-Latin America relationship expanded considerably following China’s accession to the WTO in 2001. China has since become a top trading partner for Brazil, Chile, and Peru, and a major trading partner for much of the rest of the region. Latin America accounts for a much smaller percentage of overall Chinese trade.

As is evident on the map, the majority of China’s area studies (see blue markers) and language programs (see red markers) are located in the country’s coastal provinces or large municipalities. Most also were established long before the past decade’s strengthening of ties. The CASS Institute of Latin America Studies was founded more than forty years ago. Beida’s and Nankai’s programs are also well-established. Exceptions include Sichuan Foreign Studies University, Zhejiang Foreign Studies University, and the Southwest University of Science and Technology. According to CASS, these three institutes recently established institutes of Latin American studies, albeit with a focus on language study.

China has several think tanks dedicated — at least in part — to the study of Latin America – CASS ILAS, CICIR, and SIIS, for example, conduct very good Chinese-language research on the region’s history, economy, politics, policies, and foreign relations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) China Institute of International Studies and the Ministry of Commerce-affiliated Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation also employ Latin America experts with impressive Spanish and Portuguese language skills. The MFA’s Latin America experts have studied at SAIS and other U.S. educational institutions. In total, however, there are only about fifty scholars/experts in China that focus specifically on Latin America. Many of them are listed here.

Latin American studies programs in China’s universities are still few and far between. When they exist, they usually reside within history departments. Nankai, Fudan, Peking, and Jianghan Universities all have centers for Latin America studies within their history departments. The content and quality of China’s Latin America-related programs is difficult to determine and varies considerably from program to program, ranging from after-school culture courses to graduate-level degree programs.

Spanish and Portuguese program enrollment evidently expanded in recent years in response to growing interest from Chinese firms engaged in business with Spanish-speaking or Lusophone countries. China’s state-owned enterprises and large firms increasingly are setting up their own Latin America desks, which they staff with Spanish and/or Portuguese speakers. Spanish speakers are also in high demand at China’s various think tanks and other government-affiliated research centers.

Not included on this map are Chinese institutions currently engaged in educational/technical cooperation with partner institutions in Latin America. There are many examples of institutional cooperation of this sort. Professor Da-Yung Wang of Taiwan’s MingDao University wrote me a few months ago to describe his university’s efforts to develop Chinese Studies, Organic Agriculture, Mining and Metallurgical Engineering, and Sustainable Energy degree programs at Peru’s USIL. According to Professor Wang, a joint MDU/USIL Research Center for Green Technology will be established to promote bilateral business opportunities. The government of Venezuela provides grants for Venezuelan students to study food security, petroleum science, chemistry, physics, biology, and nanotechnology at certain universities in mainland China. Much of the cooperation between educational institutions in China and Latin America remains focused on science, vocational, or technical education.