SOAS University of London

China & Inner Asia Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures

Sinological Methodology

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Full Year

This module forms the compulsory component in the MA Sinology, and it provides unparalleled training in the skills necessary to pursue advanced research in the fields of Chinese literature and culture. Although graduates of Chinese studies programmes may be well-trained in both the modern and classical languages, they often find that years of linguistic acquisition in a classroom environment have not fostered the skills of independent thought and study required to begin on doctoral work. This problem is compounded by the armoury of specialised skills – in bibliography, chronology, biography, linguistics, philology and so forth – that are essential for the in-depth study of cultural China both past and present. This intensive and wide-ranging module addresses these concerns, and equips students with both the techniques and the confidence which will stand them in good stead for the demands of doctoral work in the fields of modern Chinese Studies and traditional Sinology. In keeping with this ambitious remit, the module ranges across both classical and modern Chinese, and both simplified and full-form characters, and is premised on the assumption that a successful career in Chinese studies/Sinology involves a high degree of competence across the range.

The module sub-divides into four general sections:
  1. Sinology,
  2. the distribution of knowledge,
  3. philology,
  4. and language each of which is explored in rigorous and imaginative ways.

The module begins with questions of Sinology, exploring the genesis of the term and its development across different centres of learning, both East and West. This component of the module is backed up by an extensive sub-section on bibliography, which offers guidance in the use of traditional and web-based materials; more specialized reference works in fields such as literature, archaeology, religion, and philosophy; and periodicals, newspapers, and series. The second section explores the distribution of knowledge, and investigates issues of censorship, book collecting, editions, excavated texts and manuscriptology, commentaries, reception, and hermeneutics etc. A further sub-section on bibliography provides core contextual information on library science, traditional Chinese encyclopaedias and handbooks, collectania, indexes, and naming systems. Philology and its various branches comprise the third part of the module, which also explores lexicography, the development of writing systems, dialectology, and techniques of exegesis. The final part of the module analyses language, reading, and understanding – covering everything from neologisms and loanwords to humour and ambiguity – before concluding with a discussion of the perennial problems of translation.

In addition to this intensive schedule of sinological training, the module also takes intellectual excursions into such topics as books and tea, the life and works of key cultural figures, eating and cultural heritage, and questions of rhetoric and style. This breadth of enquiry is further maintained through student assignments on various topics and the presentations of book reviews. The books reviewed range from canonical works in the China field to more general writings on history, literature, and culture, and they give students the opportunity to exercise their research skills within a broader frame.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of this module, students will

  1. have a solid knowledge of the main issues and trends in the development of Sinology as an academic discipline, and the leading scholars and their work in the field.
  2. have a solid knowledge of reference works available in a wide range of specialized fields within Sinology and be able to identify and engage with previous research work efficiently and critically.
  3. be able to locate and access the information available in traditional and modern Chinese reference material with advanced awareness of potential pitfalls and problematic explanatory mechanisms.
  4. be able to engage in research in the China field (modern and traditional) at an advanced methodological level.
  5. have acquired a sound and wide knowledge of topics within the China field.
  6. have acquired a solid methodological and intellectual basis for further and more advanced postgraduate (PhD) research work.


Total of 22 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 2 hour lecture.

Method of assessment

One two-hour written examination taken in May/June (50%); one 2000 word essay to be submitted on day 5, week 1, term 2 (20%); one 3000 word essay to be submitted on day 5, week 1, term 3 (30%).

Suggested reading

A comprehensive reading list will be made available to students at the beginning of the module.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules