AskDefine | Define sinologist

Dictionary Definition

Sinologist n : a student of Chinese history and language and culture

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A student, or expert in Sinology

Extensive Definition

Sinology is the study of China and things related to China, by non-Chinese or Chinese living outside China. Sino- is derived from Latin Sinae ("the Chinese"), the origin of which is debatable. In the context of area studies, sinology is usually known as Chinese Studies.


In the Asian Sinosphere, the studies of China-related subjects began early. In Japan, sinology was known as shinagaku ( "China Studies") or kangaku ( "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 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 16th century, when missionaries, 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, and Leibniz who penned his famous Novissima Sinica (News from China).
In 1732 a missionary priest from the kingdom of Naples, Matteo Ripa, 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. The Jesuit Matteo Ripa had worked as a painter and copper-engraver at the Manchu court of the emperor Kangxi between 1711 and 1723. In 1732 he 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 Chinese professor in Europe. By that 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.


See List of Sinologists

See also


  • 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.
sinologist in Czech: Sinologie
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sinologist in Japanese: 中国学
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sinologist in Russian: Синология
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sinologist in Swedish: Sinologi
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sinologist in Chinese: 汉学
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