Mind the Gap

A Reappraisal of the Role of Sinology in China Studies
9:00 am – 10:45 am
Room 6

  • Organised by Li Huayu, Annie Ren
  • Chaired by Nicholas Loubere
  • Annie Ren, “’New Sinology’ and Its Implications for China Studies”
  • Huayu Li, “Gozan Studies: A New Perspective on Japanese Sinology in the Medieval Period”
  • Peilin Li, “Concentricity and Incremental Structure: Spatial Patterns in Zhu Yizun’s Yongwu ci
  • Alice Simionato, “’Our Corrective Views’: On the Multifaceted Purpose of the Manifesto of 1958”

In 1958, partly against the rise of the cold war era “area studies” and partly against the appropriation of Chinese culture by the Chinese Communist Party, four prominent scholars from Hong Kong and Taiwan jointly published a manifesto calling for a reappraisal of Sinology and for a renewed understanding of Chinese culture. This was the first in a series of calls for a more holistic and multifaceted understanding of China and the Sinophone world—an appeal that is more relevant than ever given that the study of China today has become synonymous with the study of the People’s Republic of China. Further adding to our concerns is the general academic trend of over-specialisation which means that China is often studied through the limited viewpoint of economists, political scientists, or gender studies specialists. More alarmingly, we are faced with the increasingly powerful Chinese party-state, which seeks to promote its own version of China and Chinese culture through various means such as the Confucius Institute. The goal of this panel is to address some of the challenges we face as scholars working in China today. It brings together scholars who have worked in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, Australia, and Europe, to discuss different traditions of sinological approach while also offering a general reflection on the future of Sinology as a discipline.

Annie Ren, “’New Sinology’ and Its Implications for China Studies”

The establishment of the Australian National University (ANU) after the Second World War under a mandate to pursue scholarship “in relation to subjects of national importance to Australia”, saw the creation of a research school dedicated to the study of the Asia and Pacific region. This in turn produced a rich and varied community of scholars, translators, politicians, and economists who played a fundamental role in shaping Australia’s understanding of China, and its engagement with the Chinese world. While their positions varied, and their subject of study ranged from trade policies to Song-dynasty lyrics, their engagement with China can be underpinned by a tradition known as “New Sinology” 後漢學, which calls for a holistic and multi-disciplinary understanding of China and the Sinophone world, based on strong foundations in both the classical and the modern Chinese language, and in-depth understandings of China’s past and present. This paper will first provide an introduction to the background and development of “New Sinology” at ANU. It then argues for the relevancy of “New Sinology” in the study of China not just in Australia, but for the larger scholarly community. “New Sinology” not only represent a historical approach which sees China as a vibrant and living entity where present consciousness is shaped by its historical past, but it is also a humanistic approach in its attempt to include China and its broader cultural world as part of our shared humanity.

Huayu Li, “Gozan Studies: A New Perspective on Japanese Sinology in the Medieval Period”

Compared to the Heian and Edo periods, little attention has been paid to Japanese Sinology in the medieval period. During the Kamakura and Muromachi periods (1185–1573), hundreds of Zen monks travelled to China to study under well-known Zen masters of the time. Upton their return, only did they bring back religious practices, they also brought back new ideas on painting, calligraphy, and poetry. As a result, Chinese studies flourished in Zen temples—a large variety of Chinese books were published, and notes known as Shomono 抄物 on studying Chinese poetry were written. Zen monks also wrote Chinese poems that imitated the style of Song Dynasty poetry. This later became known as Gozan Bunka 五山文化 (culture of the Five Mountain Monasteries), which is a second climax in the study of Chinese culture in Japan. In the past ten years, “Gozan Studies” has become the new hotspot in Japanese Sinology as scholars delve into this previously undiscovered treasure trove of materials on Japan’s engagement with China and also the understanding Chinese studies in medieval Japan. This paper will provide a critical overview of the history of the “Gozan Studies” in East Asia and illustrate the transformation from “Tang-style” to “Song-style” in Chinese poems written by Japanese monks. Furthermore, this study will re-examine the possibility of incorporating “Gozan Literature” into the so-called “broad concept of Chinese literature” in East Asia.

Peilin Li, “Concentricity and Incremental Structure: Spatial Patterns in Zhu Yizun’s Yongwu ci

When the allusive characteristics of the yongwuci 詠物詞 (poems in praise of things) were combined with the complex structure of “long tune” 長調, a delicate and elaborate form of ci-poetry was created. The focus of this paper is on a series of long tune yongwu ci by the early Qing dynasty poet Zhu Yizun 朱彝尊 (1629–1709). Zhu himself claimed that these poems were written in the style of the Yuefu Buti 樂府補題, a collection of musical ballads from the late Southern Song dynasty, but many of his critics saw the poems as highly unconventional. The traditional style of Chinese literary criticism, which is impressionistic and often fragmentary, makes it very hard to engage in a detailed and analytical study of Zhu Yizun’s yongwu ci and its relation to the Yuefu Buti. This paper uses the lenses of “Spatial Patterns” put forward by the Chinese-American scholar Kao Yu-kung 高友工and compares the rhythmic pattern and focus points of Zhu’s poems through a process of close reading to show the structural similarities between Zhu Yizun’s yongwu ci and the Yuefu Buti. In addition, this paper also offers a reflection on Kao Yu-kung’s theory and its impact on literary studies in places like Hong Kong and Taiwan. Being a Chinese-American scholar, Kao’s theory occupies a unique position in sinological studies and provides inspiration for generations of young scholars to come.

Alice Simionato, “’Our Corrective Views’: On the Multifaceted Purpose of the Manifesto of 1958”

The well-known Manifesto of 1958 represents a great project of cultural reconstruction, but the stated purpose of the text “is primarily to benefit Western intellectuals in aiding them to appreciate Chinese culture”. At the same time, the authors explain that “Any attempt to modify Westerners’ prejudices toward our culture should be based first on our own true evaluation and self-examination”. The twelve sections of the Manifesto are concise while, at the same time, examining the authors’ view on a great variety of topics such as Chinese contemporary politics, religion, scientific development, and philosophy. The latter, in particular, is of great relevance since the terms “Chinese culture”—as discussed by other scholars such as John Makeham and Jesus Solé-Farràs—are used throughout the document as a synonym for Confucianism. With these premises in mind, this paper examines the purpose of cultural reconstruction advocated by the Manifesto of 1958. In particular, it argues that the authors of the document advocate for a recognition of the fundamental continuity which characterises Chinese thought throughout its development, whether it be past or contemporary. On the one hand, the document represents a reaction to the denial of tradition proper of the Maoist era while, on the other hand, it offers ‘corrective views’ to Western intellectuals who, according to the authors—enter the study of Chinese culture as if it was a museum piece, instead of a living organism. Since this tendency is still present in contemporary scholarship, the authors’ discussion remains of great relevance.

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Room 6
A Reappraisal of the Role of Sinology in China Studies