In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sino-Hellenic Studies, Comparative Studies of Early China and Greece

  • Introduction
  • General Surveys

Chinese Studies Sino-Hellenic Studies, Comparative Studies of Early China and Greece
Lisa Raphals
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0167


The past few decades have seen the emergence of a new field that has come to be known as “Sino-Hellenic studies.” The field focuses on the comparison—across many disciplinary perspectives and methodologies—of various aspects of the culture, society, literature, art, philosophy, history, and science of ancient China and ancient Greece. These comparisons vary according to method and mode of comparison. Some are thematic, and they make no attempt to match historical patterns; others seek comparable historical or political formations. Comparative work of this kind has been viewed with suspicion from both sides. On the sinological side, it has been viewed as a kind of universalism that tends to subsume non-Western cultures and cultural particularity, in general, under the rubric of hegemonic Western culture. On the Hellenic side, most classicists have been unreceptive to comparison. Some reasons are ideological and derive from the “Classics silo” view, in which the Greco-Roman traditions are sui generis superior and incomparable to anything else. This view is bolstered by an early-20th-century history of problematic comparison. That situation changed significantly with the work of the “Paris school” under the leadership of Jean-Pierre Vernant and later his student and collaborator Marcel Detienne at the Centre Louis Gernet. It has been driven by comparative interests, largely motivated by Marxist and structuralist frameworks. Their work initially had little influence outside France, but it was eventually popularized by anglophone Hellenists such as Geoffrey Lloyd (in part through the work of his wife, the translator Janet Lloyd, who translated many of their works into English), Gregory Nagy, and Froma Zeitlin, among others. Comparative studies are produced by different kinds of collaboration, including the teamwork of a pair of scholars, comparative projects by single individuals with significant expertise in both areas, comparative volumes, and studies by specialists in one field with specific interests and expertise in the other. After a section on General Surveys, the next section addresses five different approaches to Sino-Hellenic studies. The last section contains detailed surveys by area. Because this article concentrates on Sino-Hellenic studies, it deliberately does not attempt to address broader comparisons of Chinese and “Western” philosophy or comparisons of Chinese and Roman, Egyptian, or Mesopotamian culture. Similarly, it does not address the field of classics in Japan or comparative studies of Japanese and Greek or Roman culture.

General Surveys

Only two articles (Tanner 2009, Beecroft 2015) survey the current state of Sino-Hellenic studies from various disciplinary perspectives. This article adds to that number.

  • Beecroft, Alexander. “Comparisons of Greece and China.” In Oxford Handbooks Online. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    Written from the viewpoint of the discipline of comparative literature, with a strong focus on reception history. As Beecroft notes, the comparative study of Greece and China dates back to a mutual awareness of the existence of “classical traditions” since the late-16th-century Jesuit missions to China, including the translation (Euclid) and in some cases paraphrase (Epictetus) of Greek and Roman works into Chinese.

  • Tanner, Jeremy. “Ancient Greece, Early China: Sino-Hellenic Studies and Comparative Approaches to the Classical World: A Review Article.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 129 (2009): 89−109.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0075426900002986

    A review article in the influential periodical the Journal of Hellenic Studies by the art historian Jeremy Tanner marks the first attempt at a systematic review of the development of this field. It is addressed to classicists. According to the author (personal communication), the article was undertaken as part of his initial engagement with the study of classical Chinese.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.