Chinese Studies

Founded in 1983 in honor of John Fisher Zeidman ’79, the Chinese Studies Program includes language, history, and culture curricula in all divisions of the school, as well as an alumni fellowship program, a student exchange program, student travel to China, and an annual lecture series.

Please email chinese-studies@sidwell.edu with questions about the Chinese Studies Program.

Zeidman Lecture

Experts on various dimensions of Chinese history, culture, and society come to campus each year to share their insights.

Exploring China

Students explore China through the classroom and co-curricular activities.

Students in all divisions at Sidwell Friends School explore China through the classroom and co-curricular activities, from exposure to Chinese language in the 4th grade’s China-centered curriculum, to Middle School language courses and social studies units, to advanced-level Chinese language and history courses in the Upper School.

Chinese Language

The Chinese language program at Sidwell Friends began in 1983. Currently, Chinese language is introduced in 4th grade as part of the social studies curriculum. In 5th grade, students may begin the sequential language program, which continues into Upper School and concludes with offerings such as AP Chinese V and the Chinese Capstone Seminar.

Chinese History

Sidwell Friends students in all divisions learn about Chinese civilization in their social studies and history curricula. Fourth graders study ancient Chinese history and culture and begin learning Chinese language, while Middle Schoolers complete major units on China and other areas of East Asia as part of the social studies curriculum. The Upper School History Department offers several courses on China and Asia. The History of East Asia, a sophomore course, looks at themes in East Asian politics, society, and culture from early civilizations to the 20th century. Modern China through Film is a senior elective focusing on political and intellectual history from the perspective of China’s “fifth generation” filmmakers, and Grassroots China, an experiential course taught in the field in China, explores the dramatic transformation of modern China from the village perspective.


Ida Fisher Zeidman Resource Center

This special collection, housed in the Richard Walter Goldman Memorial Library, contains more than 2,000 books and journals about China and East Asia, including current scholarly research, biographies, memoirs, and fiction. New material is added each year to supplement the already substantial collection.

Experiencing China

Students experience China through School-sponsored travel and experiential courses.

The Chinese Studies program provides opportunities for students to experience China directly through School-sponsored travel and experiential education courses. In 8th grade, students can join the weeklong Minimester trip to Beijing. Upper School students can study Chinese language, history, literature (in translation), and environmental science through the groundbreaking, interdisciplinary China Fieldwork experiential education program in rural Yunnan.


Students apprentice under local craftspeople in Yunnan province.

Students learn about culture by studying houses built at different times in Chinese history.

Students conduct an ecological study in China.

Engaging China

Sidwell Friends School engages with China through lecture programs and exchanges.

The Chinese Studies Program has a long tradition of lecture programs and exchange relationships. Each spring, the John Fisher Zeidman ’79 Memorial Lecture brings distinguished China experts to speak to the School community and the public; in the fall, the program sponsors talks and roundtables about China. The Zeidman Fellowship enables two alumni to study for one year at a university in China. Sidwell Friends sponsors two exchange students from our sister schools in China to live and study in our community, a relationship than spans more than 30 years.


Eric Liu, the 2017 Zeidman Lecturer.

Zeidman Fellowship

Each year Sidwell Friends School sends one or two Chinese Studies alumni to a Chinese university for a year of language study. The fellowship provides for tuition, room and board, and a stipend. Either during the year or on their return, fellows share their experiences with the Sidwell Friends community. This program offers Sidwell Friends graduates a significant opportunity to improve their Chinese and experience Chinese culture firsthand.

The application deadline for 2017 has passed. Applications for next year will be due in early March 2018.

Chinese Sister Schools

Beginning in 1985, at the initiative of former Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang, who visited the School in 1984, Sidwell Friends began its long and productive relationship with its sister schools in China. In that year, Sidwell Friends began hosting two students from High School No. 2 Attached to Beijing Normal University. Later, Sidwell Friends began a sister school relationship with the High School Affiliated to Fudan University in Shanghai. Currently, one student from each of these sister schools comes to Sidwell Friends each year. The students stay with families, take a range of courses, and participate in the greater life of the school.

About the Chinese Studies Program

John Zeidman, a 1979 graduate of Sidwell Friends, forged a new perspective of the world and his life through the study of China. He began studying Chinese language in college and, during his junior year, traveled to Beijing to study at Beijing Normal University. Sadly, not long after arriving in China, John became ill and died.

After his death, John’s family and friends established the John Fisher Zeidman ’79 Chinese Studies Fund to perpetuate his belief that Chinese-American relations would thrive if students began to study Chinese language, history, and culture in secondary school. Endowed by this fund, the Chinese Studies Program was inaugurated at Sidwell Friends in 1983. Since its inception, the program has grown significantly and is woven into every division of the School.

Head of School Bryan Garman describes the origins of the John Fisher Zeidman ‘79 Chinese Studies Program.

Explore Chinese Studies in Our Classrooms