China in German translation : literary perceptions, canonical texts, and the history of German sinology

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The history of German translations and retranslations of Chinese canonical texts is only slightly older than the history of German Sinology itself. While other European countries had political, religious, or economic motives to initiate contact with China early on, Germany’s quest for knowledge was mostly of a philosophical nature (Franke 1997: i). Hence, it was not the Chinese themselves who first acquainted German speakers with their cultural heritage, but rather the Italian and French Jesuit missionaries to China who, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, introduced the Confucian canon to Western readers, primarily in the Latin language (see Bauer 1984). For many decades, German knowledge and scholarship on China was intimately connected to European missions, trade, and diplomatic activities, but also to a homegrown humanistic philosophy and an ever-changing translation theory.
The translations from Chinese into German during that time have been of three kinds: the assimilation of Chinese imagery and thought into German poetry (“Verdeutschung”); retranslations from other languages, mainly from historical and philosophical writings; and select scientific and academic translations, often from the area of geography. The retranslations and later translations of Chinese philosophical, historical, and select literary texts and their adaptation into the national German literature during more than three centuries of cultural contingence between the Chinese and the German people reflect not only a protean image of China, but also one of European cultural and social politics in the German-speaking world. This article looks at the interrelations between cultural predispositions, philosophical movements, and academic developments during three centuries of “China-lore” in China, to understand how these factors have influenced the establishment of a translation canon and the translation practice of Chinese texts into German.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOne into many : translation and the dissemination of classical Chinese literature
EditorsTak-hung Leo CHAN
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
Number of pages42
ISBN (Electronic)9789004485914
ISBN (Print)9789042008151
Publication statusPublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


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