China (Re)learns Sanskrit:  Alexander von Staël-Holstein and Comparative Philology in Peking, 1917-1937

Date: Wednesday, September 14
Time: 4 pm – 5 pm
Venue: AM103, Alan MacDiarmid Building, VUW (map to the venue)
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Portraits of Baron Alexander von Staël-Holstein


One of the many minor repercussions of the Russian Revolution was the introduction of the teaching of Sanskrit at Peking University (PKU). On a research visit to China at the time, Baron Alexander von Staël-Holstein decided Peking was now more appealing than Petrograd. He made a new home for himself in the city, began teaching Sanskrit and Indian religious history at PKU, and with support from Harvard established the Sino-Indian Institute, which became a research base in China for the newly established Harvard-Yenching Institute.

Through his collaborations with Chinese scholars, Staël-Holstein helped lay the foundations for modern Buddhist studies in China, as well as Tibetan Studies and the new field of Dunhuang Studies. He also helped train a new generation of Chinese and American scholars in the methods of comparative philology, which contributed to the opening up of Sinology in the early 20th century, bringing China’s indigenous traditions of kaozheng scholarship into dialogue with new developments in Chinese studies in Europe and North America.

About the Speaker
Brian Moloughney is Professor of Chinese History at the University of Otago. Between 2006-2010 he was Head of the School of Languages and Cultures at VUW. His current research focuses on the interactions between Chinese and foreign scholars in Peking during the 1920s and 1930s, and how these interactions helped lay the foundations for modern Chinese Studies.