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Do not study sinology!

July 13, 2013 – 6:56 pm

Are you thinking about what to study at university? Have a rough plan about your career? Does your career plan include places like China, Taiwan or Singapore? If yes, you may be tempted to study sinology. Do not study sinology!

Some people give the advice to study what you like most. This recommendation comes from a time when university students mostly came from a privileged part of the society. Today for many people coming from a rather poor worker class background get a ticket to get out of the mess. This ticket is you university education. So, please, do me a favor and don’t waste this ticket.

If you come from a rather wealthy background the advice in this post may not apply to you, however if you plan to get out of the working class and upwards, keep reading.

Do you know any people who studied sinology? I do, and very very few of them can actually make use of what they have learned. Most chose some type of retraining afterwards. What are the career prospects for a sinologist? Maybe you could remove the dust from porcelain vases? Or drive a taxi in your city? If you are lucky, you could after reaching a PhD become a teacher and teach more little sinologists. I don’t want to say anything about the difficulty of learning Chinese, in fact it’s super hard and you need a lot of motivation. But just because something is hard it doesn’t mean it’s valuable.

You may have read interviews with managers who have to do something with China. They may have said something about how hard it is not being able to speak Chinese and how wonderful it was if they learned Chinese before. But let’s examine the statement. Chinese can be valuable to a manager, but Chinese doesn’t transform you into a manager in the first place.

Avoiding the sinology trap

What you should do instead is to think how you want to earn money in China. How you want to use your Chinese in Asia. Sinology may be your first choice, but you have to combine it with another skill. In fact, the other skill is far more important if you want to earn money. Once you know what is your other skill, just study that at university and then learn the Chinese language and about China’s culture in your free time.

If it isn’t obvious by now, you should study anything related to engineering, science or economics. All of them are rock solid choices and they will give you an entrance ticket to an acceptable first job upon which you then can build your career. You will also have the income to study what you like. At that point you may be a manager who by chance can also speak Chinese.

That is also how I did it. I studied computer science. Now I have a lot of freedom to just study Chinese as much as I want. I can support myself financially without any worries whatsoever, yet I have the time to build my career with the Chinese language.

Think about it! And if you have any questions leave a post in the comments section.

Studying at university in the medieval times.

  1. 4 Responses to “Do not study sinology!”

  2. What you say doesn’t sound convincing, because we could say the same about studying German, French, Japanese… I happened to be a linguist, and now I’m working for a world know Taiwanese company. Guess what was the reason they hired me? My background in languages. Not only do I speak German, English, I’m also fluent in 3 other languages. If you study a language it doesn’t mean that you want to be a professor at a university. Some do, but many don’t. I don’t see anything problematic with that, academic knowledge can be applied in very different ways. And if any language is “hot” in this decade is Chinese. There have never been more opportunities to earn money as a non-Chinese Chinese speaker than in our generation. I’m really wondering what caused you to write this post :)

    By MKL on Jul 14, 2013

  3. It would be nice to have some more solid numbers. I’m basing my article on observations. I know four sinologists in person, three of them don’t use Chinese or knowledge about China at all for work, one of them uses Chinese occasionally, but it’s not a hard requirement for his position. Looking at the internet, I can see a lot of sinologists asking for advice on how to get a real job. And while in China I not only met students, I also met foreigners who were there as managers, sales representatives or in other paid positions. Few of them could order a noodle soup in Chinese.

    On the other hand, there are sinologists out there who landed really well paid positions in well know companies. But what are your chances? What percentage of sinologists can find a well paid, permanent job after their Bachelor degree (or Master degree)? MKL, if it worked out for you, great! I guess a lot of things have to come together that focusing on language learning lead to a good job in the end. Most probably personality is a huge factor.

    Sinology does not prepare you for a career. You have to do a lot of extra work, to be attractive as an employee. I think I previously wrote a similar article, basically saying that being able to speak Chinese doesn’t land you a job. Only in combination with other skills will you be competitive.

    That being said, I’d absolutely study some other solid skill and then learn Chinese on the side.

    I studied computer science and finished with a Bachelor degree. Myself and most of my previous fellow students found a good job within a year.

    I’m trying to point out, that for the average person trying to find out what they want to do in life, they should rather pick a career with a solid career path.

    Originally, I want to study history or egyptology. I can’t even begin to say how happy I am I did not do that. In fact before my studies some people put pressure on me to study something solid and now I’m so grateful for that. And I will use any opportunity to pass on this advice to anyone who is in a similar position today.

    You said, that academic knowledge can be applied in many ways. Absolutely true! But then, studying something solid will give academic knowledge and a skillset that allows you to be hired right after receiving the Bachelor degree.

    Finally, I would say the same about people who study other languages than Chinese at university instead of some other subject. The only language that provides real value for a vast majority of people is English. But English is taught at school and when people leave school their English is pretty solid already. I’m not sure if Chinese is hot, but it is definitely hyped up a lot.

    I agree that there are more opportunities than ever for non-Chinese Chinese speakers, yet I want to repeat myself. Chinese + solid other skill is the way to go. I know there are a few universities out there who offer “modern Chinese and economics” and similar offers. I can imagine that this is an acceptable choice. A normal sinology course with a lot of history and even some ancient Chinese mixed in is a clear red flag.

    If that still doesn’t convince you, I want to add that I come from a worker class background and financing my studies has been a struggle. Having studied computer science I am on a clear path to financial freedom right now. And I now have the finances to study Chinese as much as I want.

    By Hendrik on Jul 14, 2013

  4. Sinology does not prepare you for a career. You have to do a lot of extra work, to be attractive as an employee.

    I agree with this statement. But I think this is generally true for almost every academic education these days. The times when you left the university, and got a good job right after that are gone (at least in my country), so additional skills and talents are necessary to stick out from the rest. I agree that we should have some solid data to discuss this issue, because we argue based on anecdotic knowledge. Anyway, I like this topic, and it’s great you wrote about it. See, I kept you in my RSS reader, because I hoped that you’ll have a great comeback. Looks like it was worth the wait :)

    By MKL on Jul 16, 2013

  5. My computer science studies definitely qualified my for a entry level position, without to much additional efforts. And I can say the same thing about numerous fellow students. We all got work. I heard from a good friend who studies biology that the situation is tougher there, but once you get a masters degree you have chances to land a good job.

    And that’s why I think sciences and economics related degrees are a great start. They work independently, while a sinologist or any language related subject needs additional efforts. Maybe you could write about that a bit on your blog? I guess there are people who want to know how to study something language related and at the same time taking the right extra steps to be attractive to employers right after leaving university.

    I’ll most probably not post as much as before because I’m rather busy now, but since last winter I have this plan to revive this site a bit. Let’s see how it goes.

    By Hendrik on Jul 17, 2013

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