Portrait of a Scholar

N. G. D. Malmqvist

This book deals with the life and career of Bernhard Karlgren (1889-1978), whose researches in a great variety of fields, particularly the historical phonology of the Chinese language, laid the foundations for modern Western Sinology.


The definition of the term “Sinology” has undergone great changes since Bernhard Karlgren entered the stage a century ago. At that time the term covered research related to the language, literature, history, thought, and intellectual aspects of early China. Since the mid-twentieth century the definition has been considerably broadened to include more modern aspects, with special emphasis on sociopolitical and economic topics. In many departments of Chinese in both China and the West, studies of early China have been put at a disadvantage. This book may serve as a reminder that the time may have come to redress the imbalance.


The book begins by sketching the intellectual milieu that characterized Karlgren’s school years and ends with a mention of his last publication. “Moot words in some Chuang Tse chapters,” published in 1976. The intervening seventy years were filled with intense scholarly activities—including his disputatio for the PhD degree in Uppsala in 1915; his subsequent career as Professor of East Asian Languages at Gothenburg University, 1918-1939; and his Directorship of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, 1939-1959.


For many years he served as Vice-Chancellor of Gothenburg University and as President of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History, and Antiquities. He also played a leading role in various endeavors to strengthen the standing of Swedish humanities.

9781611460001 (RLPG)
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Lehigh University Press - Bernhard Karlgen