Richard Wilhelm and Alfred Döblin Transread the Chinese Tradition




translation, philosophy, Daoism, Confucius, German


This article compares the transreading of Chinese texts in German by Sinologist Richard Wilhelm and novelist Alfred Döblin. Wilhelm, a spiritual intermediary between China and Europe, worked with eminent Chinese scholars to write accessible translations for German readers of Confucian and Daoist classics. Döblin relied on Wilhelm’s translation of the Liezi for his artistic breakthrough, The Three Leaps of Wang-lun: Chinese Novel. Over two decades later, while exiled in France, he crafted an idiosyncratic presentation of Confucius. Although he used excerpts from James Legge’s English translation, Döblin’s perspective on Confucius is grounded in his exposure to Chinese texts in Wilhelm’s German translation. Both Wilhelm and Döblin reinterpreted Chinese philosophy to provide lessons for 20th-century Western readers.

Our analysis recognizes the social environment that shaped both writers’ interest in Chinese philosophy. We examine selected passages from these two representatives of the German literary tradition in order to indicate their convergent positions on Sino-Western cultural contact. Their shared stances toward the Chinese tradition, their own marginal positioning, physical migration, and intellectual alienation culminated in a unifying, outsider’s view. Both Wilhelm and Döblin initiated and promoted significant interactions on a basis of equality between Chinese and Western cultures.



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6. 05. 2024



Translating and Transreading between China and the West

How to Cite

Perdue, Peter C., and Huiwen Helen Zhang. 2024. “Richard Wilhelm and Alfred Döblin Transread the Chinese Tradition”. Asian Studies 12 (2): 13-41.

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