According to its face value, 汉学家 should mean someone who has made great accomplishments in the research of subjects in relation to the Han people, like John King Fairbank (费正清)or even the former US Secretary of State Dr. Kissinger, who have made in-depth researches of China as a whole.

But recently someone like Howard Goldblatt (葛浩文)is introduced to Chinese readers as a 汉学家, but what he has done is no more than translating a couple of Chinese novels, and even in his loose style translation, he has added some of his own things and deleted some of the original texts, so in this sense he is not even up to a hundred percent translator.

What does the phrase 汉学家 really mean?

  • A man interested in traditional Chinese culture and devoted himself into studying it.
    – Spin Lee
    Jul 5, 2021 at 4:40

7 Answers 7


It means sinologist, i.e. someone expert of Chinese matters.

Usually it refers to scholars or researchers with formal education in such areas as Chinese history, language and linguistics, politics, economics, etc. People who study China and things related to China. Many users here are sinologists.

Technically, someone who does not hold a degree in Chinese studies should not be referred to as a sinologist, just as much someone who doesn’t have a degree in medicine should be called a doctor.

However the term can be loosely applied to people who have good understanding of Chinese matters even if they don’t have an academic background. How freely you want to use that term kinda depends on your agenda and what you are trying to convey.

Howard Goldblatt according to Wikipedia does have a PhD in Chinese studies, so it’s accurate to define him a sinologist.


Sino- before vowels Sin-, word-forming element meaning "Chinese," 1879, from Late Latin Sinæ (plural) "the Chinese," from Ptolemaic Greek Sinai, from Arabic Sin "China," probably from Chinese Ch'in, name of the fourth dynasty of China

汉学家:sinologist, a foreign scholar of things Chinese (not just of Chinese language or translation)

[should really be Qinologist!?!]




汉学家 = sinologist

a person who studies or is an expert in sinology (= Chinese language, literature, history, society, etc.)

Notice it wrote: 'studies or is an expert in sinology'

So even someone who isn't an expert, as long as he is seriously studying Chinese language, literature, history, society. He can still qualified as a sinologist (汉学家)

Edit: When I said 'seriously' I meant doing it full time.

  • Can a native Chinese be a "Sinologist"?, because a contributor said "汉学家:sinologist, a foreign scholar of things Chinese" Also, by "full-time, you mean doing it for a living, professionally? Dec 3, 2021 at 3:20
  • I think a native Chinese can be a Sinologis. Full-time means treating it like a job, you don't have to earn a living out of doing it.
    – Tang Ho
    Dec 3, 2021 at 4:00

I think there is a misunderstanding of 汉学家 and 汉学学者.

Anybody can be called a 汉学学者 if he posses broad knowledge on Chinese studies with a thorough understanding of the Sinology through the relentless studies and continued researches, however, very few can be called 汉学家.

汉学家 is the award from the vast 汉学学者 to the person who is an outstanding 汉学学者 with distinct knowledge (to the tiniest details), significant contributions and broad influences to the Sinology.

I don't know who is 葛浩文, but if his work has mainly been "translation", though he could be outstanding in his works, possess a distinct style that has influenced, and respected by, many others, I don't consider he has a significant contribution to the Sinology in the sense that his line of work lacks the broadness expected of Sinology. Therefore, he could be awarded the title "翻譯(名)家 but not 汉学家.

But, if he is a known and well-respected 汉学学者 who specialized in translation, then 汉学家 could be justified, as the outstanding in translation may not be his "sole" accomplishment in the field of Chinese study (Sinology).

At the end of the day, we can award anybody with "xx家", only if the bag holds the water, which means without or with minimal objections, it may stick.

  • Some of them might be known as 中国问题专家. There is another confusing phrase 国学, because it is hard to define what is 国学. Some people teach their kids some texts written in the old-style Chinese, then they are known to be teaching their kids 国学, and if you look carefully, you can find some nursery schools are branded 国学幼儿园 where the same ancient poems and adages are taught. Jul 6, 2021 at 14:42
  • @NanningYouth 中国问题专家 is an expert in China issues, main political matters. He/she is not necessarily familiar with Sinology. There is no confusion about the teaching of ancient literature to young kids, it is the breadth and depth of the teaching that counts.
    – r13
    Jul 6, 2021 at 15:25
  • 中国问题专家may focus on contemporary issues of China, not necessarily on political issues, they may be the experts on economic, financial, cultural, educational, military, etc, issues. But 国学 is not limited to ancient literature, as far as I know, it is a very broad subject because traditional Chinese medicine is also included, so are astrology, Feng Shui and other interesting things. Jul 7, 2021 at 1:41
  • @NanningYouth 中国"问题(事務)专家" - Expert in "Chinese affairs". Yes, it can be comprehensive, but usually his/her expertise leans heavily on political matters such as policies and foreign relations. If I didn't make mistake, this title is usually given to foreigners rather than the domestic experts who excel in the fields you have mentioned.
    – r13
    Jul 7, 2021 at 4:49

Quote:- "According to its face value, 汉学家 should mean someone who has made great accomplishments in the research of subjects in relation to the Han people"

The preferred definition of any term, be it "sinologist", or any other "...gist", could be subjective and no one point of view is inherently wrong.

However, in searching for a view that's as objective as human language could muster, let's set out the following categories of people who may or may not come into the definitive ambit of being a "sinologist"

  1. University professors who teach Chinese history, cultural-political history, literature, language.

  2. PhD holders in any, all or some of the above subjects, ("the subjects")

  3. Graduates at first degree level of the subjects.

  4. Hobbyists having long years of self or aided study, (formally or informally), of the subjects.

  5. Persons, such as ambassadors, academics, appointed by foreign governments having long and immersive residencies in China have acquired an in depth knowledge of the subjects.

  6. Journalists, with or without any academic qualifications in the subjects having researched and wrote books or articles on the subjects.

  7. National security, military personnel and high level government officials by virtue of their jobs have knowledge and covert insight on the nuances of contemporary Chinese political landscape.

The above is of course not exhaustive, but it may do for our current discourse.

All the categories of persons above have one time or another being described or designated as "Sinologists", rightly or wrongly, and more often times simply to give authoritative credence to what he or she said or wrote.

My view is it all depends on whether you wish to define the term "sinologist" broadly or narrowly, depending on your motivation or political agenda.

There is also the term "China Expert" which is even more problematic; equivalent to calling someone a "Spaghetti Expert"


Well, one possible way to consider this question is to think about 'why does some native English speaker studies 'English' at universities?'.

And yeah, like others has pointed out its really just a way for identifying the person's primary role in the society is doing things related to the 'Chinese language'.

So you know, they could probably(and probably should) be able to translate stuff using Chinese and who knows, could even be some 'history advisor' for some Chinese drama.



漢學家 指外國研究中國學問的專家。

So it has to be a non-Chinese person.

Kissinger is seldom referred to as "汉学家" in Chinese. He is often referred to as "中国通". You can try Google search and see for yourself. Some top search results explicitly say he is not a 汉学家.

费正清 is often referred to as "汉学家", yes.

Honestly, I don't quite understand your problem. Are you saying translators shouldn't be classified as "汉学家"? However, the Chinese language is part of Chinese studies. Or, are you saying 葛浩文's achievements are not great enough to be called a 汉学家?

  • I am a little confused myself, because as you said there must be 中国学问 for them to study, but what is 中国学问?Anything related to China? Can a foreign fan of Chinese pop culture be qualified for a researcher of 中国学问? Dec 9, 2021 at 14:37

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