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Title: Sinologist  
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Subject: China proper, Names of China, Governor of Hong Kong, Thomas Francis Wade, Pat McCarran, China watcher, Fusang, Edward Youde, Stephan Endlicher, George H. Kerr
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Sinology literally means the study of China and Chinese topics. Sinology may also refer more strictly to the study of classical language and literature, with a philological approach, perhaps in an American academic context. Its origin, says one recent survey, "may be traced to the examination which Chinese scholars made of their own civilization."[1]

In the context of area studies, the European and the American usages differ. In Europe, Sinology is usually known as Chinese Studies, whereas in the United States, Sinology is a subfield of Chinese Studies. The Australian scholar Geremie R. Barmé offers a "New Sinology," one which "emphasizes strong scholastic underpinnings in both the classical and modern Chinese language and studies, at the same time as encouraging an ecumenical attitude in relation to a rich variety of approaches and disciplines, whether they be mainly empirical or more theoretically inflected."[2]


Sino- is derived from Late Latin Sinae from the Greek Sinae from the Arabic Sin which in turn may derive from Qin, that is, the Qin Dynasty.[3]


In East Asia, the studies of China-related subjects began early. In Japan, sinology was known as kangaku (漢学?) "Han Studies". In China, the studies of China-related subjects is known as "National Studies" (simplified Chinese: 国学; traditional Chinese: 國學; pinyin: Guóxué), and sinology is translated as "Han Studies" (simplified Chinese: 汉学; traditional Chinese: 漢學; pinyin: Hànxué). In the Western world, governments set up Asian language departments with pressure on academics to meet their diplomatic and commercial needs.[4]

Age of Enlightenment

In the West, some writers date the origins of sinology as far back as Benedict of Poland, Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta in the 13th and 14th century, but the systematic study of China began in the late 16th century, when Jesuit missionaries based at St. Paul's College, Macao, notably Matteo Ricci, introduced Christianity to China. The first Sinologist of Eastern Europe were Michał Boym (1612-1659) and Nicolae Milescu (1636–1708). Early sinological research often concentrated on the compatibility of Christianity with Chinese culture.

During the Age of Enlightenment, sinologists started to introduce Chinese philosophy, ethics, legal system, and aesthetics into the West. Though often unscientific and incomplete, their works inspired the development of Chinoiserie and a series of debates comparing Chinese and Western cultures. At that time, sinologists often described China as an enlightened kingdom, comparing it to Europe, which had just emerged from the Dark Ages. Among those European literati interested in China was Voltaire, who wrote the play L'orphelin de la Chine inspired by The Orphan of Zhao, Leibniz who penned his famous Novissima Sinica (News from China) and Giambattista Vico.

In France, the study of China and the Chinese language began with the patronage of Louis XIV. In 1711, he appointed a young Chinese, Arcadio Huang to catalog the royal collection of Chinese texts. Huang was assisted by Étienne Fourmont, who published an grammar of Chinese in 1742.

In 1732 a missionary priest of the Sacred Congregation "De propaganda fide" from the kingdom of Naples, Matteo Ripa (1692–1746), created in Naples the first Sinology School of the European Continent: the "Chinese Institute", the first nucleus of what would become today's Università degli studi di Napoli L'Orientale, or Naples Eastern University. Ripa had worked as a painter and copper-engraver at the Manchu court of the emperor Kangxi between 1711 and 1723. Ripa returned to Naples from China with four young Chinese Christians, all teachers of their native language and formed the Institute sanctioned by Pope Clement XII to teach Chinese to missionaries and thus advance the propagation of Christianity in China.

In 1814, a chair of Chinese and Manchu was founded at Collège de France. Jean-Pierre Abel-Rémusat, who taught himself Chinese, filled the position, becoming the first professor of Chinese in Europe. By then the first Russian Sinologist, Nikita Bichurin, had been living in Beijing for ten years. Abel-Rémusat's counterparts in England and Germany were Samuel Kidd (1797–1843) and Wilhelm Schott (1807–1889) respectively, though the first important secular sinologists in these two countries were James Legge and Hans Georg Conon von der Gabelentz. Scholars like Legge often relied on the work of ethnic Chinese experts such as Wang Tao. From 1850 to 1980, European Sinologists particularly valued classical competence in Classical Chinese.[4] Secular scholars gradually came to outnumber missionaries, and in the 20th century sinology slowly gained a substantial presence in Western universities.


In modern history, sinology has seen its influence in politics, due to its role in think tanks. The divide between the mainland People's Republic of China and the Taiwan Republic of China has further added to the complexity of study.[5] Funding for Chinese studies may come from a variety of sources; one prominent source, especially for Taiwan studies, is the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation.[6]

During the Cold War, China Watchers centered in Hong Kong, especially American government officials or journalists. Mutual distrust between the United States and the PRC and the prohibition of travel between the countries meant they did not have access to press briefings or interviews. They therefore adopted techniques from Kremlinology, such as the close parsing of official announcements for hidden meanings, movements of officials reported in newspapers, and analysis of photographs of public appearances. But in the years since the opening of China, China watchers can live in China and take advantage of normal sources of information.


Main article: List of Sinologists


See also

Main article: Outline of sinology


References and further reading

  • Barrett, Timothy Hugh, Singular Listlessness: A Short History of Chinese Books and British Scholars (London: Wellsweep, 1989). 125p. "Published in its original form in F. Wood, ed., British Library Occasional papers, 10: Chinese studies [1988], p. 9-53.".
  • Cayley, John & Ming Wilson ed., Europe Studies China: Papers from an International Conference on the History of European Sinology, London: Han-Shan Tang Books, 1995.
  • Honey, David B., Incense at the Altar: Pioneering Sinologists and the Development of Classical Chinese Philology, New Haven: American Oriental Society, 2001. (See also JSTOR).
  • Mungello, David E., Curious Land: Jesuit Accommodation and the Origins of Sinology, Stuttgart: F. Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden, 1985; rpr. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1989 ISBN 0824812190.
  • Yang Liansheng, Excursions in Sinology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969).
  • Zurndorfer, Harriet, "A Brief History of Chinese Studies and Sinology," in China Bibliography: A Research Guide to Reference Works About China Past and Present (Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1995. ISBN 90-04-10278-7; reprinted, University of Hawai'i Press, 1999 ISBN 0824822129), pp. 4-44.

External links

  • Sinology Wiki
  • China Digital Times
  • (Chinese) Guoxue
  • Chinese Text Project
  • Chinese Civilisation Centre - City University of Hong Kong
  • Electronic Resources for Chinese Studies and East Asian Libraries
  • Sinology Project, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • China Heritage Project - Australian National University
  • Torbjörn Lodén,"Swedish Sinology: A Historical Perspective" (archived)
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