When teaching Chinese as a foreign language first became a discipline in China, it focused on short-term Chinese training courses that were non-degree programs. Since the end of the 1970s, in efforts to recruit international students, four-year undergraduate programs for the teaching Chinese as a second language discipline – such as Chinese language and Chinese language & culture – were set up to train Chinese teachers, translators/ interpreters, Chinese research talents, and language and culture professionals.
In June 1983, teaching Chinese as a foreign language was established as a discipline, initiated by experts and scholars from the All China Association for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language. In December 1984, teaching Chinese as a foreign language was formally listed in the China Discipline and Specialty List. Accordingly, Chinese colleges, centers for studies of Chinese as a second language, and language teaching and research institutes were established.
Programs at the master's degree level were set up and universities recruited foreign graduate students to study contemporary Chinese. At the end of the 1990s, a master’s degree program was established for teaching Chinese as a second language. A doctoral program was also established for curriculum & teaching methodology and linguistics and applied linguistics.
To meet the requirements of overseas students, Chinese universities had enriched their teaching Chinese as a foreign language programs both in content and approach. They set up formal degree programs for overseas students and continuing education programs for advanced Chinese learners. They also established detailed stipulations for foreign students in order to prepare them for the Chinese Proficiency Test (HSK), an important entrance examination for Chinese common colleges and universities required to fulfill their degree programs. For those participating in non-degree programs, Chinese universities offered pre-professional Chinese education – including crash course, short-term or long-term Chinese continuing education programs. Universities also ran classes on cultural studies, including Chinese calligraphy and painting, qigong, taichi and practical social activities such as tours to factories, villages and schools.