Richard Wilhelm

Overall Rating: 8
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Author: Richard Wilhelm
Title: Die Seele Chinas [The Soul Of China]
Time: 1899-1924
Destination: China
Length: several stays over more than two decades
Type: missionary work
Rating: 8/10

China’s friend

The story: At the turn of the 20th century, RW moves to China in order to take up a job as a missionary. During the next two and a half decades, he spends most of his time in Qingdao, a harbor city that was at that time a German colony, teaching Chinese students and translating classical works into German.

general work about China

The book he wrote about that time is less of a travelogue and more like a general work about China. It is very interesting for a couple of reasons: Unlike Gützlaff before him, RW does not seem to be very keen on proselytizing anybody. He’d much rather teach school, explore China and learn about its culture. His philosophical exchanges with Chinese scholars are very fruitful.

Richard Wilhelm having an interesting time

RW’s stay in China falls into a time that was just vibrating with political and social change: there’s the boxer movement and the foreign aggression that caused it, there’s the struggling Mandchurian dynasty and its eventual overthrow, and then there is the first World War and the time of warlords and political strife after that.

RW doesn’t only observe, but he also shares his opinions (and even predictions) on many of these things. This missionary seems to know China pretty well. The stories and episodes he tells are very vivid, and they certainly don’t feel like they are a century old. And finally: Unlike many of his contemporaries, RW is a true friend of China, and it is obvious that he deeply respects its people and its culture.

China value

So yes, even though some of his predictions turned out to be wrong, this book is still a very enlightening one for anyone who wants to find out more about China and the way that it was perceived by foreigners at the turn of the 20th century. A very valuable book.


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