New Sinology in 1964 and 2022

Readings in New Sinology


The only true voyage of discovery . . . would be not to visit strange lands, but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is.

Marcel Proust

In May 2005, I published Towards a New Sinology, a short manifesto born of long years of study, experience and thought. Later that year, a reader recommended that I familiarise myself with the ‘Symposium on Chinese Studies and the Disciplines’, a panel organised for the Sixteenth Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies in Washington, D.C., in March 1964.

The revised papers from that panel were published in The Journal of Asian Studies in August 1964 and a number of invited contributions to the discussion subsequently appeared in the November 1964 issue of the same journal. I have digitised four of the nine published papers both for readers who have followed my work on New Sinology since 2005 and for those who are interested in the century-long discussion both within China as well as within the international academy concerning Sinology and the modern academic disciplines. Readers should also consult Brian Moloughney’s Sinology vs. the Disciplines, Then & Now (China Heritage, 24 September 2022), the essays in On New Sinology and Readings in New Sinology.


New Sinology as I have elaborated it over the years is different in crucial regards from the academic Sinology discussed below. Nonetheless, my own approach to the study of the Chinese world in the twenty-first century also accords in many respects with F.W. Mote’s eloquent discussion of the integrality of the study of China. New Sinology as I formulate it also chimes with the view expressed below by Benjamin Schwartz:

‘The essential point (banal but nevertheless true) is that whatever a man’s discipline, the broader and deeper his general culture — his “general education,” the more willing he is to bring whatever wisdom he has to bear on the subject he is treating.’

New Sinology has promoted the study of China and its living traditions in the context of the economic transformation and global influence both of China Proper, as well as that of Hong Kong and Taiwan. Over the post-Mao decades, this ‘Chinese world’ has experienced a cultural and intellectual efflorescence that, were it not for the constant interference of and censorship by the Communist Party, would be unique in modern Chinese history.

During the 1990s, the Chinese Communist Party had formally declared that after decades of radical social, political and economic change, it was now ‘bidding farewell to revolution’ and that as a ‘responsible ruling party’ (or a ‘party for all the people’) it would continue its quest for economic modernisation and global power while reaching a new accommodation with both the country’s imperial and republican pasts. During what I called this ‘reconciliation of history’, the Chinese party-state reoriented itself to claim a new dominion over China’s past, while rigorously re-affirming its sole right to determine both the nature and contents of China, Chinese culture, thought and history, as well as Chinese identity. This ambitious program was integral to Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin’s ‘Important Thinking Regarding the Three Represents’ 三個代表重要思想 announced in 2000. It would be the basis of the ‘Two One Hundred Years’ timetable for the Party in the twenty-first century first mooted by Hu Jintao and it is the bedrock of the worldview inherited and elaborated by Xi Jinping.

In 2001, the same year that Beijing was successful in its bid to hold the 2008 Summer Olympics, China acceded to the World Trade Organisation. Both of these developments were momentous — a fact reflected in the plans for Olympics, which included an imperial-style makeover of the Chinese capital (see Beijing Reoriented, an olympic undertaking, 2007). Refashioning the Mao-era capital along the lines of Qianlong’s sacred city was a concrete expression of the nation’s ambitions, just as entering the WTO presaged an enhanced role in the global economy and, by extension, international affairs.

China was embraced on the world stage. Business, diplomatic and academic exchanges flourished. It was at this juncture that I contemplated the educational environment of my own university and of Chinese Studies in Australia more generally. Years of ‘market reforms’ had transformed tertiary education. As a quasi-business enterprise loosely based on market principles, it was more accessible to a greater number of what were now dubbed ‘customers’. Academic work flourished with the support of a research grant system and the number of undergraduates swelled. However, as contemporary China embraced the past in striking new ways, I felt that, apart from the established disciplines and new intellectual paradigms favoured by the global academy, it was more urgent than ever for students of China to have access to a kind of updated Sinological training that could also equip them to engage with that country’s boisterous lived reality and intellectual vitality. My concern in this regard was further fueled by the fact that, even as the numbers of economists, anthropologists, political scientists, sociologists etc working ‘in the field’ proliferated, cuts in basic language courses, in particular those in literary/ classical Chinese, and undergraduate humanities subjects, left many of these well-honed disciplinarians sub-literate or semi-literate at best. Many could mine their subjects with aplomb despite the fact that they were incapable of a meaningful and equitable engagement with the society with which they were dealing. As in the days of yore, ‘China’ was reduced to being a footnote in the grand narrative of Euramerican academia.

Paradoxically, among all of the other demands of modern university study, it seemed important that at least some students should be able to study aspects of China encapsulated in the old expression 文史哲 wén-shǐ-zhé — the literary, historical and philosophical tradition — so that they could appreciate, and perhaps even themselves aspire to, the kind of ‘comprehensive knowledge’ that is deeply admired in China (see Jao Tsung-I on 通 tōng — 饒宗頤與通人; and, China Watching in the Xi Jinping Era of Blindness and Deafness).

New Sinology suggested a form of academic Sinology that combines a fluency in the practices of the ‘China Studies’ that developed during the Cold War and the academic disciplines that have flourished in academic institutions world wide. New Sinology engages equally with Official China via its bureaucracy, ideology, propaganda and culture, as well as with Other Chinas — those vibrant and often disheveled worlds of alterity, be they in the People’s Republic, Hong Kong, Taiwan, or around the globe.

My advocacy of the study and reading of literary Chinese and attention to modern Chinese culture is not merely a way of justifying support for underfunded academic programs. As I have repeatedly argued, when things with China ‘went south’ — that is as the systemic inertia of party-state autocracy continued to cast a pall over contemporary Chinese life, as I had no doubt that it would following the events of 1989 — students and scholars would always have recourse to the vast world of literature, history and thought that make a study of China also a study of human greatness, genius and potential.

New Sinology is nothing less than a laissez-passer into the Invisible Republic of the Spirit.


After five years advocating, lecturing and publishing work related to New Sinology, in 2010 I established the Australian Centre on China in the World 中華全球研究中心 (CIW) at The Australian National University (ANU). Originally conceived as a ‘centre of excellence’ supported by an application to the Australian Research Council, as luck would have it, the Commonwealth Government of Australia funded the CIW directly. The intellectual rationale and architecture of the new centre was New Sinology, something I elaborated on in the speech written for the prime minister when he announced the founding of CIW in April 2010.

In the five years during which I was the director of CIW (from April 2010 to May 2015), collectively we worked to realise the ethos of a New Sinology in the era of China’s continued rise on the global stage. Our approach was grounded in the humanities and the varied traditions of Sinology and Chinese Studies while embracing diverse disciplines to produce academic work as well as an array of publications, activities and university courses that was relevant to those engaged with public policy, business and the media.

Through our programs, fellowships, courses for government agencies, a major website, an annual publication, as well as collaborations with a leading Beijing think tank and international academic groups, the Australian Centre on China in the World gave expression to New Sinology.

In the inaugural CIW annual lecture, delivered in July 2011, I discussed ‘China literacy’ at a time of ongoing tension in the Australia-China relationship. In our 2014 China Story Yearbook, I outlined how New Sinology offered a crucially important approach for understanding of Xi Jinping’s rule and, in the public lecture that I presented at the time of my retirement from ANU in October 2015, I further elaborated on the relevance of New Sinology in the age of China’s ‘Chairman of Everything’.

(Over the years, the old adage that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery seems also to have held true in the case of New Sinology:

In 2012, in reaction to my promotion of New Sinology 後漢學 hòu hànxué, Hanban 漢辦, the controversial propaganda-through-pedagogy organisation in Beijing, suddenly formulated its own version of ‘New Sinology’, which it promoted as 新漢學 xīn hànxué. For details, see my 2015 essay More New Sinology; and, in 2017, an intellectually light-fingered former student now known as something of a ‘China-whisperer’ publicly claimed authorship of my ideas.

Both of these instances offered me a new insight into the nature of memory holes and the workings of ‘historical nihilism’ 歷史虛無主義.)


In 2014, I observed that,

‘Xi Jinping’s China is a gift to the New Sinologist, for the world of the Chairman of Everything requires the serious student of contemporary China to be familiar with basic classical Chinese thought, history and literature, appreciate the abiding influence of Marxist-Leninist ideas and the dialectic prestidigitations of Mao Zedong Thought. Similarly, it requires an understanding of neo-liberal thinking and agendas in the guise of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics 具有中国特色的社会主义. Those who pursue narrow disciplinary approaches to China today serve well the metrics-obsessed international academy, but they may readily fail to offer greater and necessary insights into China and its place in the world.’

from Under One Heaven, the introduction to Shared Destiny: China Story Yearbook 2014

As Xi Jinping continues his ‘terminal tenure’, the study of Xi-era China itself flourishes. There are new web-based language ventures, websites and projects devoted to analysing Chinese-language media, YouTube channels providing news and analysis from a range of political and cultural vantage points, research institutions, courses, newsletters, podcasts and daily digests that offer a 360-degree view of contemporary China.

Despite the best efforts of Beijing to engineer a realm ‘where silence reigns’, the cacophony of China persists and it seeks every opportunity to express itself and to be heard. Cultural and social activists in China, writers, academics and workers in the media strain to express themselves, just as their fellows overseas, be they from China, ethnically Chinese, or non-Chinese, enthusiastically and thoughtfully engage both with the China that is and envision a China that they hope might be.

When I first proposed New Sinology in March 2005, I could have only hoped that such a vivacious and rambunctious scene would develop. Today, it flourishes both because of and despite Xi Jinping and his party-state.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
26 December 2022


Further Reading:



Chinese Studies and the Disciplines

Select Papers from a 1964 Symposium


Click on the highlighted title to scroll down to an essay.
Terms originally spelled in Wade-Giles romanisation have been converted to Hanyu Pinyin and Chinese characters have been added in square brackets.
For a full list of the papers in the discussion, scroll down to the end of this selection.


The Case for the Integrity of Sinology

Frederick W. Mote

Professor of Chinese Studies, Princeton University


Sinology, and the case for the integrity of it: the one key word in that phrase has been as hard to define as the other has been to achieve in practice. If we can scarcely define it, and if there is no hope of achieving it for the masses, why then talk about it at all in the year 1964?

I believe we can try to define Sinology, and we can point to some who have achieved it in practice. It might have seemed wisest to ask someone who has at least come close to achieving the Sinological ideal to be its spokesman on this panel.

And, in fact, I urged that course upon Mr. Skinner when he first asked me to participate. He ruled that out, not so much perhaps for fear that we’d have to import one, or that such a one could be expected to speak in an unintelligible accent and would read footnotes in seven languages from original sources only — but perhaps, anomalous as it is, from the justifiable fear that the real Sinologist might speak in a way that would confuse his own green and well-worked fields with the entire province, or his own home province with the whole realm. And integrity is what we are here to talk about. For it is that integrality of the whole realm, or world, of Chinese Studies that I think should define Sinology. Therefore, let someone who thinks he sees a meaningful and universal ideal, but who does not expect the ideal to be judged by himself, discuss it with the freedom that can come from having nothing personal to defend. Otherwise, it would be indeed presumptuous for me to appear here as the spokesman for Sinology; this dilemma of the spokesman vis-à-vis his subject today clearly is one that does not afflict my colleagues on this panel (for reasons at least partially flattering to them all).

Sinology then, anomalous though it may seem, does admit varying fields of emphasis, and the distinguished practitioners of “our science” (as one of my respected teachers always calls it) often have defended their personal specializations with vigor and skill. Yet to admit them to the clan, we must be able to assure ourselves that they in fact knew and accepted the whole, even when they seemed to defend the building of internal walls. Provincialisms within Sinology have been occasionally amusing or, more often, dreary; now and then they have produced glorious fireworks displays. However, we should not misjudge and confuse a strong sense of provincial identity, no matter how childishly pursued, with true “guanwai” [關外] barbarism. That fragmenting of the culture in the course of its diffusion from the heartland out into the steppes and wilds, where it often was exaggeratedly honored in the partially-received versions, produced the various forms in which “Chinese Studies” have been wedded to the so-called “disciplines.” There is a profound difference between that fragmenting, on the one hand, and on the other that superficially manifested provincial loyalty which does not really affect the larger integrity.

If that seems to be a harsh denunciation of the scientific specializations, let me note an encouraging if arrogantly broad-minded observation that in part offsets its harshness. Sinology may be as subtle in its workings as Chinese culture itself. There are, after all, no absolute and immutable boundaries between “Chinese” and “barbarian.” Many of those border-region inhabitants, in becoming the best in their fragmenting specializations, have in the process become profoundly assimilated, often without even themselves recognizing that the pursuit of the parts has gone full-circle, and they have ended up in possession of something close to the whole.

It is my secret observation, and one in which I take sly delight, that many of the tamer barbarians of the nearer border regions are in fact indistinguishable from the effete old heirs of the Zhongyuan [中原, “China Proper”]. I would not say this to their faces, for it might affront their youth and purity, though “purity” is not one of the senses of “integrity” that we have in mind in this discussion.

A sizable number of the historians and linguists, and even some of the anthropologists, sociologists, and other social scientists, are virtually Sinologists. Since it is the consequences that we value, and not the affectations of self-identification, we may better leave this matter observed and uncommented upon.

How then should we describe the state called Sinology? Should we subscribe to some of the definitions given, ably and provocatively, in the recent past? For example, should we agree that if it means anything, Sinology means Chinese philology, and therefore we might simply call it by the less ambiguous name?[1] I think not, though the idea has some sentimental appeal and some historical justification. That justification is largely derived from the history of Western Sinology; undoubtedly the province surrounding the capital of the realm has been known as Philology. That, however, is a Europocentric view of a recent phase of history; “Philology” is merely the name by which some of the best of the foreign residents of the capital prefecture have called the place. They are as Marco Polo, calling the capital of the Great Khan’s realm Cambulac; the natives didn’t do so. Sinology in our time might do well to place the recent imperialist phase of its history in the longer perspective, and part company with the Victorian holdovers. Let us abandon the cork helmets, and the concessions, the white linen suits and the extraterritoriality; that is, let us view now the larger spheres of life beyond the imported standards of classical philology, the tri-lingual chrestomathies, the painstakingly-produced analogical grammars. These have marked a meaningful but now outgrown phase of history. Sinology must go native, and in so doing it will discover that the natives may indeed have learned some useful details of administration from the imperialist phase, but that they themselves have always provided the true consciousness of the integrity of the realm and have best maintained its true boundaries.[2]

[1] See Edward H. Schafer, “Open Letter to The Editors of JAOS and JAS,” JAOS, LXXVIII (1958), 119-120, and JAS, XXVII (May 1958), 509.

[2] What do the natives call Sinology? If it exists there, they must have a native word for it. Die Ausländer usually, and curiously, have employed the Chinese world Hanxue 漢學 as their translation of “Sinology,” but this clearly is chop-suey. At home, the term of course designates only one of the narrowest and most specialized, and in fact one of the latest to develop, of the market-towns of the central provinces. The whole realm of learning of civilized man traditionally was called “xuewen” [學問], a term as broad in scope as the term Tianxia [天下] for the empire. Sinology then should imply all of the subject matter of traditional learning though not, of course, necessarily only the traditional ways of pursuing it. In the recent century or so, at the same time that the Tianxia concept was becoming difficult to maintain under the limiting conditions of international reciprocity, the term guoxue [國學] has come to be used to designate the realm formerly called xuewen. I propose that the alien residents of the realm should use guoxue as the Chinese name for Sinology. This word is usable any place, as long as the language is Chinese, for it will always mean Zhongguoxue [中國學] (a “non-sayable” word), or Zhongguode guoxue [中國的國學] (“sayable” but too lengthy) for speakers of Chinese always invoke an inviolable extra-territoriality; eavesdrop on any such persons, conversing anywhere in the world, and note whom they mean when they say “waiguoren [外國人]. or what they mean when they say “guoxue.” This term, then, I think serves very well in our time to designate our intellectual realm. And I see no particular reason to abandon “Sinology,” its semantic analogue, when speaking English. The usual complaint against it was that it was misappropriated by the early explorers, and that their followers have tended to perpetuate a kind of misuse of it. I believe that the word will survive. The serious issue is not that of names, but of content.

[Editor’s Note] For a contemporary PRC interpretation of 國學 guóxué, see 楊朝明, 如何以國學鋪染民族文化底色?, 中國新聞網,2022年12月20日.

But for those who decide to accept the native standard of integrity, philology at least contributes one helpful insight: there is but one approach route. That is to say, language study is the only pass leading through the Great Wall and into the Zhongyuan. Those who fail to enter through this pass must remain more or less tame barbarians basking in the partial glow that is reflected into the outer border regions. But even when that pass has been negotiated, one has only begun; the integrity of one’s activities is not thereby guaranteed. No matter whether one settles down in the Province of History, or that of Literature, or that of Language Study, or even should he choose to buy his real estate in a treaty port like Economics, he must emulate the native masters in one essential; that is, he must aspire to their sense of the integrity of the realm. Although having, like many of the natives, a strong though superficial provincial loyalty, he must be able to reside in several regions, and to travel without too much discomfiture through any of the provinces, noting how the residents of all areas simultaneously display both local color and awareness of the larger integrity.

That is to say, Sinology means the study of Chinese civilization as a coherent whole. It has as the objects of its study all of the records produced in the life of that civilization. Most but not all of these are written records; hence the central role of language and literature. They were produced chiefly by the articulate members of that civilization, each conscious in some measure of the cumulative achievement of it; hence the equally important role of history. I have sometimes defended the inseparability of history and literature as a guiding concept in planning how to study this civilization, but that is in fact too narrow a formula. Perhaps the only way to penetrate the unusually broadly-informed and broadly-interested minds of the persons who created most of the records of Chinese civilization is to attempt to acquire a similar breadth. Be aware of the Western “disciplines,” to be sure, but remember that they are only provinces of a larger realm, that they are provinces we have drawn on the map of China, that they are meaningless boundaries to the makers of this civilization and, in fact, that they are intrinsically meaningless in any time or place. They are no more than the particular intellectual constructs which seem to be meaningful to us at this point in our own history. Insofar as they are meaningful to us, we must use them — as tools, not as idols, or to return to our geographical metaphor, as fine lines across a map, not as the deserts and seas which mark actual divisions within the extent of Chinese civilization. I would resist most emphatically the notion that the Sinologue’s sense of the integrity of Sinology deprives him of or in any way interferes with his ability to focus on specific problems of any kind, much less deprives him of the capacity to think rigorously and systematically. Too often the social scientists in particular promote a groundless mystique of the higher enlightenment of their special revelations, or at least of their exclusive possession of what are in fact general virtues.

Is that integrity accessible to us, or am I describing an impossible ideal? In large measure, I believe, it comes from an attitude of awareness of the larger whole, and only thereafter from precise and explicit knowledge of the details that make up the whole. This is not to suggest an easy path to virtue. Sinologists will not emerge in great numbers, especially in a world in which the integrity of the larger view is now imperiled even among the natives. But the ideal is a viable one, and its function is indispensable, for only the larger vision can sustain the integrating capacity of the mind. That integrity is a prerequisite of integration. We can afford the luxury of training some few at least in language and literature and history and philosophy (to use our standard Western provincial boundaries). This is the minimal beginning; we must hope that such persons can then go on to acquire something of the range of knowledge and breadth of view of those same minds that produced the monuments or that are themselves the monuments to the life of a great civilization. Though it may not often be achieved, to aspire to less would flaw the whole activity that we call Chinese Studies, not merely depopulate one of its more exclusive sub-divisions.



  • Frederick W. Mote, ‘The Case for the Integrity of Sinology’, The Journal of Asian Studies, vol.23, no.4 (August 1964): 531-534

The Fetish of the “Disciplines”

Benjamin Schwartz

Professor of History, Harvard University


The following represents an amplification of some rather poorly expressed remarks made at the panel on Chinese Studies and the Disciplines at the recent meeting of the Association for Asian Studies.

The essential point (banal but nevertheless true) is that whatever a man’s discipline, the broader and deeper his general culture — his “general education,” the more willing he is to bring whatever wisdom he has to bear on the subject he is treating. Whether this wisdom derives from the “methodology” of his discipline or not, it increases the likelihood of his saying something significant. Conversely, the mechanical application of an isolated “discipline” narrowly conceived in terms of a self-contained “model” or “system” to a culture (whether contemporary or “traditional”) which has not been studied in any of its other aspects by a person of limited culture may lead to sterile and even preposterous results.

These propositions do, of course, imply a doubt concerning the notion of the iron-clad purity of the disciplines within the field of human studies. This does not mean that within the fields of economics, sociology, and political science one may not find separate propositions and theories which can be considered generally true. It is a question of whether, imbedded in the conventional division of the social and human sciences as now constituted, one can find wholly discrete self-contained and autonomous “models” or “systems,” each with a built-in dynamic principle of its own. One may even raise the question whether the field of economics (that much envied paradigm) in spite of its much vaunted mathematical models can as a whole, in all its aspects, be considered a completely autonomous discipline. It is interesting to note that even while the older social scientific disciplines are making an enormous effort in time and money to prove the purity and integral autonomy of their methodologies, newcomers such as game theory, cybernetics, communications, etc. are seceding and declaring their independence.

What is involved is not the question of methods of empirical investigation. Any avenue which provides access to information — documentary, archaeological, interviewing etc. — should be welcomed by all. Even here the notion that some methods are more infallibly “scientific” than others ignores the built-in limitations and defects of all methods. Again the notion that our failure to achieve universal agreement on “what makes China (or any other culture) tick” is simply due to the lack of a proper method of empirical investigation betrays an enormously simple-minded reading of the human situation.

The real difficulty, however, lies not on the empirical but on the “Platonic” side — in the assumption that sociology, anthropology, political science, etc. each should be conceived of as possessing a self-contained system or model to be treated in isolation from other aspects of human experience. A model, be it noted, is not an idea or theory even though it may employ ideas and theories generally derivative from others as its bricks. It is interesting to note that Max Weber, who has provided so many of the ideas himself, was most passionately concerned with the area of interaction of the economic, the political, and the religious, etc. He was even interested, it may be timidly suggested, in ultimate philosophic implications.



  • Benjamin Schwartz, ‘The Fetish of the “Disciplines”,’ The Journal of Asian Studies, vol.23, no.4 (August 1964): 537-538


Yuan Ming Yuan, 1999. Photograph by Lois Conner

A Lone Cheer for Sinology

Denis Twitchett

Chair of Chinese at London University


I enter this controversy from a somewhat curious position: I began life as a physical geographer, graduated in the high tradition of European Sinology, work in the field of economic history, and administer a department of languages and literatures. I suppose I might be said to have a foot firmly in each world, and to be qualified to make a plea for the unity of Chinese Studies. Additionally, the circumstances of British university teaching force my colleagues and myself to face this problem continually, since our undergraduates specialize in Chinese Studies to the exclusion of all else, and we are forced in our teaching to attempt a broad coverage of both the humanities and the social disciplines, to give our students a reasonably broad academic education oriented around China.

I feel, however, that the discussion has been posed wrongly on two counts. First, there is an assumption underlying all the contributions that some implicit hostility exists between “Sinology” and the disciplines of history and the social sciences. Second, the terms in which the tension is defined: “Sinology versus the ‘disciplines’,” prejudices the issue. There is a strong case to be made for Chinese Studies themselves as a discipline which, I would suggest with some trepidation, has far more unity, a more closely integrated set of techniques, and far more of a corporate sense of purpose than has, for example, history.

The dispute — if one can call such a chorus of virtual unanimity by that name — also falls down in that the word Sinology is used by the participants in a wide range of meanings. At one extreme it is used to characterize a rather ridiculous caricature compounded of pedantry and a preoccupation with peripheral and precious subjects of little general significance, a caricature which is held — most unfairly — to represent the scholarship of Pelliot. At the other extreme, the definition used by professor Mote is so broad and all-inclusive as to mean little more than humanistic studies in the Chinese field. No one in his right mind can regret the passing of pre-War Sinology. But the current trend is, I believe, to denigrate our predecessors for all the wrong reasons.

Admittedly, Pelliot in his weaker moments wasted his precious talent and immense learning on some trivial subjects, and was frequently carried away by his scholarly virtuosity to a point where his argument disappears beneath the arabesques and embellishments of his critical apparatus. But nonetheless he took the tremendously important step of bringing Western Sinology abreast of Chinese scholarship by his extraordinary breadth of reading and his vigorous critical standards. And, moreover, Pelliot, great and overwhelming father-figure that he was, was not all of pre-War scholarship. His predecessors and contemporaries, Chavannes, Maspero, and Otto Franke, produced a corpus of historical work which was quite comparable in quality with — and vastly wider in its sense of historical vision than — that of our generation. That their work is now dated is no more surprising than that, to the English medievalist, Maitland and Vinogradoff now require reassessment, and even less so when we consider the amazing rapidity with which not only Western but even more Japanese and Chinese Sinology have developed over the last three decades.

Why we should legitimately feel some self-satisfaction when we look at the work of our predecessors is just this: the immense technical advances which our profession has made, in adopting the methods of up-to-date Western scholarship rather than taking over a pale reflection of Qing Learning, in the far higher standards of linguistic precision and bibliographical knowledge, and most of all in the growth of a strong corporate sense in our field of study. When we think of our predecessors of forty years ago, mostly working alone, starved of funds, deprived of adequate libraries, ignorant — through lack of communication — of work in progress elsewhere and of the work of our Far Eastern contemporaries, and bundled away by the academic world in some dusty corner along with Egyptology and Sumerian Studies, we may legitimately rejoice that we live in more fortunate times, rather than sneer at their fumblings.

Might I also suggest that pedantry and a preoccupation with trivia are not monopolies of the Sinologist. A glance through current issues of journals concerned with Western history or the social sciences on the shelves of any library would lead one to suppose that a vigorous training in one of the disciplines is no more prophylactic against the misemployment of advanced techniques of analysis in the pursuit of unimportant topics. We would be culpable if we rejected the achievements of Sinology, its critical standards, and its vigorous methodology of textual and philological criticism just because Pelliot occasionally spent a hundred pages of footnotes in vain pursuit of a foreign place name, just as we would be to reject modern social science for spending much time and money investigating toilet training among immigrant Puerto Ricans. Both “disciplines” are essentially a body of techniques and approaches designed for specific purposes; there is no question, as some of the contributors seem to assume, of a value judgment between them.

Sinology in the narrow sense the positive aspect of the Pelliot caricature is in the last analysis the traditional discipline of textual criticism and “philology” applied to Chinese literature, a set of techniques designed to extract the most accurate possible information from a body of data, in this case the written word. In my contention, this discipline is the irreducible essential in the training of a scholar who is to deal professionally with China’s past. Without it, the scholar will remain an amateur, however skilled he may be in analysis, since he will never be able adequately to understand or assess his sources. The application of these techniques may lie in any field. A scholar wishing to make an historical study of kinship, for example, will need every ounce of Sinological acumen. It seems to me that for the historian or the social scientist working on the past there is no essential difference between employing the techniques of Sinological philology, and employing the techniques of statistics.

And just as statistics provides both a useful tool to the specialist in a wide variety of fields and also a perfectly valid discipline in its own right, so with Sinological philology.

On the other hand, if the Sinologist imposes high philological standards of his own, he must accept the fact that when he borrows techniques and approaches from other disciplines, he too must take care that he understands what he is doing. There is no more excuse for the Sinologist writing incompetently on technical subjects than for the social scientist working incompetently upon texts. And there is no adequate reason for the Sinologist refusing to adulterate the purity of his philological training by taking over techniques of analysis which can open up whole new territories in the study of China’s past, or for the social scientist to insist on preserving his professional virginity against the contamination of Sinology, which could open up for him the vast and priceless record of China’s traditional society.

If Sinology in the narrow sense is a prerequisite for serious work on traditional China, Sinology in the broad sense in which it is employed by Professors Mote and Schwartz is even more essential. That is to say, Sinology should provide us with a broad understanding of Chinese culture and society in all its aspects, to give us the sort of instinctive understanding and orientation which we have of our own society simply by being born and educated in it. Moreover, it should give us the ability to see through the eyes of the Chinese literati who wrote our materials, and thus to enable us to discount their prejudices and preoccupations before reinterpreting what they have written in terms of our own. The point is obvious in the case of studies of literature, and should, I hope, be obvious in the study of history. Indeed, my definition of Sinology and Mrs. Wright’s of history are virtually identical in their breadth of scope.

It might, however, be thought irrelevant by the more mechanistic of social scientists. But for them the problem in fact occurs frequently and in acute form, whenever they deal with historical sources. Even when we are working on institutions — matters which were nearest to the heart of the traditional historian — we are forced to rely almost entirely upon material processed for the record by professional historians working in a formal convention. To get beyond the carefully composed picture which they have handed down to us, we require an intimate understanding of their tradition, and to share, in part at least, their cultural and intellectual background.

Perhaps the most intractable problem for the Western scholar of China, whether he be involved in literature or history, is to attain a feel for the totality of any period, that second sense of style and time which for example enables us instinctively to put a date to an English poem. We do have a sense, however blurred and inexact, of the quality of life in nineteenth century London or seventeenth century New England, which not only colors our study of these periods, but immensely broadens and enriches them. Few of us, I fancy, have the breadth of reading to have achieved this sort of broad feeling for and understanding of Chinese history. Yet without it, our historical and literary studies are much the poorer.

Of recent years the study of Chinese history, in China and Japan and in the West, has tended to become more and more technical and we are in some danger, I think, of neglecting the primary task of the historian, the imaginative reconstruction of the past in all its infinite variety. Specialization within our field is inevitable — the day of the general-purpose, Jack-of-all-trades Sinologue was over long ago — and is enriching our understanding of China’s past and present immensely. But specialization ought not to mean rigid compartmentalization. The day when our experts in poetics, although aware of the latest niceties of contemporary Western criticism, are ignorant of Chinese history and thus of the context in which poetry was written, and when our historians, although clearly appreciating interesting parallels with Byzantine bureaucracy, are unable to read Lu You [陸游] or the Chin Ping Mei 金瓶梅, will see us all the poorer. In the humanities at least, academic developments have still not done away with the need for the generally well-read and educated man. To produce such men to work on China’s tradition is the ambitious but inescapable task facing Sinology.

And what is to be done? First of all we must attempt to maintain the excellent corporate spirit which characterizes our field. Even if our pedantry occasionally enrages the social scientist, and his polysyllabic excesses of terminology sometimes offend and perplex us, we should at least both make the effort to understand what the other is doing. Secondly, since we are after all mostly on speaking terms, why not more collaborative work between specialists in the various fields? Both sides could learn a great deal thereby.

Lastly let us face the logic of our peculiarly difficult field, and the heavy linguistic burden which it imposes, and accept the fact that, if we are to stay in business as our Japanese and Chinese colleagues develop their own methodologies, we most urgently need to train a generation to succeed us who have had both a first-rate Sinological training and a sound academic education in the discipline which they wish to profess. This will take anything from seven to ten years. It is our responsibility, by deepening and broadening our understanding of China through Sinology or through the application to Chinese material of any valid form of scholarship, to convince students that this is a field worthy of a lifetime’s dedication, and one in which the intellectual satisfaction to be gained will outweigh even such an arduous training.

May we hope that if we do train such a generation now, in another twenty years they will be able to look back at our own present scratchings and fumblings with the affectionate self-satisfaction which we ourselves feel on viewing in retrospect the age of Pelliot.



  • Denis Twitchett, ‘A Lone Cheer for Sinology’, The Journal of Asian Studies, vol.24, No.1 (November 1964): 109-112

Chinese Studies and the Disciplines — the Twins Shall Meet

Kung-Chuan Hsiao 蕭公權

Professor of Political Science, Washington University


Chinese Studies (alias Sinology) and the disciplines came, in the end, from the same parentage: the desire to know. They are intellectual twins which, nurtured in divergent circumstances and showing dissimilar traits, are thus “fraternal” rather than “identical”. Academe has always been nursery and playground for the disciplines. In the early days, those who served as Sinology’s amahs were mostly non-academic people. Uncommitted to the established disciplines and frankly amateurish in approach, they all but bastardized Sinology in the eyes of the more strait-laced among the governesses of the disciplines. For a time, some of the latter were hardly aware of the underprivileged twin’s existence.

This state of affairs did not last. Even among Sinologues of the older generation were men who, in addition to making Chinese texts available to Western scholars, applied the methodologies of the academic disciplines and made handsome contributions to the study of Chinese civilization. Later on, a number of graduate students trained in the disciplines in Western institutions of higher learning followed suit, bringing the methods and concepts of the humanities and social sciences to bear on Chinese Studies. This trend continues, sometimes with added deliberation and quickened pace, in universities where programs of Chinese Studies have been established.

It has now become fairly general practice, in the United States at least, to confer advanced degrees not on students of Chinese Studies as such but on those who have completed graduate training in one of the disciplines, with China as their area of specialization. This process, which may be described as the “disciplinization” of Chinese Studies, is thus becoming institutionalized. In a matter of decades it has brought forth a new generation of Sinologues appreciably different from the “twenty-years-in-the-country” and “speaking-the-language” breed of old. The underprivileged twin, now respectable, is ushered quietly into hallowed academe.

While Chinese Studies are prospering through rapprochement with the disciplines, the latter are somewhat tardier in realizing the benefits that such rapprochement could bring. Overzealous guardians of the humanities and social sciences are apt to see little value in extending the frontiers of scholarship beyond Europe and America, and stand unwittingly to suffer the consequences of their “splendid isolation.” As Mr. Skinner has remarked, “social scientists … have been parochial while claiming universality. They studied Western man and spoke of mankind.” They are in fact area specialists without knowing it. As a result, their “theory falls woefully short of universality.” A good illustration of this is cited by Mr. Levenson. The man-versus-nature dichotomy which has been a dominant motif in Western thought has little relevancy in analyzing Chinese thought. “Europology” or “Americology,” it may be said, has no greater claim to adequacy than Sinology.

A change, however, is under way. Some disciplines, by the very nature of their subject matters, are inherently or actually worldwide in coverage. Anthropology and geography are the two most obvious instances. “All history,” Mrs. Wright points out, “is implicitly comparative.” Indeed it would be safe to suggest that all the humanities and social sciences are potentially if not implicitly so. It is hardly surprising therefore that economists, lawyers, political scientists, and others are now increasingly committing themselves to comparative study of non-Western societies.

A survey of the teaching curricula and research activities currently obtaining on a number of campuses will bear this out. As this trend promises to continue and expand, it is conceivable that the disciplines will become virtually global in their concern and thereby bring themselves to the threshold of genuine universality.

Another trend may be noted. Mr. Mote has made a strong case for “the integrity of Sinology.” No one can deny that Chinese (or any other) culture should be studied as a coherent whole. “Life,” in Mr. Murphey’s words, “is rarely unidimensional.” It can be understood only when viewed from different angles. The disciplines are simply so many regularized points of view from which to scrutinize any given society or culture. All of them are pertinent to the integral approach; no single one of them can give a multidimensional picture of reality. Somewhat ironically, premodern Sinologues who were not bound by canons of any discipline did in effect follow something like an integral approach. In the modern scheme of things, a scholar has to identify himself with one of the established disciplines; there is no place in academe for the “jack of all trades.” However, identification with a particular discipline should not prevent an enterprising scholar from trying his hand at the integral approach to Chinese or any other Area Studies, provided he refrains from ascribing infallibility or self-sufficiency to his chosen discipline. The case for the integrity of Sinology, in other words, postulates the interdisciplinary (or multidisciplinary) approach to Chinese studies. A student of Chinese society should of course make the best of the special expertise which his own discipline furnishes him, but at the same time he should not deny himself the benefits to be gained by keeping his eyes and mind open to what the people in other disciplines have to offer. Comparing notes and exchanging views with these people will have a deepening as well as broadening effect on his own scholarship. He is likely also to find it rewarding to work with people in different disciplines, to pool their several skills in cooperative research undertakings. He might even judiciously borrow methods and concepts from other disciplines to test or supplement those afforded by his own discipline.

Wading in unfamiliar waters is not without risk, but it yields a better chance of coming close to the integrity of Sinology than does standing pat on home ground.

At any rate, interdisciplinary ventures prudently made would be an effective prophylactic against the malaise of academic solipsism which too often results from overconfidence in the efficacy of unidisciplinary approach.



  • Kung-chuan Hsiao, ‘Chinese Studies and the Disciplines — the Twins Shall Meet’, The Journal of Asian Studies, vol.24, no.1 (November 1964): 112-114

Symposium on Chinese Studies and the Disciplines

The Journal of Asian Studies, vol.23, no.4 (August 1964)


Editor’s Note (p.505)

The following five papers, presented as a panel on March 22, 1964, at the Sixteenth Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies in Washington, D.C., are reproduced here at slightly greater length than in their original versions. The panel was organized by G.W. Skinner with the prior understanding that these somewhat longer versions would be prepared for publication in the Journal. The papers were, however, written independently of one another and have not been modified as a result of the discussion. It is clear that several of them use the term Sinology somewhat difierently, but that in balance there is more agreement among the authors than might ideally have been planned in order to stimulate the kind of discussion and exchange which a panel implies. There was, however, vigorous discussion from the floor, of which the comments by Benjamin Schwartz, printed immediately following the papers in this issue, are a sample. We will publish in the November issue comments from two others, who will be able to base their remarks on the present printed papers. Others who may wish to send in comments for publication are invited to address them to the Editor.


Comments on the ‘Chinese Studies and the Disciplines’ Symposium
The Journal of Asian Studies, vol.24, no.1 (November 1964)