A New Sinology Reader

This reader provides an introduction to the background and relevance of New Sinology, as well as offering guided readings using selections from classical/ literary Chinese, Republican-era texts and High Maoist and post-Maoist works that can help users gain an understanding of the abiding influence of certain kinds of language, habits of mind and currents of thought, literature and culture that powerfully underpin the modern Chinese or Sinophone world.

An Overview of New Sinology 後漢學

New Sinology encourages a multifaceted understanding of China and the Sinophone world, one grounded in an ability to appreciate critically the living past in China’s present. This approach essays a more holistic understanding of ‘things Chinese’ relevant not only to academics, but also to a wider, engaged public. For an overview of New Sinology, and a series of essays on the subject dating from 2005, along with an Archive of earlier relevant material, see the reading list below.

Many scholars and translators with a broad-based foundation in Chinese Studies regret the narrow over-specialisation imposed on students by today’s metric-driven academic institutions. They remember when ‘Sinology’ was wide-ranging and humanistic. All too often modern disciplinary specialisation limits the conception of the Chinese world, a world that has always placed such great faith in the holistic understanding of the full range of interwoven human activities. Today’s corporatised education system too often leaves students of China well versed in the professions, but unable to understand with ease and fluency the wellsprings of what China is today. Deprived of the broader linguistic and cultural context, they are ill-equipped to understand, translate or engage with such daily essentials as online discussions, coded commentaries or sometimes even newspaper headlines, let alone the myriad traditional concepts used by Chinese thinkers, politicians, economists and strategists in articulating China’s sense of itself and its new place in the world. Such a deeper understanding requires at least a passing familiarity with Classical Chinese 古文 and Literary Chinese 文言文 (and the world to which they allow access), something most Chinese pick up from an early age, or have to study at school.

New Sinology responds to this deficiency, based as it is on the understanding of the broader Chinese world, an experience (found in the ‘old’ Sinology) that was built up in particular over the past four centuries of contact with the Chinese world, and that has been renewed by our efforts since 2005, promoted through practice with the founding in 2010 of the Australian Centre on China in the World and by The Wairarapa Academcy from 2016.

New Sinology advocates a multifaceted intellectual engagement with contemporary China, with the modern Chinese-speaking world in all of its complexity, based on strong foundations in both the classical and the modern Chinese language and in deeper studies of China’s past and present, be they done in China, Greater China or internationally.

New Sinology advocates an approach to contemporary China that appreciates the overculture of the dominant Chinese Communist Party and what, through ideology, its policies, the mass media, the education system and its internal and global propaganda efforts the Party promotes as Official China. It also inducts those engaged with Chinal into the particularities of Translated China, that is the versions of China advocated by the Party authorities through their selective approach to and interpretation of the Chinese world, be it in the contemporary con text or that of the tradition or the twentieth century.

New Sinology is vitally engaged with the Other China. That is the multifaceted culture and society that has existed in counter distinction to the orthodoxies 正統 that grew up from the time of the pre-Qin philosophers. The Other China, always a vital part of social reality, re-surfaces in popular and elite culture at times of political anomie and intellectual diversity over the centuries. This Other China has flourished again since the 1980s and exists variously in creative tension or subjugated compliance with Official China. The founders of The Wairarapa Academy have been engaged both with the Other China and Official China from the early 1980s through their translation work and writing, starting with Trees on the Mountain, a special issue of the Hong Kong-based translation journal Renditions devoted to contemporary Chinese culture.

First propounded with the creation of China Heritage Quarterly in 2005, New Sinology is about:

A robust engagement with contemporary China and indeed with the Sinophone world in all of its complexity, be it local, regional or global. It affirms a conversation and intermingling that also 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. In seeking to emphasize innovation within Sinology by recourse to the word ‘new’, it is nonetheless evident that I continue to affirm the distinctiveness of Sinology as a mode of intellectual inquiry.

— from Geremie R. Barmé, On New Sinology


New Sinology was first propounded in 2005 and, since then, I have developed the ideas related to this approach to China as part of the China Heritage Project (2005-2012) and as the founding director of the Australian Centre on China in the World. Some of the material in this section previously appeared in the e-journal China Heritage Quarterly and The China Story Journal, which I founded in 2012. The China Heritage Project and the Quarterly evolved as part of an Australian Research Council Federation Fellowship, which I held at The Australian National University (ANU).

Without long years of support from ANU and the Australian Research Council, this work would not have been possible. In particular, I would like to thank Ian Chubb, Bruce Doar, Judith Pabian, Gloria Davies, Duncan Campbell, John Minford, Jude Shanahan, Daniel Sanderson and Kevin Rudd for their encouragement and contributions to the first ten years of New Sinology.