The Collection of Western Sinological Books at Soochow University

Western sinology (Hanxue 漢學 in Chinese) has a long and complex history that can be traced back to the late Ming-dynasty. One of the earliest sinologists (perhaps even the first sinologist) was Michele Ruggieri (1543-1607, in Chinese Luo Mingjian 羅明堅), an Italian Jesuit priest who not only co-authored the first Portuguese-Chinese dictionary, but also was responsible for a complete translation of the Neo-Confucian Four Books into Latin. The Jesuit China missions certainly were the earliest attempts at understanding China’s traditions of thought and scholarship. But the study of China quickly developed into a broad and highly pluralistic intellectual tradition that is not easy to categorize, an often extremely specialized approach to texts, manuscripts, modes of thought, social and historical realities connected to China and Chinese civilization.

The study of “Chinese philosophy” (Zhongguo zhexue 中國哲學) or “Chinese thought” (Zhongguo sixiang
中國思想) is only one sort of investigation – there are many other ways to contemplate and interpret the reality of Chinese culture and the “Chinese” mind-set. However, with the re-emergence of China as a major world power, pursuing a philosophical approach to China, or Chinese “otherness” per se, is both timely and highly relevant.

To some extent, our Collection (in English, Japanese, German, French, and Japanese, approx. 5000 volumes) reflects the long history of Western sinology. There are books that lead us deep into the world of nineteenth-century travelers and seafarers that seem far removed from our global existence today. Other books reflect the most recent research trends at American or European universities.


For example, there is a book called Chinas Religionen. Erster Teil: Confucius und seine Lehre (Religions in China. First Part: Confucius and His Teaching) by the Czech Orientalist Rudolf Dvořák (1860-1920). It was published in the year 1895 in the Northern German university town of Münster (by the Aschendorffsche Buchhandlung). The fact that a Czech Orientalist chose to write his book in German reflects not only the high reputation of German sinology during the 19th century, but also the complex realities of Central European history. (How many Czech “Orientalists” nowadays still write in German? How many German scholars of today would consider writing their books in Czech?)

Richard Wilhelm is certainly a much more famous scholar. Wilhelm (1873-1930, in Chinese: Wei Lixian 衛禮賢), the German sinologist and missionary, spent most of his working life in China. We are proud to own a copy of the first edition of his Die Seele Chinas (The Soul of China), which is still a wonderful read. For example, the following excerpt is Wilhelm’s description of his first arrival on Chinese soil in 1899:

"First Chapter:  My Arrival in the East

The mists of Central Europe were sunk beneath the horizon. The laughter and the songs of Italy, the blue sky and the silvermooned nights had prepared us for the beautiful world of the East. I made this trip to China on one of those old Lloyd steam ships that were famous for their solid convenience. The seafaring lead to the normal distractions: Flying fish, passing ships, some sea glowing, the distant stars of the southern sky, the wide uniformity of the sea and short excursions in southern harbours with lush tropic vegetation.

The first impression of China was the noise of Shanghai.[...]"

Also included in our research collection is the 1928 Eugen Diederichs (Jena) edition of Frühling und Herbst des Lü Bu We by Richard Wilhelm, and this very thin booklet called Chinesische Lebensweisheit (Chinese Wisdom of Life), printed when Wilhelm was still living in Beijing (Darmstadt: Otto Reichl publishers, 1922).


Another fascinating book of our Collection is Edward Alsworth Ross’s The Changing Chinese. The Conflict of Oriental and Western Cultures in China, published a hundred years ago in New York (The Century Co., 1911). Ross was very critical of Chinese immigrant labor and – a quite disturbing historical fact – supported the so-called “Race Suicide” doctrine; only later he became a supporter of President Roosevelt’s “New Deal”. Ross’s book needs to be taken seriously, especially in a time when potential economic, political, or even military conflict between China and “the West” represents a real danger.

Another rare book is Eugen Moser's Konfuzius und wir (Confucius and us, published in 1923 by Rotapfel Verlag, Zurich). The author portrays Confucius in a rather idiosyncratic manner. Of course, German leftists like Bertolt Brecht and Alfred Döblin in the twenties were less attracted by the rather hierarchic thinking of Confucius, than by the Chinese traditions of social revolution, pacifism, and egalitarianism (just think of the Mohists).

Of course there are many more books, older ones like An Introduction to Zen Buddhism by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki (with a foreword by Carl Jung, New York: Grove Press, 1964), or more recent ones like Chemin faisant: Connaitre la Chine, relancer la philosophie by François Jullien (Paris: Seuil, 2007)... And it might be a rather intriguing historical turn that books often describing a rather mythical Far East are now part of a collection of Western sinology in Taiwan, a highly modernized, pluralistic, and democratic society in which various Chinese traditions are still alive.