By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

In October of 2017, the Renmin University in Beijing hosted the 17th LiteraturstraßeSymposium with the subject: “Life stories in literature, language and media”. Literaturstraße (literature road) is the name of a prestigious German-Chinese Yearbook for Language, Literature and Culture, which was founded in the year 2000 by Chinese Professor Zhang Yushu together with his former German colleague Professor Winfried Woeseler (University of Osnabrück). While the Chinese People’s Literature Publishing House published the first two volumes in Beijing, the following editions of the journal were published by the Würzburg (Germany) based Publishing House Königshausen & Neumann. The Scientific Advisory Board of the Sino-German Yearbook includes among others Professor emeritus Wolfgang Frühwald (Augsburg), Professor Byong-Ock Kim (Seoul) and Professor Naoji Kimura (Tokyo).

The opening of the 2017 Symposium in Beijing was attended by Professor Zhang Yi, Dean of the German Department at the Renmin University. In a release published by the German Embassy in Beijing it was reported that more than 100 German, Chinese, Korean and Japanese philologists and scholars of the German language, as well as Chinese students of German Studies attended the symposium. In his opening address Enrico Brandt, head of the cultural department of the German Embassy, spoke about a “highpoint” that had been reached in diplomatic relations between Germany and China, characterized by an ever-increasing diversity and density. He emphasized that since its founding in 2000, the journal Literaturstraße had made an invaluable contribution to mutual understanding and scientific exchange and had shaped the relations between the two countries.

Professor Zhang Yushu (Beijing), (now) honorary editor of Literaturstraße, Professor Edeltrut Kim (Korea) and Professor Naoji Kimura (Japan) in their greetings reminded participants of the Literaturstraße- Symposium, of how the Journal had come into being. Members of the current editorial team of the Literaturstraße as well as of the China Publishing Group, the German Department and the German Research Center of the Renmin University, who were the organizers of the conference, developed this theme by pointing to the recent success of Chinese German philologists and their translation of Stefan Zweig’s famous work “Marie Antoinette.”

Zhang Yushu: My way to Literaturstraße

A very interesting insight into the work of the founder of the Journal is provided in the book published by the Königshausen & Neumann Publishing House in 2009. The author of the book, “My Way to the Literaturstraße. Selected Works of a Chinese Germanist” is Zhang Yushu who describes his career as a German scholar and founder of the Journal. As he wrote in his introduction, he first got to know Germany and its culture in 1979. In 1953 he began German studies at the University of Beijing. During the tumultuous period of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the country had been plunged into a deep trauma; in that dark period Zhang Yushu had to suffer unspeakable harassment. Thus it seemed to “be a miracle” -when he, who had “always been victimized as the son of a factory owner, as an independent, who had always been humiliated as a pariah, was unanimously elected by his colleagues in 1978 as head of the German department.”

At the invitation of the Goethe-Institute and then as a guest of the Carl- Duisberg- Centers, Professor Zhang Yushu made his first trip to the Federal Republic of Germany from November 1979 to May 1980. He gave his first lecture in German on the reception of German literature, the state of Chinese-German studies and German language education in China. He made contacts in Cologne, Bonn and Dusseldorf – the home town of his favorite poet Heinrich Heine – where he gave a presentation on Heine. During a visit of the Chinese Minister of Education Jiang Nanxiang in Germany, who sought information about the German education system and for whom Zhang Yushu on that occasion worked as interpreter, Zhang made the acquaintance of the chairman of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Bad Godesberg, Dr. Heinrich Pfeiffer. From January to July 1981 he visited the Federal Republic for the second time at the invitation of the Bavarian State Ministry of Education and Culture with the aim to study the education system in the Federal Republic, especially in Bavaria (this included the tripartite and three-tier system of education, the dual system, University, University of Applied Sciences, junior high schools and secondary schools).

In 1982, the education expert of the Bavarian Ministry of Education, Professor Karl Böck together with Professor Wulf Steinmann, Dean of the University of Munich, travelled to Beijing and offered the Chinese Minister of Education Jiang Nanxiang the opportunity to found a German language center at the Peking University with Zhang as its chairman. Böck, who was supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation, also suggested setting up a number of vocational training centers for apprentices in Shanghai and Nanjing. “Skilled workers who were to do an internship in Germany, were to be prepared in my German language center,” Zhang Yushu reported in his book. In 1982 the Chinese Association of Germanists (Chinese Scholars of German philology) was founded. Together with three other colleagues, Zhang was elected as Vice President of the Association.

With a special scholarship from the Humboldt Foundation, from September 1984 to January 1986 he carried out research work at Bonn University. As he wrote in his book, he was very enthusiastic about the German poet Friedrich Schiller, “whom I saw as fellow sufferer of many in the Chinese Intelligentsia and whose history of suffering and fighting I wanted to convey to my compatriots. So I wrote a short sketch in Chinese under the title, ‘A Poet Who Wrestled with Social Ills Throughout his Life,’ which initiated my further work on Schiller.” At the same time he translated works by Heinrich Heine. “Because of the powerful response I received with my translation of Heine’s ‘Romantic School’, the People’s Literature Publishing House asked me to publish Heine’s selected works in four volumes and to participate as editor and translator,” he wrote. He also dedicated great attention to the work of Stefan Zweig and in recent years he worked on the translation of Stefan Zweig’s great work “Marie Antoinette.”

In 1985, at the “International Association for German Studies” conference in Göttingen, he met his Korean colleague Kim Byong-Ock and his Japanese colleague Professor Naoji Kimura from Tokyo, who all three met again in West Berlin at a meeting of the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service). “The friendship created a ‘three-country alliance,’ which led to a German Scholars meeting of China and Japan in 1990 and a German Scholars meeting in Berlin of representatives of the three countries with German colleagues participating as guests in 1991, even before diplomatic relations between China and South Korea were established. Since then, every three years, an East Asian German Studies Conference has taken place in these three countries, in Shanghai, Tokyo, Seoul. (…) We are neighbors in the same East Asian region, but our common language is German and our common task is the representation of the German language in our countries and the mediation of German literature to our compatriots; through this we feel connected and strengthened in our friendship,” Zhang Yushu wrote in his book.

In 1987, Zhang Yushu hosted a symposium in Beijing on the occasion of the 190th birthday of Heinrich Heine including foreign guests from the USA, Japan and Hong Kong.

In 1990 he received a two-year guest professorship in Bayreuth. During this time, the author of the present article had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Professor Zhang in Bayreuth, which was published in the magazine “Ibykus” (Cultural Magazine for Poetry, Science and Statecraft, Vol. 40/1992) under the title, “China and Germany. An Encounter between Two Cultures.” In the interview, Zhang Yushu describes how he, as a youngster, reading a book from Romain Rolland that was dedicated to the life of Ludwig van Beethoven, got his first impressions of cities and culture in Germany and its language which he eagerly wanted to learn. Since it was not possible to study this language at school, he began in 1953 at the University of Beijing with the study of the German language.

At Peking University, we studied from the beginning poems of Heinrich Heine, because these are linguistically very simple,” Zhang Yushu commented. “Let’s take the poem ‘Im wunderschönen Mai’ (In the beautiful month of May) or ‘Ich weiß nicht was soll es bedeuten, dass ich so traurig bin’: I know not what it means, that I should be so sad. In this long poem with its many verses there is only one grammatical difficulty, namely in the last verse, where it says: Das hat mit ihrem Singen die Lorelei getan’(That’s what Lorelei did with her singing’). I did not find the subject,” – “did with her singing,” so where is the subject? (..) This language is so melodious and beautiful. With the help of courses in phonetics we were able to enunciate in the German language very soon and to read the beautiful poems without much effort. But we had no idea of how difficult it is to translate such poems. Many of my fellow students have translated poetry, but almost everything failed.”

Referring to the four-volume Heine edition which he translated, Professor Zhang pointed out in the interview that it was difficult to translate in such a way that is “true to the original and creative in language.” For example, Heine’s irony and the question of what corresponds to it in the Chinese language. “I have to tell you something about the mentality of the Chinese,” Prof. Zhang said. “The Chinese are not what we in the Western World think they are: dry people who only smile and have no sense of humor. That’s not true. When we read Chinese classical literature, we realize that they have a great sense of irony, humor and satire. Therefore, it is not difficult to find in the Chinese language equivalents for translations from German. But the important thing here is that you first have to understand the German text correctly, namely whether the text has an ironical meaning. Take the example from Heine’s “Harzreise” (The Harz Journey): „Die Namen aller Studenten und aller ordentlichen und unordentlichen Professoren hier herzuzählen, wäre zu weitläufig“ (in Göttingen -a famous university city … there are so many “regular” and “irregular” professors…) Heine joked.

The translator had overlooked this ‘pun’ by Heine. He believed that it was a normal university with full and associate professors. But that was the end of the joke. When we wanted to include his translation in the Heine selection, he carefully read through his translation, discovered this passage and found a corresponding ‘pun’ in the Chinese language. So the joke was back again. In the Chinese language, there is an expression for ‘unordentlich’ (irregular) in the sense of ‘schief’ (crooked) or ‘schräg’ (oblique, irregular). That is, there are regular sitting and irregular professors. One understands the joke immediately. In this way we can already find corresponding words in the Chinese language.”

Heine had always fought against the so-called “Tendenz-Poesie” (current trend poetry) of the “Junges Deutschland”, Professor Zhang continued. “The Tendenz-Poesie of the ‘Junges Deutschland’ therefore has no lasting value or lasting appeal, because the time has passed and because the artistic value is not very great.” This was exactly what was experienced in China during the Cultural Revolution. “The Cultural Revolution is also a funny episode. For ten years we only admired eight pieces of the so-called modern revolutionary Peking Opera, which Jiang Qing considered as being acceptable. The Chinese suffered the most during this time. All Chinese literature was rejected as feudal, bourgeois or revisionist. Nothing good was said about the poets. There were only eight works that were offered in revolutionary style at the Beijing Opera for a billion people. On television, radio, cinema, everywhere and every day, these eight songs were repeated.”

When asked (1992) about the perspective for China, Zhang answered that he was optimistic about the “policy of openness” initiated under Deng Xiaoping. “If we continue to pursue the policy of openness, we can certainly make great progress in the next century. There has to be a lot of construction. We are already there. Shanghai is currently the largest port. A lot is being built north and south of it. We are now in the process of building highways, automobile factories and airplanes. Everything is proceeding step by step. China is a big country. Once all the provinces and cities have become active, then it will work. There are many joint ventures with Germany and companies like Volkswagen, Daimler-Benz and Siemens offer great support to the Chinese at the present time.”

Another question was related to Professor Zhang’s opening speech at the Heine Symposium in 1987. At that time, Zhang said in the interview, he explained why “Heine belongs to us. The book’s deepest meaning is to wake people up. Therefore, Heine fought against the German Michel (…) Another aspect of my presentation, which still has to be put in the right light, was about Heine’s fear of communism. What communism was he afraid of? He trembled about a communism where one would use his Book of Songs as bags, in order to pour coffee or snuff in it; that one would hack his laurel forests and plant potatoes in them; that one would cut up the ‘lilies’ and chase away the useless singers and the nightingales. If you read these passages in Heine, you immediately think of the Cultural Revolution. The Campus of Peking University is very beautiful. In the past this used to be a princely court. There is a beautiful meadow which was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. It was used instead for the cultivation of China cabbage. Tons of books were sold. That’s something Heine foresaw.”

How the idea of ​​founding a Literaturstraße came about

In 1997, on the occasion of Heine’s 200th birthday, a symposium was held in Beijing. At that time, as a result of many intensive discussions and guided by the desire to consolidate international cooperation, the idea of ​​publishing a Yearbook of Chinese-German Studies arose. With the Silk Road in mind, the ancient traffic artery between East and West two millennia ago, the yearbook was baptized “Literature Road.” In 2000, the first volume was printed by the People’s Literature Publishing House: “The First Yearbook of Chinese German Studies, since the introduction of the German language in China in the second half of the 19th century.” For many years, the Literaturstraße received support from the Thyssen Foundation. In the preface to the first volume of Literaturstraße Professor Zhang wrote: “On this Literaturstraße we want to export and import ideas from both countries and make them accessible to both peoples. With this Literaturstraße we want to build a bridge, between the hearts of the two peoples and at the same time fill a gap, because for the first time Chinese -German Scholars now have a forum where they can express their opinion about German literature in German.”

Literaturstraße and Silk Road –Paths for Cultural Encounters

In this context, we should look at the greetings given by Professor Naoji Kimura, the well-known Japanese researcher who had studied Goethe and Alexander von Humboldt, to the conference participants of the Literaturstraße 2017 Symposion.

The word Literaturstraße evokes the idea of the ‘Silk Road.’ This word originates from the German geographer Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen (1833-1905). As a European, he for the first time in 1868-72, made research expeditions in China. His trip to China, however, was interrupted by a stay in Japan 1870/71 because of the political turmoil of Yi he tuan. His groundbreaking study of China, “China. Results of my own journeys and studies based on them” (5 vols. and Atlas, 1877-1912), takes into account not only the geology and geomorphology but also the work of the Chinese people; thus it’s not a pure physical geography. Above all, he sees geography as a scientific discipline of the human habitat.”

Kimura referred to the book by Bruno Baumann, Adventure Silk Road. In the footsteps of the Old Caravan Route (F.A. Herbig, Munich 1997), who wrote in his foreword that the term “Silk Road” is very young compared to its age. It was only in the last century that the geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen, whose disciple was the Asia researcher Sven Hedin, had introduced this term into science.

Professor Kimura praised above all the achievements of Professor Zhang. When he launched his “Chinese-German Yearbook for Language, Literature and Culture” at the Peking University in 2000, with spiritual and material support from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, he made a name for himself in Chinese philology in three respects:

First, Mr. Zhang was the first Chinese German Scholar who thought in time about initiating a ‘Literature Road’ between Germany and China. He has clairvoyantly included not only language and literature, i.e. traditional German philology, but also culture in order to anticipate cultural scientific German studies in East Asia.

Secondly, Mr. Zhang has taught the sometimes arduous path of German philology, which implies a silent detour of some of the methodological disputes, by making translation work, for example the translation of Schiller’s works, the main task of the foreign Germanists. The task of translation provides them sufficient philological, literary-historical, interpretational and comparative work.

Thirdly, Mr. Zhang has extended the German-Chinese Literaturstraße to Korea and Japan, and appointed Professor Kim Byong-Ock, Seoul, and myself to the Scientific Advisory Board. I am particularly grateful to him for having included my essays in his yearbook several times in addition to the contributions of Chinese colleagues.”

Kimura pointed out that each issue of the yearbook was linked to a previous symposium with financial support from the Thyssen Foundation. “As the symposium has so far mostly taken place in a Chinese university town, I have been happy to take part in it. But given that the yearbook is to be published semi-annually and electronically from now on, I’m afraid that significant changes will occur here. On the other hand, this means it could be spread worldwide. The aforementioned Bruno Baumann describes the Great Wall of China: ‘Like a long, jagged tail of a kite, the Great Wall winds its way across the mountainous landscape northwest of Beijing.’ But I can see that it has always been possible to climb over mountains and valleys. Now, the Yearbook, initiated by Mr. Zhang, could on the basis of the new media also spread northeast of Beijing. With this expectation, I sincerely wish the new beginning of the Literaturstraße all the best.”

Wiesbaden, February 2018


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