New PhD programme in sinology launched

21 April 2016

The Chinese symbol for sinology is 汉学. Sinology is the study of the Chinese language, culture, and society.

Uppsala University is launching a PhD studies programme in the Chinese language and Chinese culture and society. The programme is a welcome addition to Sweden’s research community and aggregate knowledge about one of the definitive superpowers of the world.

Uppsala University is launching a PhD studies programme in sinology. Sinology is the academic study of the Chinese language and Chinese culture and society. The PhD studies programme in sinology at Uppsala University constitutes a significant expansion of the Swedish research environments dealing with China, as only two other seats of learning have offered PhD studies programmes previously (Lund and Stockholm University, respectively). Compared to PhD studies programmes in English for instance, there is a vast discrepancy between the number of post-docs in the field and the amount of research conducted.

‘Research on China has fallen behind in Sweden considering the geopolitical position China holds today,’ says Lena Rydholm, professor of Chinese at the Department of Linguistics and Philology. ‘China is strengthening its position in the world, a process that has seen a relatively small amount of scrutiny by western media.’

‘Research is important in order to have experts on current events in China, even if the west sometimes hesitates to criticise China due to our dependence on trade with the country,’ says Joakim Enwall, professor of Chinese at the Department of Linguistics and Philology.

Recently, the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reported on the acquisition of the image agency Corbis by a Chinese company. Corbis owns the rights to a number of classic news images, including from the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. Other examples include the potential source of conflict that is double cities, a phenomenon in China where minority populations live in one city and the majority population in another city nearby. Or the growing influence of China in Africa, a development which has seen military bases being established.

‘We need more research on how developments in China affect us,’ Lena Rydholm says.

‘And to this end, we need to achieve at least a nationally reasonable volume in the research community with doctorates, supervisors, and researchers,’ Joakim Enwall continues.

‘The picture of China commonly broadcast in Sweden has varied greatly over time and continues to do so today, regardless of the actual conditions in contemporary China. In the 18th century, China was considered an ideal, a rich and well-functioning society with a stable rule based on what we in Sweden at the time considered freedom of speech and press. China was held up as a shining example by politicians in the Swedish parliament in the debate leading up to the first Swedish freedom of the press act in 1766, which coincidentally has its 250th anniversary this year. Today, the picture painted of China by the media is often negative, due to the perceive lack of freedom of speech and press,’ Lena Rydholm says.

‘The picture of China is rarely a nuanced one, and generally based on politics. We often fail to give the same amount of attention to Chinese culture and its significance. Chinese literature is a cultural treasure trove of several thousand years, and it is becoming an increasingly important part of world literature,’ says Lena Rydholm.

PhD studies at Uppsala University will offer courses in both classical and modern Chinese literature, as well as Chinese literary theory, including from a global perspective. Lena Rydholm has long been an active researcher in interdisciplinary research programmes on literature. As Joakim Enwall’s area of study is the minority peoples and minority languages of China, this direction will be covered by PhD studies courses in minority languages, including Mongolian and Hmu (Black Miao). Supervision can be offered in this area of research as well.

The PhD studies programme is also important in order to offer Chinese as a language in more Swedish secondary schools. Taking Chinese has become more popular in secondary schools all over Sweden, but teachers are often uncertified. The teacher training in Chinese must therefore be expanded, and this requires more teachers as well as more subject-specific didactical knowledge.

‘More certified teachers of Chinese are needed, as is more knowledge on how to teach Chinese well. There are, of course, similarities to other forms of language training, but also large differences, and we need to do more research on this,’ Joakim Enwall says.

The research and educational environment in Chinese at Uppsala University has been built up over several years, with courses at various levels on Chinese language, culture, and society. Now, PhD studies are next. Currently, funding has been approved for one PhD, but it is hoped that the resources for yet another PhD will be allocated soon. The first call is expected to be issued in the academic year of 2016/2017. The PhDs will be working in a research environment where research on China is conducted at a number of different departments, for instance business administration and political science.

‘We maintain a network in Uppsala University, the Forum for Studies on China, where we hold post-doc and Master’s days for anyone involved in research on China at Swedish universities, among other things. We also arranged, for instance, a national interdisciplinary seminar on 14 April about the Silk Road, and also maintain national collaboration with other seats of learning. The vision within our field is for the Forum for China Studies to become a national centre of China studies in the future,’ Says Lena Rydholm.



Both Standard Chinese and its number of various dialects are spoken in China, Standard Chinese is also spoken as a second language by minority peoples. Standard Chinese is the variant taught in Swedish secondary schools and universities. 70-200 other languages are also spoken in China.

Sinology is the study of the Chinese language, culture, and society. The Chinese symbol for sinology is 汉学 hànxué. The Chinese word consists of the characters 汉 hàn, which in this case refers to the Han dynasty [206 BC-220 AD] and its research tradition, and the character 学 xué, which means studies. In other words, studies in the research tradition of the Han dynasty.

Bildtext: The Chinese symbol for sinology is 汉学. Sinology is the study of the Chinese language, culture, and society.

Read more

Lena Rydholm’s article in Javnost – The Public: ‘China and the World’s First Freedom of Information Act: the Swedish Freedom of the Press Act of 1766.’

Anders Berndt