Shengren – Chapter 2.6 – The Spirit of the German People

When a German tries to do something, he does it thoroughly, with method and system […]. Every German is a born metaphysician! He is not dominated by common sense like the Englishman; he is not a rationalist like the Frenchman; he does not receive all his inspiration from the great traditions of the past like the Italian; and he could not give himself thoughtlessly to the materialization of the forces of life that are immanent in the state, like the Russians. In contrast, the German has the irresistible desire to link every major political, economic and social movement to something transcendent or to interpret them transcendent. [1]

– Anonymous contributor, OAG Notizen

German culture is unique, and not – as some world historians and political philosophers love to propagate – universal. Certain German characteristics explain why Germany could become what it became. Among those characteristics are: Germany’s perceived role as [one of] the bringer[s] of Civilization, Germany’s alliance with the holy, its Bildungsbürgertum (German educated middle-class), the longing for the East, and the Faustian nature of the German spirit.

The Bringers of Civilization: The Germans had their own technical term for sense of mission: Sendungsbewusstsein. The uniqueness of German Sendungsbewusstsein was its radial link to intellectual superiority, which pervaded everything from politics, education, sciences and economics, religion and tradition. The word Bewusstsein means ‘consciousness’; the Germans did not just ‘sense’ their mission – the mission sensed the Germans. The great inspiration for expansion was no longer the French but the British: Empiricism, seafleets, trade posts. But how to go about it? Colonialism didn’t seem to last. The Dutch, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French all overextended, bastardized, struggled to keep their overseas assets. Meanwhile, a German Kaiserreich had emerged precisely because it was core and focused and decisively white European.

For the British it seemed a duty or noble cause to bring civilization to the rest of the world; for the Germans it was a dead duck and dirty work. The travel writer Richard Katz observed the British in Hong Kong and had this to say: ‘Englishmen carry their country with them wherever they go. […] They do nothing to combat smallpox in the syphilis-infested Chinese quarters and do nothing to stop Chinese immigration. As long as the European-city stays healthy and fit, the Englishmen care about the natives. […] The quantity may cut off their heads, wage war or do anything else they wanna do: as long as the quality prospers, there is no reason to become sentimental.’[2]

This tendency of the Englishmen (and later: Americans) to let the colonized continue their own traditions as long as the colonizers could trade and administer, has been seen as English carelessness, almost a mistake. The same rule of the mob the English tolerated in London (democracy), the same mob rule they now installed and promoted in their colonies; and it angered the Germans immensely. Ku Hongming [辜鸿铭], one of China’s most eminent historians, once wrote the following about the Germans with reference to Great Britain about World War One:

The moral causes of this war, I have tried in my essay to show, are the worship of the mob in Great Britain and the worship of might in Germany. I have, in my essay, laid emphasis more upon the worship of the mob in Great Britain, than the worship of might in Germany, because looking impartially upon the question, it seems to be that it is the worship of the mob in Great Britain, which is responsible for the worship of might in Germany; in fact, the worship of the mob in all European countries and especially in Great Britain, it was this which has created the enormous German Militarism which everybody now hates and denounces.[3]

Ku’s influential characterology The Spirit of the Chinese people [中国人的精神] (1922) was in part exposing Arthur Smith’s cruel Chinese characteristics (1900). Ku felt that a great injustice had been done to the Chinese and now entered the stage of world literature to get even, not just with the English but all foreign imperialists. And he continued about the Germans:

Now let me first of all say here that it is the moral fibre in the German nation, their intense love of righteousness and, as a consequence, their equally intense hatred of unrighteousness, hatred of all untidiness and disorder (Unzucht und Unordnung), which makes the German people believe in and worship might. All men who intensely love righteousness, who intensely hate unrighteousness are inclined to believe in and worship might. […] The intense hatred of unrighteousness, of untidiness and disorder in the German nation makes them hate the mob, the worship of the mob and the mob worshippers in Great Britain. […] made the whole German nation ready to starve themselves to create a Navy with the hope to put down the mob, the mob-worship and the mob-worshippers in Great Britain. […] made the German nation worship might as the only salvation for mankind.[4]

Ku Hongming was prophetic in suggesting a German quasi-religious motive: ‘the worship of might.’ Like everyone else, it hadn’t escaped Ku that German language carried not just biblical stuff but intellectual pedantry, thoroughness, and militarism. As if they knew they were over-the-top evil and out of their asses but did it anyway.

The professor emeritus of German of Stanford University, Gordon A. Craig, was looking into it. For his textbook The Germans (1982) he assigned to Germany an obsession first with itself and second with holiness.[5] Craig also mentioned Jörg von Uthmann’s Doppelgänger thesis,[6] according to which the Germans saw in the Jews their mirror image and, in the manner of Edgar A. Poe’s William Wilson, killed its doppelganger: ‘the Germans’ worship of the Absolute was the obsession to eternally pursue every good thing until it has turned into an evil one.’[7]

When the great philosopher Georg Hegel wrote that the West was were entitled to subdue the world;[8] when the biologist Ernst Haeckel taught that the Caucasian race was the most beautiful and perfect one;[9] when the statesman Adolf Hitler boasted that only the Aryan race was capable of creating Culture (Kulturbegründer];[10]when the mathematician Edmund Husserl concluded that Europeans would never Indianize themselves[11]– if all those great German thinkers said it, wrote it, thought it, than all other Germans could say and write and think it too. It is a legacy that won’t go away. Hegel:

Just as it does in the theoretical, in the practical too the European spirits aims at the unit of itself with the outside world; it subjects the outside world to its purpose with an energy that has secured it the control of the world. [12]

Lecturing, finger-pointing and criticizing other cultures and people made the German thinkers feel modern and progressive. Carl Gustav Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, would have called it ‘tough thinkers’: They seem violent, callous, cruel. [In politics today we would call them ultra-conservative or far-right.]

In 1841, Franz J. Haydn [music] and August H. Hoffmann von Fallersleben [lyrics] created the Das Lied der Deutschen [Song of the Germans] –the German national anthem. It names territories that later went to France and was so isolationist and ethno-racialist [völkisch] –’German women and German wine and song’– that after WW2 in 1948, censors had to cut it back to just one stanza, the third one.[13] In 1861 the poet Emanuel Geibel cried: ‘Am deutschen Wesen mag die Welt genesen’ [The world shall recover on German nature], which the German Emperor Wilhelm II famously changed from a ‘mögen’’ (shall) into a ‘sollen’ (ought). A political slogan was born that suggested the essential German must restore the world of men.

The fact that so many negative characterizations exist about the Germans is a sure sign that they had formidable enemies. Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Hunnenrede is every English historian’s’ favorite because the German leader calls for the killing of as many Chinamen as possible ‘without mercy’ in order to ‘open the way for civilization once and for all!’[14] The Kaiser’s henchman in China was Alfred von Waldersee, a Prussian Generalfeldmarschall, who made himself a name [or was smear-campaigned] for his ‘bloody-minded attitude to native insubordination’ and ‘drive for revenge’ against the Chinese.[15] The Prussians wanted to stick it to the Chinese as Beijing had apparently assign the highest rung of dreadful oppressors to the Japanese and the Anglo-Saxons.[16]

The Boxer Rebellion posed a formidable opportunity for the Germans to show some commitment to violence and vengeance. Resistance to colonial lords and white rulers was futile, undemocratic, against the law, and a crime against humanity.[17] It dawned in the extraterritorial concessions that intelligent conversation with the Chinese was not possible [not even the consuls bothered to learn the language]. The most astounding generalizations—they were all true.

Messianic mission: German thinkers had offered much justification for Western superiority: Greek philosophy, Christian Faith, the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation, the Enlightenment, the Reformation, the Nation-State, and the Will to Power. The German philosopher Gottlieb Leibniz already in 1677 explained why the Teutsche Nation must assume Christian leadership:

The German Nation is preferred among all Christian nations because of the Holy Roman Empire. The dignity and rights of the Holy Roman Empire affected the German Nation and its leadership that had become destined to promote the true Religion, the jurisdiction, the Church, and to support the best of Christianity. Therefore the German Nation is obliged to take the leadership and to preside over the other high chiefs, comfortable and deserved. [18]

Wherever the German ventured, they understood themselves as Heilsbringer –saviors. Whenever they left their fatherland, as a general rule, they thought they were doing the world favors –liberators. Even the no-good-doers and the hans-im-gluecks didn’t just look around; they were doing important ethnological field trips, lecture tours, cultural diplomacy, or charity and missionary work [the forebears of today’s NGOs—non-governmental organization]. Everyone could be an expert in East Asia. A dichotomy emerged: If we do it, it is different. Westerners in China could not possibly be migrants—they were ‘expatriats’. Those without formal qualifications could not possibly be uneducated—they were (at bare minimum) ‘teachers’ [laoshi]; those who could parley their rent or buy their own tofu: ‘professors’ [jiaoshou].

The most basic plotline of Westerners who became ‘writers’ because of China goes something like this: the author [shout-outs to fellow expats Tom and Dicky] came to improve a certain situation in that Asian place where he happened to walk in with his Chinese girlfriend. The narrator then went on to explain what he had fixed, why that was so important for the world to know, and where he still fell short of his own high expectations because of some strange local custom or superstition. The reader’s mind is usually fingering all over the Chinese girlfriend.

In German language, ‘to have completed a work’ and ‘to have done something right’ are meshed up into a single phrase: etwas gerichtet haben. The mere presence of a German doing the job is also a judgemental statement about the persons who needed the job to be done: they could not do it by themselves.

Let us now return to the realm of the divine. Thomas Mann called Germany’s biblical delusions the ‘German inwardness’ and the German ‘Alliance with the Holy:’

German Romanticism, what is it but an expression of the finest German quality: German inwardness? Much that is longingly pensive, fantastically spectral, and deeply scurrilous, a high artistic refinement and all-pervading irony combine in the concept of Romanticism – I might say: antiquarianism – of soul that feels very close to the chthonian, irrational, and demonic forces of life, that is to say, the true sources of life; and it resists the purely rationalistic approach on the ground of its deeper knowledge, its deeper alliance with the holy.[19]

Let us explain—epistemologically—what it matters when a holy man speaks to a sagacious man, speaks to an informed man: Holiness beats wisdom, wisdom beats knowledge, but knowledge beats holiness. Or, counter-clockwise: faith is destroyed by facts, facts have nothing on experience, but experience is squashed by faith.

The German alliance with the holy was problematic for Chinese sage culture because a shengren was not a holy man. A shengren was more like a sage. But the Germans didn’t have sages, so they had to settle for either philosopher or saint, but mostly—a saint. A saint is the pest for Confucianism!

Saints. Sages. Philosophers. These are the most common translations for shengren. European scholars were playing an elimination game:

When they wanted to deny the motion that Confucius was a messiah, saint, or religious man [holiness], they better called him a ‘philosopher.’

When they wanted Confucius to not have anything to do with Greco-Hellenic philosopher [knowledge], they better called him a ‘sage’.

When they didn’t want Confucius to be just another wise-crack and charlatan Europe did away with 2000 years ago [wisdom], they better called him a ‘saint.’

The Germans were obsessed with holiness. So they called Confucius a saint—’Heiliger.’

The image below visualizes why there can never be an eternal winner, as each of the three ‘choices’ beats one but is beaten by another:

Profoundly, the shengren was erased by translation. Nobody in Europe knew the shengren even existed. The Germans, the descendants of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation, the Lutherans, the Evangelists, had a ‘free pass’ to Europanize China, and they took it—saints!

The best ‘translation’ of圣人 is to not translate at all. But then, colonialism is also wrong and everybody is still doing it: ‘The sage in the Chinese language is shengren, which means the sort of men who invented li (rituals) and yi (moral principles), and told people what righteousness and justice were.’

The quote above is from a Chinese scholar, Zhao Yanxia. In the West he has to turn his surname and name around: he became Yanxia Zhao. So we entertain an idea of what to expect from his ‘scholarship’: Mr. Zhao tries to please his white masters. He writes in English and compares the concept of Father and son in Confucianism and Christianity. That was a good one! He got Western funds for this. Research was like the News; one first had to fabricate it so it became News.

What kind of ‘research’ is it when our paid scholars suddenly ‘discover’—after having been hired to discover exactly this— ‘the unfamiliar new with the familiar old and fit it into the existing world view’—quoting a German regime press piece by Wolfgang Reinard in DIE ZEIT. This, in academia, is called ‘Comparative Studies’. Comparative Studies was often no different from party politics and Auftragsjournalismus—agenda-driven.

Could it be that academia, large sections of academia, were paid-for propaganda? Could it be that the Mr. Zhaos of this world who are not sponsored by Anglo-Saxon money but funded by German interest groups do not find that ‘the sage in the Chinese language is shengren’; but instead—surprise, surprise—’discovered’ the Chinese shengren to be saints?

Not that all propaganda was inherently bad. Call propaganda culture and we see a different light: Calling shengren a saint or philosopher meant that Western audiences would love Confucius by association. Foreign types, in contrast, were off-putting. But what was convenient was not necessary scientific.

Take this statement: ‘Germany has no shengren.’ Who could disagree? Shengren looked foreign, it was foreign. Why, it didn’t have to. You could learn it. Then it’s wouldn’t look so foreign any more.

What one shouldn’t do was translate, and here is the demonstration: ‘Germany has no saints.’ That’s absurd. Of course European histoy was full of saints. It was/is a saintly culture: Aquilinus, Bonifatious, Wigbertus, Kator von Trier, Sankt Nikolaus, even Brother Klaus…

One day, this European entitlement ‘If we do it, it is different’ will be called into question by a language justice movement. Until then, however, we will have to tolerate quacks like Richard Wilhelm: ‘And Master Kung said: The noble man stands in awe of God’s will.’[20]

In some small circles, the language revolution is already happening, and where you least expected it: With criticsm of Germanized ‘Islam Studies’. The historian Christian Lau, in an article about the recent creation of another ‘theological’ academic discipline, ‘Islamic theology,’ talked about German idealism, Protestant Theology, Life-Jesus-Research, historic-critical Bible-readings, and sarcastically called German Orientalism ‘ein Nebenprojekt der protestantischen Universitätstheologie’ [a side project of Protestant academic theology].[21] The question is, will Islam in Germany assert its terminologies and insist on the correct names—or blow it like the Chinese did?

The pride and power of Germany was its Mittelschicht—the middle class. The Mittelschicht was invincible. In good times it expanded, in bad times it cut some back, but on the whole it was solid and reliable. A well organized middle class was the backbone of a frightful monster: the nation-state. The education of that middle class was called Bildungsbürgertum. It was the ‘education’ of the Mittelschicht that mattered: the doctors, bankers, architects, manufacturers, lawyers, managers, teachers, small business owners, and academicans. The working classes were not educated. They went to vocational schools that made them dull, obedient working drones. Police and the judiciary kept them down permantently. Meanwhile, the elites: aristocracy, land owners, family dynasties, top officials, and the Church, they control the nation. They didn’t rely on education; they had all the resources and privileges.

So, the only class ‘education’ was aiming for really was the middle class: to keep them conform, uniform, homogenous. That meant they had to learn a curriculum of basic natural sciences, but mostly the history of Europe and Germany, Latin and Greek, modern foreign languages, religion and ethics, literature, music. Genres, style, form, the arts were taught. The middle class wrote and spoke and read a certain way: richer vocabularies, longer sentences, more time. Education was thus mainly a humanitarian project: to raise the standard of citizenry—Bildungsbürgertum.

Although all education in Germany was Wissenschaft [science], the Geisteswissenschaften [humanities] were far more prestigious than the Naturwissenschaften [natural sciences]. As Christoph Markschies, the president of Berlin’s Humboldt University confirmed an old rule of power and prestige: ‘I’m completely convinced that to this day the humanities are among the canon of disciplines that determine the elite; at least, at the university that I am the president of.’[22] Of course it is this way.

The study of Eastern languages such as Japanology, Sinology, Sanskritoloy, as well as the ‘Classics’ like Greek and Latin, were called Orchideenfächer (orchid majors)—first because they were rare, artsy, and difficult; and second because orchids are parasitic plants meaning that students of Orchideenfächer usually came from well-to-do families or had rich patrons. Consequently, not only were those Classicists, Japanologists, Sinologists, and Sanskritologists highly respected members of the intellectual elite, they also waived—their tiny number of 5, 6, 7 against the actual populations of Asia’s hundreds of millions—stupendous power and influence in the most disproportional way imaginable over Asian history and how it was written.

At the foundation, all German scholars were much alike, having enjoyed the same basis education that made them German and succeed in German academia. Konrad Jarausch, an expert on German history, in his book Students, Society, and Politics in Imperial Germany – The Rise of Academic Illiberalism (1982) explained the Bildungsbürgertum as follows:

Formal institutionalized ‘cultivation’ determined the degree of prestige within the educated stratum, beginning with ‘academic’ (university) attendance and descending through higher technical training (during the empire engineers gradually achieved formal but not social equality) and the Gymnasium Abitur as prerequisite for ‘being gebildet’ (with lesser prestige for the modern school types). […] A marginal group was those with the certificate of intermediate maturity (Mittlere Reife) […], who obtained the privilege of one-year military service as preparation for reserve officer status. Although intellectuals with individual success as artists and poets might be included among the cultivated, academics were suspicious of the lack of educational credentials and bohemian social mores of the intelligentsia. […] As members of their own professional associations (such as the Ärzteverband) and sometimes as alumni of their student corporations, the educated set the general social tone of much urban life because their higher calling conferred superiority over the commercial middle class, who followed material pursuits.[23]

If a middle class is big enough, it produces all kinds of people. The German middle class produced most of the philosophers, orientalists, practitioners and sponsors of Orientalism, all essentially humanists, we have discussed so far. But why did the German middle class never produced any Weisen – sages? Evidently: because German education—as outline in the many instances above—rejected and prevented the formation of a German sage culture and the German middle class actively discouraged the development of sages.

Additionally, the conventions of the Bildungsbürgertum were a sure vaccination against Oriental influences. Any educated German who grew up in the land of the ultra-conservative Germans Immanuel Kant, Georg Hegel, or Johann G. Fichte, Ernst Haeckel, Edmund Husserl, Max Weber, and Friedrich Nietzsche was sufficiently guarded against the influences of other, lesser cultures. The philosopher Fichte once addressed the Germans in his Reden an die deutsche Nation (1818) as ‘das Urvolk’ [the Original People], and the German langue was its ‘Ursprache’ [the Original Language].[24] The German historian Christian Staas in an article on ‘Einheit durch Reinheit’ (2011) reminded his readers how deep-rooted German racism really was long before the rise of Nazism, for example in the writings the educator Friedrich Ludwig Jahn who elaborated that ‘Blendlingsvölker haben keine echte Fortpflanzungskraft’ [mixed races have no true power of procreation], or the poet Ernst Moritz Arndt, who wrote about the ‘hatred for foreigners’ as if it were a state religion.[25] There is a therapeutical state pedagogy at work: The professors know what’s good for you. [This talking down to people is later picked up by a new power class of tyrants: the regime journalists].

Needless to say that the Germans deeply believed in German philosophy, German mathematics, German physics, even German medicine as something superior to, say, French or British, letting alone Chinese or Japanese ones; for good reason: the Europeans usually put their European names onto everything that technically belonged to nature but was first ‘discovered’ by a nationality, for example: ‘Grimm’s law’ in linguistics (named after Jacob Grimm), the ‘Gaussian integral’ in mathematics (after Carl Friedrich Gauss), ‘Hertz’ in physics (after Heinrich Hertz), the ‘Freudian slip’ in psychology (after Sigmund Freud), or the ‘Bundle of His’ in medicine (after Wilhelm His), and so on.

What flattered the cultural makers the most, however, were the many German untranslatables that found their way into foreign literature, words such as Ansatz, Übermensch, Weltschmerz, Geist, Biedermeier, Realpolitik, Überfremdung, Vergangenheitsbewältigung [coming to terms with one’s past], Angst, Zeitgeist, Blitzkrieg, Wunderkind [a miracle child prodigee], Schadenfreude, Ursprache [primordial language], and hundreds more.

Of such a linguistically combative society, we must assume that academicians know very well the importance of naming stuff; furthermore, that they may have agreed unspokenly, like a secret code of honor, that they would quote each other, reference each other, create their own typologies and translation for foreign things, and censor the rest. At least that would clarify why those German ‘China specialists’ like Wolff, Hegel, and Wilhelm explained the entire Confucian tradition exclusively on Latin or German terms.

Germanism, the deliberate use of only German words, is a cultural extreme: Our names make us proud; your names make us… translate them. The German educated class, the Bildungsbürgertum, was the recipient of massive state propaganda, and thus, despite all the promises of worldliness, inherently anti-foreign, weltfremd, full of itself, and fundamentally biased against everything un-German, later un-European.

Asian traditions just didn’t get a foothold in Germany: By the year 2005, Asian beliefs—Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism—fell below its 1% share in the German population,[26] according to the Wissenschaftlicher Medien- und Informationsdienst e. V. (REMID). The institute only distinguished between various Christian categories: ‘Glauben’ (confession) or ‘Religionen’, not ‘Kulturen’. So, the popularity of Asian thought is polled by Christian institutes, using Christian categories on European terms.

There was only one culture in Germany – German. Even the recent chancellor, Angela Merkel of the CDU (yes, Germany is governed by the Christian Democratic Union), openly declared multiculturalism dead: ‘Multikulti-Gesellschaft ist gescheitert.’[27] And those less than 1% Asian traditions assembled in Germany: mostly Asian immigrants, not native Germans. Germany did not know about multiculturalism, only about assimilation – this was true in cultural matters, too: In Germany, Confucius was still ‘ein Philosoph;’ the shengren was still ‘ein Heiliger’, the junzi was still ‘ein edler Mensch.’[28] This way, you can ‘poll’ every outcome you wanted: From 0% Confucianism [it’s a shengren] to 100% Confucianism in Germany [it’s ‘ein Heiliger’].

Granted, the German language was now under siege by American anglicisms: words like ‘power,’ ‘internet,’ ‘statement,’ ‘event,’ ‘news’ or ‘highlights’ were flooding the German mainstream culture – ‘mainstream’ being an anglicism as well. Anglicisms were the byproduct of the US occupation and colonializsation after WW2. Journalists were made to study in the US. Media had to disseminate American values, names, ideas—words. At the same time, the United States, NATO, and Germany made sure alien terminologies [Communist jargon, Chinese and Islamic slogans…] could not penetrate Western journalism: A language blockade.

Already in the natural sciences, the life sciences, but also in finance, business, administration, journalism, entertainment, music, fashion and life-style, the German language had lost its standing.

The scale of German-language decline in the humanities, that includes East Asian and China Studies, is quite heartbreaking: The administration of China Studies in Germany is done in the United States, so that German sinologists go to the United States in order to study China.

It has gotten so bizarre, that the German scholars abroad (just like German journalists) now preferred to say ‘We are the West’ with the ‘United States is our closest ally’—talking, writing (or at least: copying), and published entirely in English. Even Germany’s cultural exchange with Japanese, Korean, and Chinese scholars was now done almost exclusively in English language (which is an improvement because they couldn’t really communicate for the last 400 years).

Through Americanization, German sinologists now heard what they never thought possible before: tianming, liyi, junzi, and daode were Chinese words—actual words. They can be used any time, no need for crap German translations. And if you don’t do it, if you don’t honor the correct Chinese names, the Americans will hand you crap American translations for use, no problem.

In The Politics of Post-Modernism (1989), Linda Hutcheon argued that Orientalism, the study of Eastern cultures, religions and languages, was the creation of Western scholarship. Human beings cannot not create; the emphasis is on what exactly is created, why, and how it is used: nation-states, industries, overseas empires and world languages were a good start. Western societies searched for new knowledge, while Eastern societies tried to memories it; thus – despite its smaller populations – the West had amassed more knowledge than the East, the master of tradition and repetition, could ever commit to memory. The Western people had allied with the machines and sought to conquer nature, while the Eastern people had put humans first and sought harmoniousness among its people: conquer me and you will be conquered.

Both sides practiced their extreme ways, like two opposing parties of humanity, developed significantly apart, with different strengths and weaknesses. The German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz foretold:

But who would have believed that there is on earth a people who, though we are in our view so very advanced in every branch of behavior, still surpasses us in comprehending the precepts of civil life? Yet now we find this to be so among the Chinese, as we learn to know them better.[29]

The philosophers Leibniz, Wolff, Hegel, Herder, Schlegel, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche, all took the role of witnesses who saw nothing yet wanted to report something about the East—just so to get attention.

They played with the imaginations of their German audiences, yet had never seen nor experienced anyone unlike them. Their philosophies helped fashioning Buddhism and Indian philosophy and the Chinese traditions in such ways that it sounded most familiar and comprehensible, albeit cheap and counterfeit: a magical, pre-Christian world deconstructed and critical analyzed through philosophical lense and intense…monologue:

China has philosophers, but not in a Western sense.

China has human rights, but not in a Western sense.

China embraces the rule of the people, but not in a Western sense.

China has a religion, many religions, but not in a Western sense.

No matter what happened in China, it was never quite in a Western sense: ‘The progress of philosophy goes largely back, as everyone knows, to the Indo-Germanic people.’[30]

But then, what can you do—Bildungsbürgertum was Christian. When German scholarship used biblical vocabulary to describe the Orient, it unconsciously supported Christianity and its aims for world domination; when they used folkloric vocabulary, they unconsciously supported the exotic ‘Otherness’ of a magical and spiritualized East. And had they—only hypothetically since the German philosophers did not know the indigenous names—promoted foreign names shengren, rishis, bodhisattvas… the Europeans would have risked building many sovereign competitors in the East and holding a candle to them. You can kill the tiger, but then you are a tiger-killer. Or, to use an analogy from family relations: the West could marry the East but taking on her name? Goethe ein shengren? Konfuzius der Philosoph!

The longing for the East is first a longing for adventure and second a soul search; the first is the escape, the latter… from failure. The European romantics looked eastwards for an exotic adventure and escape from the rigidness and boredoms of European life. On industry emerged.

Career philosophers would integrate Eastern thought into their program. Wolff’s practical philosophy was in parts inspired by the Confucian classics.[31] Hegel’s Weltgeist or ‘world-spirit’ and his ‘Great Man Theory’ which took Europe’s intelligentsia by storm, were indeed ideas found also in Mahayana Buddhism—concepts such as Brahmatmaikyam [the merge of Brahman and atman]; and in Hindu tradition—concepts such as Vardhamana Mahavira [The Great Hero] or the Tirthankaras [Sanskrit for ‘ford makers’].

In his Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (1819), Schopenhauer wrote: ‘If I wanted to take the results of my philosophy as the standard of truth, I would have to concede to Buddhism in preference to other religions.’ Nietzsche’s concepts of Übermensch (super man) and Meister- und Sklavenmoral (master- and slave-morality) were heavily influenced by the Hindu concepts of vasudeva (god-like persons) or and jatis (hereditary groups or castes). Nietzsche confessed that, after having read Louis Jacolliot’s 1876 translation of the Manava Dharmasastra, he perceived the Laws of Manu as ‘the epitome of all civic moral order’[32].

Martin Heidegger and his philosophy of Western being-ness and time was a direct response to Buddhist concepts of non-being-ness and non-time. Heidegger’s ‘hammer,’ meanwhile, reminds us of Taoism and Cook Pao’s knife. Heidegger stayed faithful to the Western philosophical approach, yet even he confessed that there were other, more comprehensive ways of thinking that had been lost to the West during the Greek antiquity:

No one knows what the fate of thinking will look like. In a lecture in Paris in 1964, which I did not give myself but was presented in a French translation, I spoke under the title: ‘The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking.’ I thus make a ‘distinction’ between philosophy, that is metaphysics, and thinking as I understand it. The thinking that I contrast with philosophy in this lecture—which is principally done by an attempt to clarify the essence of the Greek ‘aletheia’ (unhiddenness) — this thinking is, compared to metaphysical thinking, much simpler than philosophy, but precisely because of its simplicity it is much more difficult to carry out. And it calls for new care with language, not the invention of new terms, as I once thought, but a return to the primordial content of our own language, which is, however, constantly in the process of dying off. A coming thinker, who will perhaps be faced with the task of really taking over this thinking that I am attempting to ‘prepare,’ will have to obey a sentence Heinrich von Kleist once wrote, and that reads ‘I step back before one who is not yet here, and bow, a millennium before him, to his spirit.[33]

The next ‘thinking’ that Heidegger contrasted with philosophy was a ‘simpler’ one, ‘not relying on the invention of new terms;’ it was expressed in pure language, and therefoe ‘more difficult’ to express. And is that not a description of the sagacious approach to thinking? Was Heidegger’s ‘return to the primordial content’ of language not similar in essence to the sages’ talk in the Confucian Classics or the Vedic Rigveda? Possibly, yet he would never say so explicitly. Like most sophists who order others a simpler language, he himself could help but obscure language and make up his own topologies—word-monsters such as Sprachursprungsgeschehen, Spielbewegung, Schickung, Techno-Logie, dichterisches Bewohnen, Sein and so on.[34] His style, in accordance with the politics of his time, was to Germanize all the important development milestones in human history, the cultural version of copyrighting and patenting – the above mentioned terminology being a case in point: they served his philosophy about the ‘Ursprung der Sprache’ (The Origin of Language). Heidegger aspired to become the first philosopher of the Third Reich and he knew that the relentless expansion of one’s own language [propaganda] was just as vital for Germany as the discouragement of foreign languages [censorship]: ‘Language creates World;’ ‘The essence of language is the ‘name’;’ and: naming is ‘the establishing of being by means of the word.’[35] The language keepers of the Third Reich took Heidegger’s advice very serious and created new German by the thousands: Endsieg, Vernichtungsschlacht, Einkesselungen, Konzentrationslager, Totaler Krieg, Untermensch, reinrassig, Sonderbehandlung, Volk ohne Raum, Drang nach Osten, and many more,[36] which Gordon Craig once described as the ‘sinister combination of the language of might and the language of philosophy,’[37] and Victor Klemperer wished we could censor it in order to rescue the German soul: ‘it isn’t only Nazi actions that have to vanish, but also the Nazi cast of mind […]: the language of Nazism.’[38]

Germany’s great philosophers were markedly eager to expand their nation’s own language just as they were eager to avoid or prevent the vocabularies and concepts of others. It is therefore self-evident that German Kulturwissenschaften in disguise of being ‘about’ China or India is really to disable and neuter them.

Last, with a simpler language even outdoing the Greeks, would Heidegger have liked it to be venerated as supreme German sage—der Weiseste? In another famous lecture, ‘Germania’, he suggested the world was a creation of the poets.[39] With so many word creations on his own, surely Heidegger considered himself a poetic super being. His meditations ‘On the Future of Thinking’ and many other lectures on ‘spiritual being(s)’ and ‘one’s spiritual being’[40] demonstrate he was a spiritual leader; and to him ‘the defining of relationship’ was the ‘last word in wisdom.’[41] But then, modern Germany did not have such titles: die Weisen; and no concept for German sagehood either: Already mighty Goethe had suggested, to no avail, that among the many philosophers this continent may procure only those who embraced the Mittelweg truly deserved to be called sages.[42] Philosophers had always been the end of the flagpole in Germany. Above them are only clouds and the sky.

Which brings us to the Faustian nature: Goethe’s literary revival of the 16th century legend of a sad man, ‘Faustus’, who made a pact with the devil and sold his soul in exchange for unlimited knowledge had defined the German spirit ever since. Faust’s quest for knowledge is a metaphor for power that corrupts. The story an allegory for the inhumanity of a cold, rationalized German society and the results of Western egocentrism, individualism, materialism, and a total disregard for the sufferings of others—for example the innocent girl Gretchen whose life was ruined by Faust’s urge to either manipulate and control people or else… destroy them.

Goethe’s drama is a Christian play [the Devil], and Faust is—maybe disappointingly so—saved by in the end by the interventions of some angels and God.

Regardless of the divine happy ending, the primordial fear of the Germans [or Europeans] is well captured: the fear of going to hell for one’s evil deeds not because of the evilness of the deeds, but because one wanted to have the power to do evil in first place. The Faustian nature was the allegorical, unstable psychology of Europe that swung from brutal animalism to divine delusions, never to discover the Goethe’s Mittelweg.

Highest wisdom in Goethe’s play was the supernatural and divine, unattainable for mortals. But there was wisdom to be had from one’s humanity. That, Faust didn’t see. So, the greedy man desired quick knowledge. Knowledge was power; power over his fellow human beings.

The Western world was like this: short-sighted, short-tempered, impatient, and ignorant. The West led by philosophers proposed a problem, ‘looked at it from all sides,’ attacked it, and broke it down into pieces: ‘this after all creates the basis for all philosophy—the problem.’[43] The sages of the East however saw the past, the people, the family, the history, the living reality, and thus… saw no problem and got on with it.

Under Christianity, Europeans had been talked out of sagehood: ‘If you need wisdom, turn to God’ or ‘For the LORD gives wisdom [and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding].’[44] That is why they hate the sages. That is why they have no sages. That is why missionaries like Gützlaff and Grünwedel permanently confused the wise with the divine and the ethical with the sacred. They saw ‘holiness’ everywhere, and China and India were ‘holy places,’ and the wise men could only be ‘saints’… because just God was the source of wisdom.

And how offended some imperialists were by the ‘arrogant Asian elites’ who virtuously and wisely guided their people, who evidently thought of themselves as god-like beings but they weren’t. They were sages. Could we also become sages?

We are (…) first of all surprised that there are two arts with different properties: the (Greek) art which created gods based on the human form, and the (Asian) art which represented humans as gods.[45]

Or this gem:

This brings us to the kingdom of the Dalai Lama who is worshipped as God, which is quite contrary to [our] abstract reasoning, even in Christianity. [46]

The Tibetan Dalai Lama is not worshipped as God, but worshipped as the Dalai Lama. God is not the Dalai Lama, and the Dalai Lama is not God. Kant, who as a good Christian believes in God but not in the Dalai Lama, is the problem here, not Tibetan Buddhism.

Edward Said once called such European target practice the ‘repetitious pseudo-incarnations of some great original (Christ, Europe, the West) they [the Orientals] were supposed to have been imitating.’[47] For top China expert Richard Wilhelm, the Chinese sages were ‘Gottmenschen’ (God-men),[48] and Confucius was ‘inspired to become a God.’[49] For Walther Darré, Confucius was the ‘founder of a doctrine of God based on ethics,’[50] and so on.

Hegel’s account of Sino-Tibetan culture, Das Mongolische Prinzip (1837), was not written for his Sino-Tibetan friends either– he had none. In his text, the philosopher postulated that Chinese people venerated the Buddha or the Lama as Gods, and then went on a diatribe to expose the ‘Unwahrheiten’ [the untruths] of Chinese sagehood (a ‘religion’ of course).[51] Again, Hegel, – following the tradition of Leibniz, Wolff, and Kant, had probably never heard of a single Chinese Buddhist term like 二觀 (er guan), 輪 (lun), 人因 (ren yin), 皆空 (jie kong), 相續心 (xiang xu xin). But he was damn sure those Buddhists couldn’t be God-wise.

The German writer Thomas Mann (1942), the sociologist Wolfgang Sofsky (1999, 2008), the Nobel Prize Laureate Elias Canetti (1992), and the historians Suzanne Marchand (2009) and Kamakshi Murti (2001) all had previously speculated on the violent streak and tragic Faustian nature of the Germans that inevitably called for a set of ‘national characteristics’:

The soulless modern age that haunts the Germans. […] Pessimism, skepticism, rationalism, Protestantism, Bildungsbürgertum, the Humboldt’sche University Reform, professionalism, philosophers… all that gargantuan strength of the German nation in the 18th-20th centuries of totalities, violence and war is also her downfall in times of peace: the condemnation of the German national character and its soullessness.[52]

The cultural critic George Santayana in his The German Mind: A Philosophical Diagnosis (1968) called the true source of German power ‘German philosophy.’ German philosophy was void of actual experience, cold and ruthless, rational, logical and it did not allow other forces to interfere with it. It suited ignorance. It favored ignorance. In fact: the more ignorance, the more disruptive the philosophy. There was little doubt that a country’s national character also dictated that nation’s top philosophy; as Johann Gottlieb Fichte carefully minced it: [53]

What sort of philosophy one chooses depends on what sort of person one is; for a philosophical system is not a dead piece of furniture that we can reject or accept as we wish; it is rather a thing animated by the soul of the person who holds it.[54]

If this is true, I would rather live among the sages than with philosophers. George Santayna even created a new social theory, cultural egotism: the German ‘state of mind that places itself at the center of all the people of the world and pretends to think for them, with little or no concern for the emotional, psychological or even physical damage that is done to others.’

The Germanic tribes since they had left their forests and marched onto the Roman Empire hearing the collapse of the Classical world were in constantly bargaining their future. And it showed. And we love reading Faust.

[1] OAG Notizen, 2003: ‘Wenn der Deutsche versucht, etwas zu machen, tut er das gründlich, mit Methoden und System […]. Und noch mehr: jeder Deutsche ist ein geborener Metaphysiker. Er wird nicht von common sense beherrscht wie der Engländer, er ist kein Rationalist wie der Franzose, er empfängt seine ganze Inspiration nicht von den grossen Traditionen seiner Vergangenheit wie der Italiener, und noch weniger überlässt er sich gedankenlos der Materialisation der Kräfte, die dem Leben des Staates immanent sind, wie die Russen. Im Gegensatz hierzu hat der Deutsche das unwiderstehliche Verlangen, jede große politische, wirtschaftliche und soziale Bewegung mit etwas Transzendentem zu verknüpfen oder sie transzendierend zu interpretieren.”

[2] Katz, 1931, pp. 13-15

[3] Ku, 1922, p. 5

[4] Ku, 1922, pp. 6-7

[5] Craig, 1982, pp. 99, 101, 102, 144, 196, 197, 319, 320, 343

[6] Uthmann, 1976

[7] Craig, 1982, pp. 143 ff.

[8] Hegel, 1837/1930, p. 174

[9] Haeckel, 1914

[10] Hitler, 1925

[11] Husserl, 1935

[12] Hegel, 1930, p. 174: ‘Ebenso wie im Theoretischen strebt der europäische Geist auch im Praktischen nach der zwischen ihm und der Außenwelt hervorzubringenden Einheit; er unterwirft die Außenwelt seinen Zwecken mit einer Energie, welche im die Herrschaft der Welt gesichert hat.’

[13] German.about, 2010: ‘Das Lied der Deutschen’

[14] Schroeder, 1912

[15] Levene, 2005, p. 264

[16] Saaler and Dobson, 2011

[17] Fleming, 1959, p. 179

[18] Leibniz, 1677, im Anhang, p. 2: ‘Die Teutsche Nation hat unter allen christlichen den Vorzug wegen des Heiligen Römischen Reichs, dessen Würde und Rechte sie auf sich und ihr Oberhaupt gebracht, welchem die Bestirmung des wahren Glaubens, die Vogthey (jurisdiction) der allgemeinen Kirche, und die Beförderung des Besten der ganzen Christenheit obliegt, daher ihm auch der Vorsitz über andere hohe Häupter ohnezweifentlich gebühret und gelassen worden.’

[19] Mann, 1942/2008

[20] Wilhelm, 1914, 16.8

[21] Lau, 2010

[22] Goethe Institute, 2007

[23] Jarausch, 1982, pp. 88-89

[24] Staas, 2011

[25] Ibid.

[26] REMID, 2011

[27] welt.de, Oct 2010

[28] Kirchenlexicon, 2011; Duden, 2011; Die Zeit, 2007/09; Chinafokus, 2011; Chinesisch-Deutsche Wörterbuch, 2001-2010; Wikipedia.de, 2010; Zeno.org, 2010; Dehanci, 2010; Google.Translate, 2010; Brockhaus Dictionary, 1906-1911

[29] Leibniz, 1697

[30] Graebner (1924), p. 93

[31] Wolff, 1721, p W 7 ff.

[32] Behler, 1987

[33] Heidegger, 1969, Interview ‘The Task of Thinking’

[34] Gessinger, 1988, p. 668 ff.

[35] Young, 2001, p. 34

[36] Klemperer, 1957

[37] Craig, 1982, p. 362

[38] Klemperer, 1957, p. 2

[39] Young, 2001, pp. 34 ff.

[40] Heidegger, 1978, p. 592; Heidegger, 1996, p. 175; Gordon, 2001, p. 170

[41] Heidegger, 1978, p. 452

[42] Goethe, 1981, p. 605

[43] Graebner, 1924, p. 93

[44] James 1:5 and proverbs 2:6

[45] Watsuji, 1919, pp. 238-239: ‘Wir sind […] zunächst einmal erstaunt darüber, dass es zwei Künste mit unterschiedlichen Eigenschaften gibt: die [griechische] Kunst, die aus der menschlichen Gestalt Götter erschuf, und die [asiatische] Kunst, die Götter in Menschengestalt darstellte.”

[46] Kant, 1794: ‘Damit sind wir zu dem Reich des Dalai Lama gekommen, wo der Mensch als Gott verehrt wird, was dem abstrakten Verstandes ganz zuwider ist, auch am Christentum.”

[47] Said, 1978, p. 62

[48] Wilhelm, 1974, p. 87

[49] Wilhelm, 1914, p. 60

[50] Darré, 1944, p. 49

[51] Hegel, 1837, Chapter: Das Mongolische Prinzip

[52] Ringer, 1990

[53] Fichte, 1794: ‘Was für eine Philosophie man wähle, hängt sonach davon ab, was man für ein Mensch ist: denn ein philosophisches System ist nicht ein todter Hausrath, den man ablegen oder annehmen könnte, wie es uns beliebte, sondern es ist beseelt durch die Seele des Menschen, der es hat.”

[54] Unknown translator

Pattberg, Thorsten (2011), Shengren – Above Philosophy and Beyond Religion, LoD Press, New York