Unit of Chinese Studies

Office (Mon-Tue: 2pm - 6pm, Wed-Fri: 8am - 12am): Ms Maria-Carmen Pernoud, Dept of East Asian Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of Geneva, 1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland.

Location: Université de Genève, Philosophes, bvd des Philosophes 22, 1205 Geneva, Switzerland // 2rd fl., Phone: +41 22 379 7287, Fax +41 22 379 7281 .


In 1972, the Department of History, in the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Geneva, opened a course on Chinese History, taught by Jean François Billeter. In 1976, the Faculty set up the first programme in Chinese  Language, Literature and Civilisation in French-speaking Switzerland. At the national level, the programme was designed to complement the Ostasiatisches Seminar of the University of Zurich (created in 1964). Due to limited resources, however, Chinese Studies could only be elected as a minor and not as a major.

In 1987, the Faculty established a Chair in Chinese Studies, and J. F. Billeter was appointed to the position. The programme was extended, allowing the students to elect Chinese Studies as a major.

In 1999, Prof. J. F. Billeter resigned; he was temporarily replaced by Prof. Michael Lackner (1999-2000). In 2001, Prof. Nicolas Zufferey was appointed to the position.

In 2011, the Unit was reinforced by two appointments, with Laure Zhang (Zhang Ning) as Associate Professor and Head of the Unit, and Basile Zimmermann as Assistant Professor and Director of the Confucius Institute of the University of Geneva.

Until 2001, the Unit of Chinese Studies was part of the Department of Mediterranean, Slavonic and Oriental Languages and Literatures (MESLO). In 2011, a separate Department of East Asian Studies (Département d’Etudes Est-Asiatiques, ESTAS) was created, with full programmes in Chinese and Japanese Studies, and a partial programme in Korean Studies. It is one of the most comprehensive East Asian Studies programme in the French-speaking world. The Head of the Department is Prof. Pierre Souyri (Japanese Studies).

Since September 2014, both ESTAS and MESLO departments, as well as their corresponding libraries, are located at 22 bvd des Philosophes, a few steps away from Bastions, in another building full of history, which has been beautifully renovated after the terrible fire that occurred in 2008.

Philosophes (696 Kb, pdf)


Chinese Studies is one of the subjects offered by the Faculty of Humanities. In accordance with the Bologna system, the BA curriculum can be completed in three years (180 ECTS) and the MA curriculum in two additional years (90 or 120 ECTS). The Faculty also accepts Ph.D. students.

At the BA level, the students must choose two majors, for example Chinese Studies and French literature, or Chinese Studies and Japanese Studies. Most courses are taught in French; a good command of Chinese is necessary at the MA level.

The number of students enrolled in Chinese Studies at the BA level generally ranges between 70 and 80 students. In addition, 30 to 40 students are enrolled in the different Master programmes (Chinese Studies, East Asian Studies and MASPEA, see below).

The Unit provides a fully-fledged and polyvalent programme which enables graduates to explore various fields of sinology, from ancient classics to contemporary society. The programmes are organized as follows:

BA in Chinese Studies (180 ECTS)

- 1st year: Modern Chinese I, 6-8 hrs/week; Introduction to Chinese Studies 2 hrs/week; lectures on various topics, 2-3 hrs/week

- 2nd year: Modern Chinese II, 7-8 hrs/week; Introduction to Classical Chinese I, 2 hrs/week; Introduction to Chinese Literature, 3 hrs/week

- 3rd year: Modern Chinese III, 4-6 hrs/week; Introduction to Classical Chinese II, 2 hrs/week; Modern and Contemporary Texts, 2hrs/week; lectures in Asian Studies or another discipline, 3hrs/week

BA Curriculum (in French).

MA in Chinese Studies (90 ECTS)

The students willing to undertake the Master in Chinese Studies must hold a BA degree (or equivalent) in Chinese studies. In this curriculum, they select a combination of different courses to be credited towards 5 modules, including:

- Ancient China and Classical Philology module: 3 hrs/week

- Chinese Language & Translation module: 4 hrs/week

- Contemporary China: Society, Literature & Media module: 3 hrs/week

- Asian Studies module: 3-4 hrs/week

In addition, the students write a research Master dissertation (approx. 80 pages).

MASPEA (Multidisciplinary Master in Asian Studies; 90 ECTS)

The MASPEA is an inter-institutional and multidisciplinary two-year programme in Asian Studies. The programme includes modules in different fields such as the Humanities, Social Sciences, Economic and Management Sciences, International Relations and Development Studies, as well as a language module (Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Hindi). The courses are taught in the Faculty of Humanities, the School of Social Sciences, the School of Economics and Management, and at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID). The students also have the possibility to complete an internship. In addition, they write a research Master dissertation (approx. 80 pages).

MESTAS (Master in East Asian Studies with specialization in philology and translation; 120 ECTS)

The MESTAS programme is aimed at students having completed a BA degree (or equivalent) in Japanese (at least 60 ECTS) and Chinese Studies (at least 60 ECTS), taking a keen interest in intercultural and transnational approachs of Asian studies, and willing to deepen their competencies in philology and translation.

Ph.D. students

Students interested in undertaking Ph.D. studies should contact one of the professors at the Unit to discuss their project. Once a professor has agreed to supervise the project, the candidate can enroll at the Faculty of Humanities. Currently, the Unit does not offer a specific Ph.D. programme in Chinese Studies, however seminars may be organized on an ad hoc basis.

Chinese Studies for Chinese students

Chinese students are welcome to attend courses and programmes at the Unit of Chinese Studies. The programme can be adapted, with a focus on Chinese to French translation. Similarly to other students at the Faculty of Humanities, Chinese students will also be encouraged to develop analytical and methodological skills, as well as the ability to work independently.

Other related programmes

The Faculty also offers a programme in Japanese Studies, and the neighbouring University of Lausanne teaches a programme in South Asian Studies; a rather extensive curriculum in Asian Studies is thus available to interested students.

The Department of East Asian Studies also collaborates with other Institutes based in Geneva that are specialized in Asian or Development Studies, amongst which the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID). The Multidisciplinary Master in Asian Studies (MASPEA) was created as a result of this collaboration.

For more information on Chinese Studies at the University, please visit the University homepage (in French), and more particularly our page dedicated to Chinese Studies.

Academic staff & Collaborators

- Prof. Laure Zhang (Zhang Ning) 张宁, Head of the Unit

- Prof. Nicolas Zufferey 左飞, currently Dean of the Faculty of Humanities

- Prof. Basile Zimmermann 金亦然, Director of the Confucius Institute

- Prof. Jean François Billeter, Professor Emeritus

- Dr Jérôme Bourgon 巩涛, Lyons Institute of East Asian Studies

- Dr Vincent Durand-Dastès, INALCO, Paris

- Dr Helen Loveday, Dept. of Art History, Unige

- Dr Romain Graziani, ENS Lyon

- Dr Grâce Poizat (Xie Honghua) 谢红华, Vice-Director of the Confucius Institute

- Ms Claudia Berger 牧晨曦, Lecturer

- Ms Ping Chen-Zeller 陈萍, Lecturer

- Mr Oliver Constable 从一为, Lecturer

- Ms Sung-Mi Kim, Lecturer

- Dr Nadia Sartoretti, Researcher

- Mr Wang Fei 王飞, Lecturer

- Dr Victor Vuilleumier, Lecturer, Geneva and Paris VII

- Ms Jue Wang Szilas 王珏, Scientific collaborator

- Mr Thomas Barbier, Teaching Assistant

- Ms Morgane Gonseth, Assistant (SNF)

- Mr Yann Moellic, Teaching Assistant

- Ms Léa Signer 柳霞, Teaching Assistant

- Ms Manon Widmer 孟容, Teaching Assistant

- Mr Jonathan Truffert, information officer (SNF)

Ph.D. Students:

Oliver Constable, under the supervision of Prof. Nicolas Zufferey and Prof. Pierre Souyri: "La pratique de l’écriture au quotidien en Chine et au Japon en tant que calligraphie : émergences de critères d’appréciation esthétiques".

Dong Yufei, under the supervision of Prof. Laure Zhang: "The Political, Academic and Cultural Thought of Ku Hung-min (1857-1928): Revisiting the Emergence of Modern Conservatism in China".

Morgane Gonseth, under the supervision of Prof. Nicolas Zufferey: "Le roman populaire chinois contemporain: représentations de l'individu, de la famille et des hiérarchies sociales en Chine aujourd'hui".

Monika Guerra-Glarner, under the supervision of Prof. Nicolas Zufferey and Prof. Stefano Zacchetti: "Traduction et commentaire d'un texte chinois du 8ème siècle. Interrogations sur un manuscrit bouddhiste de Dunhuang".

Ammar Halabi, under the supervision of Prof. Basile Zimmermann, Béat Hirsbrunner, and Dr. Michèle Courant: "LoCuS: Local Communities and Online Tools in Syria". (University of Fribourg).

Léa Signer, under the supervision of Prof. Zufferey: "La critique de cinéma et la notion de film d'auteur en République populaire de Chine".

Phung Tran, under the supervision of Prof. Laure Zhang: "Une critique littéraire de la 'modernité' chinoise: enjeux de l'écriture du monde rural chez Mo Yan".

Manon Widmer, under the supervision of Prof. Nicolas Zufferey and Prof. Guillemette Bolens: "Les images du mouvement: des usages du langage dans la transmission des gestes martiaux".

Marie Wyss, under the supervision of Prof. Nicolas Zufferey and Dr. Helen Loveday: "Les nouvelles nianhua ou la récupération de l’art populaire par la propagande maoïste".

Zhu Longjie, under the supervision of Prof. Laure Zhang: "Les 'intellectuels de Canton' et le débat sur le statut des Humanités en Chine au 21ème siècle".

Former staff members:

- Prof. M. Lackner (University of Erlangen)

- Ms W. Billeter (retired)

- Dr G. Goormaghtigh (retired)

- Dr. J. Schumacher (retired)

- Prof. F. Dikötter (University of Hong Kong)

Research and publications

Research projects

In addition to individual research areas, staff members are involved in different national or transnational research projects at the Department level.

In 2010, the Swiss National Science Foundation awarded funding to Prof. Pierre Souyri, Prof. Samuel Guex and Prof. Nicolas Zufferey for their project entitled “China, Korea and Japan : a transnational modern history with a focus on cultural and intellectual representations” (2010-2012).

Starting in 2014, the project "Popular literature in contemporary China: traditional values, Confucianism, politics", funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, is directed by Prof. Nicolas Zufferey and focuses the efforts of Dr Victor Vuilleumier, Dr Nadia Sartoretti, Morgane Gonseth and Jonathan Truffert.

Also starting in 2014, the project "Website analysis in China: The China Pollution Map of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (CHIPOMAP)" is directed by Prof. Zimmermann and has been awarded funding by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Main research areas :

L. Zhang Ning: transformation of the law system in modern China, reception of Western literature in China, social evolutions in contemporary China, contemporary Chinese literature

N. Zufferey: Han dynasty philosophy and intellectual history, ancient and modern Confucianism, popular literature

B. Zimmermann: contemporary China, technology studies, sociology of art

V. Durand-Dastès: history of the traditional Chinese novel and theater, Chinese literature and religions, gender roles in literature and theater

J. Schumacher: pre-imperial philosophy, Tang literature

G. Poizat: linguistics, teaching methods, modern grammar and language

C. Berger: teaching methods, new technologies in language education

Wang Fei: history of Chinese calligraphy and seals, classical Chinese literature

O. Constable: appreciation of Chinese calligraphy in China and Japan, ceramics, painting

M. Wyss: modern Chinese art, propaganda, nianhua and new nianhua

P. Tran: modern Chinese literature

L. Signer: contemporary Chinese cinema text

Main publications (only monographs are mentioned):

J. F. Billeter, Li Zhi, philosophe maudit (1527-1602). Paris & Geneva : Droz, 1979, 313 pp.

J. F. Billeter, L'Art chinois de l'écriture. Geneva : Skira, 1989, 319 p. (English translation The Chinese Art of Writing, New York: Skira/Rizzoli, 1990, 319 pp.).

J. F. Billeter, Chine trois fois muette : essai sur l'histoire contemporaine et la Chine ; suivi de Bref essai sur l'histoire chinoise, d'après Spinoza. Paris : Allia, 2000.

J.-F. Billeter, Leçons sur Tchouang-tseu. Paris : Allia, 2002.

V. Durand-Dastès, La Conversion de l’Orient : un périple didactique de Bodhidharma dans un roman chinois en langue vulgaire du XVIIe siècle. Brussells : Institut Belge des Hautes Etudes Chinoises, 2008, X-437 p. (Mélanges chinois et bouddhiques, 29).

G. Goormaghtigh, L'Art du qin. Deux textes d'esthétique musicale chinoise. Bruxelles : Institut belge des Hautes études chinoises, 1990, 209 pp.

G. Poizat-Xie et N. Zufferey, Mots chinois, Mots français : Manuel d'analyse lexicale pour francophones. Paris : Youfeng, 2003, 226 p.

G. Poizat-Xie, Préparation aux HSK - tout ce que vous devez savoir pour réussir votre test. Paris: Editions You-Feng, 2007. 302p.

G. Poizat-Xie, Vocabulaire du chinois contemporain 1. Paris: L'Asiathèque, 2008. 190p. (+ 2CD)

G. Poizat-Xie, avec la collaboration de N. Zufferey, Mots chinois, mots français - Manuel d'analyse lexicale pour francophones I. (Edition revue et corrigée). Paris : L'Asiathèque, 2010.

G. Poizat-Xie, avec la participation de M. Wyss, Nuances et subtilités de la langue chinoise - Manuel d'analyse lexicale pour francophones II. Paris : L'Asiathèque, 2010.

J. Schumacher, Über den Begriff des Nützlichen bei Mengzi. Bern : Lang, 1993, 364 pp.

L. Zhang Ning, Un autre sens de l'Occident : l'appropriation par la Chine du théâtre occidental. Paris: L'Harmattan, 1998, 303 p.

L. Zhang Ning, Shuxie yu chayi (introduction, translation and commentary to Jacques Derrida's L'Ecriture et la différence). Beijing: Sanlian, 2001, 547 p.

L. Zhang Ning, Delida Zhongguo jiangyan lu (organisation, translation and discussion of Jacques Derrida's lectures in China), ed. with Du Xiaozhen. Beijing: Zhongyang bianyi ju, 2003, 235 p.

L. Zhang Ning, L’Ecriture et la différence (Shuxie yu chayi) de Jacques Derrida, Beijing, Sanlian, 2 vols. Taibei, Rye Field Publishing Co., 2004 (591 p.)

L. Zhang Ning, Jiegou zhilü, zhongguo yinji 解构之旅,中国印记 (Studies on Derrida), Nanjing, Nanjing University Press, 2009 (282p.).

B. Zimmermann, N. Zufferey, Caractères chinois courants. Paris : Youfeng, 2007 (160 p.)

N. Zufferey, Wang Chong (27-97?): connaissance, politique et vérité en Chine ancienne. Bern: Lang, 1995, 220 pp.

N. Zufferey (tr.), Wang Chong : Discussions critiques. Translation, introduction and commentary by  Nicolas Zufferey. Paris : Gallimard (Connaissance de l'Orient), 1997.

N. Zufferey, To the Origins of Confucianism: The Ru in pre-Qin times and during the early Han Dynasty. Bern: Peter Lang (coll. Etudes asiatiques suisses), 2003 (409 p.).

N. Zufferey (tr.) Wang Chong, De la Mort. Paris: Gallimard (Folio 2€), 2006, 120 p. [Extracts from: Wang Chong: Discussions critiques (see above), with a new introduction.]

N. Zufferey, Introduction à la pensée chinoise. Paris: Marabout, 2008 (287 p.)


The Library of the Unit of Chinese Studies is located inside the building Philosophes, 22 bvd des Philosophes, 1205 Genève.

Opening hours: Mon-Fri: 8am - 10pm, Sat-Sun (and during the holidays): 9am - 6pm.

Librarian: Ms. France Besson-Girard (Phone: +41 22 379 7039, )