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Experts Discussed the Problems of Sinology in Kazakhstan

On February 27, 2019, the IWPR Representative Office in Central Asia, analytical platform CABAR.asia and Center for Chinese Studies “China Center” in Almaty organized a round table on the topic “Sinology in Kazakhstan: the current state and prospects”.


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Since the beginning of 2019, the analytical platform CABAR.asia has published a series of materials on the currents state and prospects of sinology in Central Asian countries.

Sinologists of Kazakhstan, representatives of the republican higher educational institutions, analytical experts, researchers and journalists took part in the round table in Almaty. Presentations of thematic reports, a discussion of the status and problems of sinology in Kazakhstan and recommendations were presented for the wide public and decision-makers in the framework of the event.

The participants of the round table on the topic “Sinology in Kazakhstan: the current state and prospects”. Photo: cabar.asia

History of sinology in Kazakhstan

Klara Khafizova. Photo: cabar.asia

Klara Khafizova – a well-known Orientalist scholar and Doctor of Historical Sciences noted that national school of sinology is at the stage of formation, but has quite good prospects.

According to Khafizova, sinology in Kazakhstan originated in the second half of the 1980s. The first Oriental centers appeared in the country by that time. Up until that time the Soviet sinologists were trained in several cities of Russia and in neighboring Tashkent.

Today, the Oriental studies faculties with Chinese philology departments are in all major universities of Kazakhstan. Chinese language along with English has become one of the most popular languages ​​to learn.

Khafizova believes that very few people want to be engaged in Soviet-style classical sinology now. For example, the source study had an applied nature in the past. The Soviet scientists studied history of Central Asian peoples from Chinese, Manchu, Mongolian and Russian sources. In comparison to the contemporary Kazakh sinologists, the scientists of those times neither studied nor discussed China, its domestic policy and some problems.

There were no more than five domestic sinologists with a degree before. Now there are many in all directions. At the same time, it is necessary to recognize a decrease in academic activity and this concerns science in Kazakhstan as a whole.

Nevertheless, Klara Khafizova is positive about Kazakhs sinology, stating that: “the more sinologists, the greater the chance that there will be a good specialist among them.”

The situation with Kazakh youth, studying Chinese and exploring China

Tatyana Kaukenova. Photo: cabar.asia

Tatyana Kaukenova – an expert and author of several articles on China has emphasized in her report that China allocated two hundred and fifty thousand grants to train students from countries adjacent to the Silk Road project (countries of South Asia, Southeast Asia, etc.). Around 18 thousand Kazakh students are currently studying in China, mainly in Chinese language and commerce disciplines. Kaukenova noted that this is a big number, but their usefulness to Kazakh academic science is still questionable.

She identified motivation, research skills, knowledge of China and Chinese and possibility of entering the domestic analytical structures as vital criteria for becoming a good sinologist.

Kaukenova conducted a survey among the students of Center for Chinese Studies “China Center” to learn about the generation prospects that is interested in Chinese. Some respondents have motivation and knowledge of China and the language, but there are also problems with research skills and subsequent access to analytical structures.

According to respondents the Chinese philosopher Confucius, Jackie Chan and the founder of the modern Chinese state Mao Zedong, as well as such personalities as Deng Xiaoping, Bruce Lee, Jack Ma and Yao Ming are the most famous Chinese.

Tatyana Kaukenova emphasized the need for a good secondary education in terms of knowledge about China and the Chinese language; strengthening the emphasis on the Master’s programme in China and request from research and analytical structures.

Azhar Serikkalieva. Photo: cabar.asia

Azhar Serikkalieva, specialist on China and Deputy Dean of Oriental Studies Department at Kazakh National University under the name of Al-Farabi noted that sinology department has been the most popular among other faculty areas for many years. Translation major is the most popular among four departments. After graduation students fulfill their potential in various companies and organizations such as “Asian Gas Pipeline” or “Huawei”. Many Master’s degree students continue their studies abroad.

24 instructors work at the sinology department. There are two Doctors of Science and several PhDs. Half of the department is made up of Kazakhs returned from China. She stressed that there is a need for instructors who can fully and professionally carry out their activities in Kazakh language, including teaching history, economics, culture and other disciplines.

The Kazakh National University under the name of Al-Farabi is currently being transformed into a research university. This is one of the strategic university objectives. Accordingly, the structure and departments of the university are tasked to strengthen the training of Master’s and doctoral Degree students at this university. Gradually, the Kazakh National University will leave the preparation of bachelors and specialize on training of scientific and pedagogical personnel.

For the first time the Kazakh National University under the name of Al-Farabi has received autonomy from the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Previously the curriculum of the Oriental Studies Faculty consisted of more than 60% of the compulsory national standard disciplines, and now the University is actively developing its own educational directions.

Azhar Serikkalieva summarized that it would be desirable to have more integration among scientific and expert communities, especially between the Kazakh speaking and Russian speaking specialists.

Format and problems of sinology in Kazakhstan

Askar Nursha. Photo: cabar.asia

Askar Nursha, Ph.D. in History and dean of the Graduate School of Public Policy and Law of Almaty Management University, stated that sinology in Kazakhstan is experiencing a crisis of the think tanks format (underfunding, “pantophagy”), but this opens new opportunities. Many Kazakh sinologists have “passed” through the state analytical structure and now they are in an independent field.

He believes that the advantage of Kazakh sinologists’ independence is in the fact that they can write objectively and become more interesting to readers. At the same time, the underfinancing conditions might lead to a possibility that China will start financing Kazakh sinologists through various projects and grants. In this case the question arises whether the conclusions of future studies are correctly verified.

Nursha also noted that the situation with sinology in Kazakhstan is still much better than in our other areas. There are no pronounced Russia or Central Asia experts in Kazakhstan. In addition, China specialists in government agencies have an opportunity to write on China. In conclusion, Askar Nursha declared that creating of Kazakh sinologists association would be feasible.

Eduard Poletaev. Photo: cabar.asia

Eduard Poletayev, a political scientist and the head of the “World of Eurasia” social fund stated that there are few conflict experts among China specialists. In his opinion it is necessary to have sinologists with a focus on conflict management, since the Chinese agenda is also connected with conflicts and indignations of a certain population group.

In his opinion, journalists from Central Asian countries should pay close attention to the events that take place in Xinjiang, especially in regard to ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uighurs, and other peoples who are widely represented in the region.

Marat Shibutov. Photo: cabar.asia

According to Marat Shibutov – a political scientist and the head of “Transparency Kazakhstan”, Kazakhstan will begin entering the PRC market for individual products in the next few years. This will create a need for knowledge of Chinese law, economics, negotiation skills and making contracts with the Chinese. Then there will be a need and a possible “takeoff” of Kazakh sinology.

Shibutov noted that the last atlas on China was released in the 1980s during the USSR, and there are no books in the country about China’s relations with Russia, the USA, the EU, Central Asia and the role of Kazakhstan in these processes.

Adil Kaukenov. Photo: cabar.asia

The moderator of the event and China specialist Adil Kaukenov agreed with the arguments of Marat Shibutov. Kazakh businessmen often do not make a preliminary study of the Chinese market before they start investing. He made a living example when one of Kazakh companies decided to build a plant in China for production of natural juices. Without knowledge of Chinese specifics, the marketing specialists decided that there is no juice production industry in Xinjiang and the market is large. If they addressed the services of professional sinologists, they would have learned that the Chinese were distrustful to juice products at that time; practically did not drink them, there were digestion problems. Therefore, in five years this plant was sold to the Chinese.

Kaukenov added that in contrast to Kazakh businessmen, Russian big business ordered research from sinologists prior to entering the Chinese markets and investments paid off in full.

Erkin Baidarov. Photo: cabar.asia

Erkin Baidarov, orientalist, PhD in Philosophy and leading researcher of the Kazak Institute of Oriental Studies under the name of R. B. Suleimenov mentioned a low qualification of young experts on China and other regions. Usually young professionals know Chinese, but they lack knowledge of history, culture and economics.

According to Baidarov, the current condition of sinology is in a bad shape. There are several well-known specialists in the country; however, it is very difficult to call this as Kazakh sinology school. It will take a long time until this school appears, and it will not appear if there are no strong China specialists in Kazakhstan.

Bulat Sultanov. Photo: cabar.asia

Bulat Sultanov – Director of the Institute for International and Regional Cooperation of the Kazakh-German University, Chairman of the Board of “Belt and Road” Expert Club and doctor of historical sciences said that the country needs highly specialized workers on China with knowledge of Chinese.

Sultanov, notes that today there are no sinophiles yet, but there are already sinophobs.

Sultanov stressed that experts are safer to write works on Chinese history and culture. It is difficult to write about the current problems of China, because the author can immediately be “labeled” as sinophob or sinophile.

“The question is who we are: the objects or subjects of the game that is currently going on around China,” said Sultanov. He invoked political scientists and experts to be extremely careful and rely on the principles of Kazakhstan’s diplomacy – multi-vector, pragmatism and protection of national interests.


After discussing the state of Kazakh sinology, the experts made several proposals to strengthen sinology school in Kazakhstan. The main proposals are:

  • Possible creation of a Kazakh-Chinese university, similar to British, American and German universities in Kazakhstan;
  • Improve secondary education, in terms of knowledge of China and Chinese language;
  • It is necessary to introduce or increase the number of hours in the disciplines devoted to Chinese history, culture, psychology, mentality and economy in colleges and universities;
  • Focus on the Master’s Degree Programme in PRC while training domestic China specialists;
  • A greater integration is needed between the scientific and expert communities of Kazakhstan, especially between Kazakh speaking and Russian speaking scientists and experts;
  • Create a specialized sinologists association of Kazakhstan;
  • Inform the local audience about news from China, especially from Xinjiang, filling the information vacuum with objective and verified information;
  • Consult and support Kazakh business in such areas of investing in China as economy, culture, history, negotiating and making contracts with Chinese business;
  • Publication of scientific atlases and books about Chinese relations with Russia, the USA, the EU, Central Asia and the role of Kazakhstan in these processes;
  • Involve the Chinese side in the preparation of Kazakh sinologists in the form of joint research on topics of interest (economics, trade, ecology, history and etc.), quotas in Chinese universities for targeted internships of Kazakh sinologists in China.

Watch the video of the round table “Sinology in Kazakhstan: Status and Prospects” (in Russian):

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