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Everyone’s a “China Expert”

Richard Wilhelm did great contribution to translation of Chinese culture. Do you know his motivation? Find answers here.
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The other European powers, meanwhile, saw their opportunities slipping through their hands. They envied the Anglo-Saxons immensely for their cultural sway. Richard Wilhelm, the ‘James Legge of the German world’, once mused, in typical German frankness, that Asian thought was just waiting there to be picked up by more resourceful Western scholars –first come, first served-, and whatever he and his colleagues wrote and reported back to Europe would then almost inevitably become the point of references for generations of generations of European scholars to come. So much power in the hands of so few China experts. Wilhelm believed he was the chosen one, destined to evangelize China. He translated dao as “SINN” (meaning), dehe translated as “LEBEN” (life).
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Wilhelm was so obsessed with holiness that he translated shengrenas “Heilige” (saints). He knew perfectly well and self-interested- that his guru-style and his association with Carl Gustav Jung, the psychiatrist and psychotherapist, would attract more funding to sponsor his personality cult. Richard Wilhelm wasn’t interested in introducing Taoism; but used Taoism or elements of it to introduce Richard Wilhelm. While James Legge’s work exhibits scholarly quality, Richard Wilhelm’s interpretations border on the occult.
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For example, while Legge calls the Taoist shengren “the sages,” (wise men), the mystic Wilhelm talks about “the appointees” (German: die Berufenen). The former suggest wise men from experience; the latter such as persons chosen or appointed… but appointed by whom? God? Heaven? The Committee of the Taoist Association? The German term ‘Berufene’ is associated with Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation –the belief that God gave each man his profession. Wilhelm shamelessly abused an old language trick first played by Christian Wolff, the Germany’s first sinologist. Christian Wolff sometimes uses Chinese texts in translation only, from the Chinese into French into Latin – now we are looking at the Latin translation from the Chinese.
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It resembles of course Latin, thereupon that Wolff, a Latin speaker himself, overcomes with great satisfaction and joys at his new “discovery,” announced that “This looks familiar. I now feel that I totally understand this Confucius!” Wolff then went to share with the world his unforgettable findings such as “The Motives of the Chinese”, The Final Purpose of the Chinese, and so on.
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He taught the Europeans that everyone could become a China expert without knowing a single word of Chinese Richard Wilhelm, who lived in China, went a step further than this; he did not just translate, but often decorated his editions with quotes from the Bible and Goethe and other European thinkers, to “proof” that his translations were true because they clearly resemble the words and paraphrase the European thinkers we already know, and whose views we already share.

The German translator Richard Wilhelm wasn’t interested in introducing Taoism; but used Taoism or elements of it to introduce Richard Wilhelm himself. He even said that Asian thought was just waiting there to be picked up by more resourceful Western scholars first come, first served, and whatever he and his colleagues wrote and reported back to Europe would then almost inevitably become the point of references for generations of European scholars to come.

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Taoism and Western Culture

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