Sinology in general use is the study of China and things related to China, but, especially in the American academic context, refers more strictly to the study of classical language and literature, and the philological approach. Its origin, says one recent survey, "may be traced to the examination which Chinese scholars made of their own civilization."[1]

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.[2] Other explanations deduce that a Biblical reference to the land of Sinim since it was otherwise unknown, must refer to China.[citation needed]

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."[3]

A China watcher is a person who monitors current events and power struggles in the People's Republic of China.

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.



In the Asian Sinosphere, 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 Guoxue (国学/國學 "National Studies"), and sinology is translated as Hanxue (汉学/漢學 "Han Studies").

In the West, some researchers would date the origins of sinology as far back as 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 was 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 Vico.

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. 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.[4] Funding for Chinese studies may come from a variety of sources; one prominent source, especially for Taiwan studies, is the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation.[5]


See List of Sinologists


See also


  1. ^ Cf. p.4, Zurndorfer, China Bibliography
  2. ^ American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 3rd edition 1992): 1686.
  3. ^ Barmé, Geremie R., On New Sinology, China Heritage Project, The Australian National University
  4. ^ Rosenthal, Elizabeth (May 1, 2001). "For China-Born U.S. Citizens, Visiting Homeland Has Risks". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ Brown, Deborah (September/December 2004). "Organizations That Support Taiwan Studies: A Select Overview". Issues & Studies 40 (3/4): 281–314. 

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 E.G. Pulleyblank's review of the work in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 122, No. 3 (Jul.-Sep., 2002), pp. 620–624, available through JSTOR).
  • Mungello, David E., Curious Land: Jesuit Accommodation and the Origins of Sinology, Stuttgart: F. Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden, 1985.
  • Yang Liansheng , Excursions in Sinology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969).
  • Zurndorfer, Harriet Thelma, China Bibliography: A Research Guide to Reference Works about China Past and Present, Leiden : Brill Publishers, 1995. ISBN 9004102787.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Sinology — Si*nol o*gy, n. [Cf. F. sinologie.] That branch of systemized knowledge which treats of the Chinese, their language, literature, etc. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • sinology — ► NOUN ▪ the study of Chinese language, history, and culture. DERIVATIVES sinologist noun …   English terms dictionary

  • Sinology — [sī näl′ə jē, sinäl′jē] n. [ SINO + LOGY] the study of the Chinese language or of Chinese literature, art, customs, etc. Sinological [sī΄nə läj′i kəl] adj …   English World dictionary

  • sinology — noun Usage: often capitalized Etymology: probably from French sinologie, from sino + logie logy Date: circa 1882 the study of the Chinese and especially their language, literature, history, and culture • sinological adjective, often capitalized • …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Sinology — Sinological /suyn l oj i keuhl, sin /, adj. /suy nol euh jee, si /, n. the study of the language, literature, history, customs, etc., of China. [1880 85; SINO + LOGY; cf. F, G sinologie] * * * …   Universalium

  • Sinology — noun The study of the history, language and culture of China …   Wiktionary

  • SINOLOGY —    the science treating of the language, literature, laws, and history of the Chinese …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Sinology — study of China Sciences and Studies …   Phrontistery dictionary

  • Sinology — si·nol·o·gy || saɪ nÉ‘lÉ™dʒɪ / nÉ’l n. study of China and Chinese culture …   English contemporary dictionary

  • sinology — [sʌɪ nɒlədʒi, sɪ ] noun the study of Chinese language, history, and culture. Derivatives sinological adjective sinologist noun …   English new terms dictionary

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