The History of the Institute of Sinology at the University of Vienna

The first Viennese scientist to study China was botanist Stephan Ladislaus Endlicher (1804 – 1849). He acquired his knowledge of Chinese through self-study and gave private Chinese language classes. In 1843, his student August Pfitzmaier (1808 – 1887) became a lecturer in Chinese at the University of Vienna. However, five years later in 1848, he left the university and became a member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences. In the following years, some sinologists and scientists tried unsuccessfully to become lecturers at the University: Leopold Karl Woitsch (1868 – 1939) became a private lecturer in the Chinese language at the Consular Academy in 1908; Arthur Edler von Rosthorn (1862 – 1945) studied Chinese at Oxford and taught at the Oriental Institute of the University of Vienna. In 1922, he was finally named Honorary Professor of Sinology. He remained in this position until it was withdrawn from him for political reasons in 1939 under National Socialism.

After the Second World War, Chinese lessons at the University of Vienna were resumed until the 1950s. Sinology as a separate discipline, however, was established only in the course of the university reform under the then Minister Firnberg in 1972 with the appointment of Otto Ladstätter (1933-2005) as chair. Ladstätter was a pioneering scholar and teacher of modern Chinese language. Teaching began in Academic Year 1973-74 with a handful of students. Teaching and research focused on modern China. 

In 1998, Erich Pilz (1941 – 2010) received an associate professorship in Sinology with a focus on Chinese history at the University of Vienna. His academic contributions include work on Chinese historiography, recent Chinese history and society, and urban development in China.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, major changes occurred in Austrian higher education. Over the course of these changes, the Old General Hospital was converted into a campus of the University. On 01.01.2000, the Department of East Asian Studies of the University of Vienna was founded by incorporating the former Institutes for Korean Studies, Japanese Studies, and Sinology. Since then, its headquarters are on the campus in the Old General Hospital. The Sinology in Vienna recognized China’s increasing global significance at an early stage and responded to these challenges by adopting new developments in scientific theory and hiring additional personnel.

The Division of Sinology in Vienna gradually became a recognized center of contemporary Chinese research with an international reputation.

Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik joined the department as Ladstätter’s successor in September 2002. Her research focuses on the history of 20th century China, historiography, literature, development economics, and globalization strategies. Richard Trappl (2003) and Agnes Schick-Chen (2006) were given associate professorships in Sinology with a focus on literature and law respectively. In December 2009, the Vienna Center for Taiwan Studies was founded on the initiative of Astrid Lipinsky.

In February 2013, Christian Göbel was appointed professor for a newly-created position of Sinology with a focus on social science. His research focuses on the effects of digitization on Chinese politics, administration, and society, as well as democratization and anti-corruption in Taiwan. Felix Wemheuer (2011 – 2014), Sabrina Habich-Sobiegalla (2016 – 2017) und Heinz Christoph Steinhardt (since 2018) were recruited for a newly-created tenure track position for the state and society of modern China.

Today, the Division of Sinology at the Institute of East Asian Studies has two chair professorships, one associate professor and one tenure-track position, two senior lecturers, two post-doctoral and a number of pre-doc positions. Both in terms of the number of students, and in terms of its resources for promoting junior academics, it is one of the largest centers of research on modern China in the German-speaking world.

The history of Sinology at the University of Vienna has been scientifically analyzed in:

Führer, Bernhard (2001) Vergessen und verloren. Die Geschichte der österreichischen Chinastudien. Bochum: Projekt Verlag.