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What’s Wrong with the Study of China/Countries

What's Wrong with the Study of China/Countries

Martin Lavicka30 Jun 2014Leave a comment


Hans Kuijper* 


In this paper[1] the thesis is submitted that there is something fundamentally amiss in Western Sinology (Zhōngguóxué, as distinct from Hànxué, which is a kind of old-fashioned philology): ‘China experts’  either pretend  to be knowledgeable about everything related to China, in which case they cannot be taken seriously, or – eventually – admit not to be scientific all-rounders with respect to the country, in which case they cannot be called China experts. The author expects no tenured professor of Chinese Studies/History to share this view. Having exposed the weakness, indeed the scandal of Sinology as practised thus far, he also points out the way junior Sinologists should go. The fork in that road is two-pronged: translating or collaborating.

KEYWORDS: Sinology, area/country studies, complexity, scientific collaboration, e-research

All things are one. (Heraclitus)

There is nothing isolated. (Zhu Xi)

Tout tient à tout. (French proverb)


To mark its 50th anniversary, in April 2003, the Institute of International Relations, a think tank affiliated with the National Chengchi University, in Taipei, published a double issue of its flagship journal Issues & Studies on “The State of the China Studies Field”. The reasons given for this laudable initiative were: a) “the major jump in both data output within China and access to this data by scholars from outside the PRC”, and b) “the dramatic increase in the number and types of individuals analyzing China”. However, the reader who expects to find a critical assessment of how China has been studied will be disappointed. The (mainly Western) contributors to the special issue ignore the elephant in the room. None of them is brave enough to ask the key question: of all the Western scholars having occupied themselves with the “curious land” (David Mungello), who has really been in the business of “analyzing China”, qua China? We think the sad answer to this perfectly legitimate question is: nobody has! Let us explain.

Continue reading at Asian Studies. For an updated version of the article, the reader is advised to contact the author at:


*The author, who graduated in Sinology from Leiden University and in economics from Erasmus University Rotterdam, is a retired civil servant and independent researcher, currently working on a book about the necessity and possibility of scientific collaboration with regard to the study of countries. His email address is

[1] The substantially longer, heavily annotated version, entitled “UPLIFTING THE STUDY OF CHINA”, can be downloaded for free at the website of With the article “IS SINOLOGY A SCIENCE?” (Kuijper 2000) we attempted the ball to start rolling. Our advice having fallen on deaf ears, we found solace in Seneca’s saying: Silentium videtur confessio.

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