China watcher

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A China watcher, or, less frequently, Pekingologist, is a person who monitors current events and power struggles in the People's Republic of China.

"China watcher" can be distinguished from Sinologist, which can loosely refer to anyone who studies China, but, especially in the United States, more frequently refers to those who study classical language, literature, or civilization.[1] In other languages, where the term Pekingologist does not exist, the usage of these terms are less rigidly delineated. In French for instance, the term sinologue would refer to both a researcher in Sinology and a reporter of Pekingology.

History and nature of China watching[edit]

During the Cold War, China watchers centered in Hong Kong and many of them were American government officials or journalists. Mutual distrust between the United States and China and the prohibition of travel between the countries meant they did not have access to press briefings or interviews. Therefore, China watchers adopted techniques from Kremlinology, such as the close parsing of official announcements for hidden meanings, movements of officials reported in newspapers, and analysis of photographs of public appearances. One analyst for the American Central Intelligence Agency explained it was "no semantic accident that observers of the Chinese political scene are more often called 'China-watchers' than 'Sinologists,' while analysts of the Soviet Union are frequently referred to as 'Kremlinologists.'" She went on, the "art of China-watching is imprecise at best, and hardly deserves yet to be called Sinology."[2] Those sympathetic to the Chinese Revolution[disambiguation needed] sometimes criticised the China watchers for their Cold War views.[3]

In the years since the opening of China, China watchers can live in China and take advantage of normal sources of information. Others remained in Hong Kong, however. The Hong Kong journalist Willy Wo-Lap Lam has been called the "quintessential China watcher, practiced in the art of Pekingology," whose "scope is wide, but the focus of his analysis is the Zhongnanhai and factional manoeuvring among the political elite."[4] Ethan Gutmann’s writing on China is widely published.[5][6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ American Heritage Dictionary
  2. ^ Gail Solin, "The Art of China Watching" Center for the Study of Intelligence > Studies Archive
  3. ^ Jim Peck, "The Roots of Rhetoric: The Professional Ideology of America's China Watchers," in Ed Friedman and Mark Selden, ed., America's Asia (1971).
  4. ^ David Shambaugh, China Quarterly 142 (June 1995): 608.
  5. ^ Barbara Turnbull (21 October 2014) "Q&A: Author and analyst Ethan Gutmann discusses China’s illegal organ trade" The Toronto Star
  6. ^ "Ethan Gutmann", The Weekly Standard


  • Richard Baum, China Watcher: Confessions of a Peking Tom (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2010).
  • Harry Harding, "The Changing Roles of the Academic China Watcher" (Sigur Center for Asian Studies, 1999. Trends in China Watching: The PRC at Fifty)