Don’t forget the Germans

It is a pity that the German literature about ancient China is so much neglected or ignored. There are numerous excellent studies about Chinese literature, history and culture written by German professors, but you will hardly find it mentioned in the English books that dominate this field of study. This is sad because often the German research excels in thoroughness; many German writers do not spare any effort to scrutinize the subject of their study. You will find a few examples of this below: German books in the spotlight.

Dominique Hertzer
Das alte und das neue Yijing – Die Wandlungen des Buches der Wandlungen (ISBN 3424013293)
Das Mawangdui-Yijing – Text und Deutung
(ISBN 3424013072)

The first book is an excellent study about the Mawangdui Yijing, its history and how it compares to the received text. The second book is a translation of the Mawangdui text, and just as Edward Shaughnessy does Hertzer give the MWD text in combination with the received text. But Hertzer does a better job than Shaughnessy: her translation is very well annotated (and interpreted), and often the modern version of the MWD text that she gives seems closer to the original silk manuscript. For instance, where Shaughnessy gives as the name for hexagram 51 (35 in the received text), Hertzer gives 𣸄. A slightly different character with a slightly different meaning. She also translates the name of hexagram 14 (22), fan as ‘a common and versatile plant, used for medicine purposes, the “Artemisia stelleriana” ‘, which differs quite from Shaughnessy’s ‘luxuriance’. She uses this meaning throughout her translation of hexagram 14. Another remarkable difference is her translation of 34 (11) – 2: ‘The drum stick is lost….’, where Shaughnessy gives ‘wrapped recklessness…’. These differences are worth to take note of, because they give an entirely and less traditional view of the MWD text. If you want to study the MWD text you simply cannot do without Hertzer’s books.

Dennis R. Schilling
Spruch and Zahl – Die chinesischen Orakelbücher “Kanon des Höchsten Geheimen” und “Wald der Wandlungen” aus der Han-Zeit (ISBN 3511092353)

This book consists of five parts:

  1. A general introduction to the Yijing and its history until the Han dynasty
  2. Taixuanjing, “Der Kanon des Höchsten Geheimen”. This chapter deals with the Taixuanjing, its writer, its composition, the numerical structure, astronomical foundations etc., and the meaning of the text. It does not contain a translation of the complete text.
  3. Yilin, “Wald der Wandlungen”. This chapter is the only material in a Western language about the enigmatic Yilin from the Han dynasty, ‘The Forest of Changes‘. Just as with the Taixuanjing it tells about its author, the structure of the text, its features, used images and anecdotes, etc. If you want to study the Yilin you give yourself an excellent start with Schilling’s book.
  4. Other oracle books. Short descriptions of other and less known oracles as Jing Fang’s Jing shi Yizhuan, Lingqijing, Yuanbaojing, Dongji zhenjing and a few others. A fascinating chapter which sparks interest in the history of oracles in China.
  5. Conclusion. About the basic elements of Chinese oracle books and myths & theories about their origin.

Schilling’s book is useful when you study any Chinese oracle – it gives background information which helps you to understand the nature and foundation of most Chinese oracle books.

Hermann G. Bohn
Die Rezeption des Zhouyi in der Chinesischen Philosophie, von den Anfängen bis zur Song-dynastie
(ISBN 3896752820)

Bohn’s book is the most detailed study of xiangshu and yili philosophy and history available in a Western language. It talks in detail about the contents of the Ten Wings, the guaqi theories of Meng Xi and Jing Fang, the Eight Palaces, Wang Bi’s Yijing commentary, Han Kangbo’s commentary to the Xici, Kong Yingda’s Zhouyi Zhengyi, the Yili school during the Song dynasty, Ouyang Xiu, Li Gou, Zhou Dunyi, Xue Jixuan, Lu Jiuyuan, Ye Shi’s criticism, etc. etc. etc., illustrated with pictures and other material which is unknown in the West. This book contains so much new information that it will keep you busy (and puzzled; some systems from xiangshu are hard to comprehend) for months. It is a good company to Bent Nielsen’s A Companion to Yijing numerology and cosmology. An extensive bibliography and an index make this book complete.

Gerhard Schmitt
Sprüche der “Wandlungen” auf ihrem Geistesgeschichtlichen Hintergrund

This book, published in 1970, is small in size but has been very influential in the studies of the original language of the Yijing. Schmitt was one of the first to look at oracle bone inscriptions and bronze inscriptions to illuminate a selection of texts from the Yi. His translations differ greatly from the traditional ones, but it is all motivated by references to ancient Chinese literature and the early inscriptions. The book is very hard to find but it is compulsory reading for everyone who is interested in the language of the Yi. Therefore I have made it available as a pdf download.

Tsung-Tung Chang
Der Kult der Shang-dynastie im Spiegel der Orakelinschriften – Eine paläographische Studie zur Religion im archaischen China
(ISBN 3447012870)

There are not many books which discuss the meanings of oracle bone characters in their context. Chang’s book is one of the few; all the characters are organized by topics as ‘ghost and ancestor cult’, ‘nature cult’, ‘the highest god Di’ and ‘magic actions’. Although it is not a dictionary it is easy to use it like that because of the radical index at the back of the book. The main value of the book is not its definition of the characters alone, but more the mentioning of the context in which a character occurs. By doing this Chang’s book also explains the culture of the Shang.

Raimund Theodor Kolb
Die Infanterie im Alten China – Ein Beitrag zur Militärgeschichte der Vor-Zhan-Ghuo-Zeit
(ISBN 3805311451)

It is hard to find good books about the military in Ancient China. The excellent works of Ralph Sawyer come to mind, and I am patiently waiting for his multi-volume book History of Warfare in China. Kolb’s book is a welcome addition to what we have so far: it deals with the history of the infantry in ancient China up to the Zhanguo-period (475-221 BC). The material is divided by dynasty; it starts with the Shang-Yin period, the sources we have about this period, its culture, and a short section about the chariot. After that the divisions of the infantry is discussed: zhongren 眾人, chen 臣, shi 史, doghunters etc. are discussed in detail, with many references to oracle bones. For each dynasty there is information about weapons, tactics, recrutement, etc. Extensive footnotes, lots of Chinese characters and a lenghty bibliography make this book a valuable work if you want to know how the military shaped the history of China. The only thing that I miss is an index.

Wolfgang Bauer
Das Bild in der Weissage-Literatur Chinas – Prophetische Texte im politischen Leben vom Buch der Wandlung bis zu Mao Tse Tung
(ISBN 3787900705)

This A4-sized book of 74 pages mainly deals with the Tuibeitu 推背圖, an ancient prophetic text in about 66 chapters, often compared to the work of Nostradamus. Just as with Nostradamus is the Tuibeitu used to foretell the future in todays world. But what many people do not know is that there were different versions of the TBT, and Bauer discusses four of these versions, giving images, the content of the text and the differences in each version. It also contains a complete edition of the TBT in color and BW pictures. The TBT is still an important text in China, and there is a version which links the TBT to some hexagrams of the Yijing.

This is just what I have on my shelves. Don’t forget the Germans! Their work is often valuable, inspiring and very complete if we compare it with the English equivalents.