Sinology or Chinese studies is an academic discipline that focuses on the study of China primarily through Chinese philosophy, language, literature, culture, and history, often referencing Western scholarship. Its origins “can be traced to the researches that Chinese scholar made in their own civilization”.
The field of Sinology has historically been considered equivalent to the application of philology in China, and was generally understood as “Chinese philology” (language and literature) until the 20th century. Sinology has expanded in modern times to include Chinese history, epigraphy, and other subjects
The terms “sinology” and “sinologist” were coined around 1838 and use “Sino-“, derived from Late Latin Sinae from Greek Sinae, from Arabic Sin, which in turn may come from Qin, as in the Qin dynasty.
In the context of area studies, European and American usage may differ. In Europe, Sinology is usually known as Chinese Studies, while in the United States, Sinology is a subfield of [disambiguation needed] Chinese Studies.
A China watcher is a person who follows current events and power struggles in the People’s Republic of China.
In Japan, Sinology was known as kangaku (漢学) “Han Studies”. It was opposed to Kokugaku, the study of Japan, and Yōgaku or Rangaku, the study of the West or the Netherlands. It differs from Western and modern Sinology.
In modern China, the study of subjects related to China is known as “National Studies” (Simplified Chinese: 国学; Traditional Chinese: 國學; Pinyin: Guóxué; Wade–Giles: Kuo2-hsüeh2) and foreign Sinology is translated as “Han Studies” (simplified Chinese: 汉学; Traditional Chinese: 漢學; Pinyin: Hànxué; Wade–Giles: Han4-hsüeh2).
Beginnings to the 17th century
The earliest Westerners known to have studied Chinese in significant numbers were 16th-century Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian missionaries—all of the Dominican Order or Society of Jesus (Jesuits)—who sought to spread Catholic Christianity among the Chinese people. The early Spanish Dominican mission in Manila operated a printing press and between 1593 and 1607 produced four works on Catholic doctrine for the Chinese immigrant community, three in classical Chinese and one in a mixture of classical Chinese and vernacular Hokkien.
Dominican achievements among the Chinese diaspora pale in comparison to those of the Jesuits in mainland China, led by the noted pioneer Matteo Ricci. Ricci arrived in Canton (modern Guangzhou) in 1583 and spent the rest of his life in China. Unlike most of his predecessors and contemporaries, Ricci did not regard the Chinese as “idolatrous heathens”, but regarded them as “like-minded literati accessible to the level of learning”. He studied the Chinese Confucian classics, as well as learned Chinese scholars, in order to introduce Catholic doctrine and European learning to Chinese literati in their own language.
During the Enlightenment, Sinologists began to introduce Chinese philosophy, ethics, legal system, and aesthetics to the West. Although their works are often unscientific and incomplete, they inspired the development of Chinoiserie and a number of debates comparing Chinese and Western cultures. At the time, Sinologists often described China as an enlightened kingdom, comparing it to Europe, which had just emerged from the Dark Ages. Among the European literati interested in China were Voltaire, who wrote the play L’orphelin de la Chine inspired by The Orphan of Zhao, Leibniz, who wrote his famous Novissima Sinica (News from China), and Giambattista Vico.
Since Chinese texts had no major connections to the most important European subjects (such as the Bible), they were hardly studied in European universities until the 1860s. The exception was France, where Chinese studies were popularized through the efforts of Louis XIV. . In 1711, he commissioned a young Chinese, Arcadia Huang, to catalog the royal collection of Chinese texts. Huang was assisted by Étienne Fourmont, who published a grammar of the Chinese language in 1742.
In 1732, the missionary priest of the Sacred Congregation “De propaganda fide” from the Kingdom of Naples, Matteo Ripa (1692-1746), created in Naples the first sinological school of the European continent: the “Chinese Institute”, the first core of what would become today’s Università degli studi di Napoli L’Orientale, or Eastern University of Naples. Ripa worked as a painter and engraver in the imperial court of the Kangxi Emperor from 1711 to 1723. Ripa returned to Naples from China with four young Chinese Christians, all teachers of their native language, and created an institute approved by Pope Clement XII. to teach Chinese to missionaries and thereby promote the propagation of Christianity in China.