Jean-Pierre Abel-Rémusat

Jean-Pierre Abel-Rémusat
Born (1788-09-05)5 September 1788
Paris, France
Died 2 June 1832(1832-06-02) (aged 43)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Fields Chinese language, literature
Institutions Collège de France
Patrons Silvestre de Sacy
Notable students Fulgence Fresnel
Stanislas Julien
Spouse Jenny Lecamus
Chinese name
Chinese 雷暮沙
Cover of the French version of Iu-kiao-li: or, the Two Fair Cousins by Abel-Rémusat, titled Iu-kiao-li, ou les deux cousines

Jean-Pierre Abel-Rémusat (5 September 1788 2 June 1832) was a French sinologist best known as the first Chair of Sinology at the Collège de France.[1] Rémusat studied medicine as a young man, but his discovery of a Chinese herbal treatise enamored him with the Chinese language, and he spent five years teaching himself to read it. After publishing several well-received articles on Chinese topics, a chair in Chinese was created at the Collège de France in 1814 and Rémusat was placed in it.

Life and career

Rémusat was born in Paris on 5 September 1788 and was educated for the medical profession, earning a doctorate in medicine in 1813.[2] While studying medicine, Rémusat discovered a Chinese herbal treatise in the collection of the Abbé Tersan and was immediately fascinated by it. He taught himself to read it by tirelessly studying the traditional Chinese dictionary Zhèng zǐ tōng 正字通. In 1811, at the end of five years of study, he produced he work Essai sur la langue et la littérature chinoises (Essay on Chinese language and literature),[3] and a paper on foreign languages among the Chinese, which procured him the patronage of Silvestre de Sacy.[4] In 1813, Rémusat published an essay in Latin on the nature of Chinese characters and Classical Chinese entitled "Utrum Lingua Sinica sit vere monosyllabica? Disputatio philologica, in qua de Grammatica Sinica obiter agiture; autore Abelo de Remusat".[2]

Rémusat's early publications established his reputation in the academic community, and on November 29, 1814, a chair in Chinese was created for him at the Collège de France.[5] This date, or, alternatively, the date of his inaugural lecture (January 16, 1815), has been termed "the birth-year of [academic] sinology."[6] Rémusat's course in Chinese at the Collège de France focused on lectures on grammar and the study of classical texts such as the Hallowed Documents (Shàngshū), the Laozi (Dao De Jing), the Nestorian Stele, and both Chinese and Manchu editions of the accounts of the life of Confucius.[7] His lecture notes were eventually edited into book form, modeled on Joseph de Prémare's earlier grammar, and published in 1822 as Élémens de la grammaire chinoise, ou Principes généraux du Kou-wen ou style antique, et du Kouan-hou, c'est-à-dire, de la language commune généralement usitée dans l'empire chinois (Elements of Chinese Grammar, or General Principles of Gǔwén or Ancient Style, and of Guānhuà, that is to say, the Common Language Generally Used in the Chinese Empire).[8] This work was the first scientific exposition of the Chinese language in Europe, and was later praised by Henri Maspero as "the first [work] in which the grammar was isolated to take account of the proper spirit of the Chinese language, and not just as a translation exercise where all the grammatical forms of the European languages [...] imposed their individual patterns."[9]

Rémusat became an editor of the Journal des savants in 1818, and founder and first secretary of the Société asiatique at Paris in 1822; he also held various Government appointments.[4]

In 1826, Rémusat published Iu-kiao-li, ou les deux cousines, roman chinois (Yu Jiao Li, titled in English as Iu-kiao-li: or, the Two Fair Cousins), one of the first Chinese novels known in Europe (the Chinese original is a minor work, though). It was read by Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Goethe and Stendhal. A list of his works is given in Quérard's France littéraire s.v. Rémusat. His letters to Wilhelm von Humboldt are also of interest.[4]

Around 1830 Rémusat was commissioned to inventory the Chinese items held in the French Royal Library, which inspired him to begin a translation of the bibliographical sections of the Wenxian tongkao to assist European scholars in studying Chinese scholarship.[10] He completed the first volume, "Classics", in 1832, but contracted cholera and died before it was printed.[10] Rémusat is buried along with his wife Jenny Lecamus the daughter of Jean Lecamus, a former mayor of Paris near the church of St. Fargeau in Saint-Fargeau-Ponthierry, Seine-et-Marne.

Selected works

Much of the bibliography above has been drawn from Emil Schlagintweit, Buddhism in Tibet, Appendix A, 1863.

In addition, Rémusat's practical and scholarly contributions in bringing the Dutch Japanologist Isaac Titsingh's unfinished manuscripts to posthumous publication deserve acknowledgment. These works include Nihon Ōdai Ichiran (日本王代一覧, "Table of the rulers of Japan"), and also:

See also


  1. Pouillon, François. (2008). Dictionnaire des orientalistes de langue française, p. 810.
  2. 1 2 Honey (2001): 26.
  3. Kistner, Otto (1869). "Full title of Essai sur la langue et la littérature chinoises". Buddha and his doctrines: a bibliographical essay. London: Tübner & Co. p. 27.
  4. 1 2 3 Chisholm 1911.
  5. Honey (2001): 26-7.
  6. Honey (2001): 27.
  7. Honey (2001): 27-8.
  8. Honey (2001): 28.
  9. Henri Maspero, "La Chaire de Langues et Littératures chi noises et tartares-mandchoues", cited in Honey (2001): 28.
  10. 1 2 Honey (2001): 29.
Works cited

 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Rémusat, Jean Pierre Abel". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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