Hungary has been in close political and linguistic contact with Turkish culture for centuries. It is thus natural that Hungarian interest in Asia has focused on Turkish subjects, and from there moved to the study of what is now called Inner Asia, along with adjoining Tibet. Hungarians have contributed greatly to these subjects, though not always from within the borders of Hungary itself.
In search of clues to Hungarian national identity, Hungarian explorers ventured into Inner Asia in the early 19th century. The first of these, in 1820, was Alexander Csoma de Korös, who eventually became the founder of Tibetology. The term "Inner Asian studies" (Hungarian: belsoázsiai kutatások) first appeared in the masthead of the journal Turán (the Bulletin of the Hungarian Center for Oriental Culture, published from 1913 to 1944). The term was the invention of the Hungarian Count Béla Széchenyi, who himself had led a scientific expedition to the region in 1877-80.
In the first three decades of the 20th century, discoveries of Inner Asian antiquities in a series of explorations by the Hungarian-born British explorer Marc Aurel Stein made important contributions to knowledge of Inner Asia, culminating in Stein's multi-volume report on Innermost Asia (1928). These discoveries, as is well known, are highly consequential for Sinology also.
In 1940, Louis (Lajos) Ligeti, who studied in Paris with Pelliot (and, in Chinese subjects, with Maspero), became the first occupant of the Inner Asian Chair at the University of Budapest. Ligeti was the vice-president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences for two decades, and the founder of Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, the most important Hungarian journal of Oriental studies.
Denis Sinor, another Pelliot student, took the Hungarian tradition of Inner Asian studies, in all its Parisian rigor, first to Cambridge and then more permanently in the 1960s to Indiana, where he created an administrative and intellectual powerhouse that has entered the 21st century in thriving condition.
Inner Asia may or may not be the key to Chinese history, as some Japanese Sinologists have asserted, but it is clearly necessary for an understanding of one of the great themes in Chinese history. To that margin, and indeed (speaking from a pan-Asian viewpoint) to that center, the Hungarians have contributed much.
1 April 2006 / Contact The Project / Exit to Sinology Page