Shengren – Chapter 3.12 – Der Berufene (Appointee)

When Wojciech Jan Simson handed in his doctoral dissertation in Bern in 2002, he translated shengren as ‘Berufene’—the chosen, the appointed, the called upon.[1] In Germany since reformation and Martin Luther: to each individual a profession, meaning that God had assigned to each man his trade.[2] Just one trade, let it be understood [which makes it extraordinarily difficult to switch or change one’s Beruf]. The Germans lived through their entire formative life [from nursery and kindergarten through primary, secondary, and vocational school or university] each according to their class and family background, to serve the lifelong purpose of taking up exactly one profession—baker, carpenter, salesman, policeman, doctor, pfaffe [priest], and so on; and – as God has divinely appointed each and every one of them – he shall be tüchtig at it [competent]. This Lutheran system set German vocational trainee degrees (apprenticeships) and specialized university degrees apart [and in opposition] from the Anglo-Saxon model in which proof of general eligibility was the sole aim. German education gradually limited one’s life options [instead of widening them] and prepared for exact one profession: one’s Beruf or Berufung; whereas American education, for example, opened up all one’s life choices once a degree was earned.

Because German society has always been extremely rigid and overregulated, its citizens took immense pride in their Beruf and Berufung, rightly considering their very life a profession and their profession a calling. So, why should that not be true of Confucius and his lots as well? Enter the evangelization of China:

Simson’s translation of conviction for the shengren reminded of ‘die Berufenen’ in Karl Jaspers writings: ‘Trotz seines Berufungsbewusstseins ist (Konfuzius) eher bescheiden’.[3] [Despite his awareness of his appointment/calling, Confucius is modest]. Long before Simson and Jaspers, Richard Wilhelm created his Laotse: Tao te king. Das Buch des Alten vom Sinn und Leben (1911), in which he called the Taoist shengren ‘der Berufene.’ Simson’s translation, whether it was his own or adopted from Wilhelm or Jaspers, was incorrect, but zeitgemäss: it was a) appropriate because Berufene highlighted Confucius’ educational side [Beruf = occupation]: his moral teachings and his formal appointment as political advisor, and b) timely, because at the very end of the 20th century, Germany’s educational system underwent its second and greatest reform in history (the first was in the beginning of the 19th century and Humboldt’s invention of the research universities) and everyone in academia spoke about Bildung und Lehre (education and teaching), higher education, elite universities, global competitiveness, and the new Anglo-Saxon degree system. The German Beruf or Berufung now looked a thing of the past, slowly becoming an anachronism; yet Confucius, as well as Luther, were still worthy of being called Berufene, evoking both evangelical as well as practical nostalgia.

Confucius’ title ‘Master Kung’ was another clue pointing to a profession. The German term Meister could either mean an honorific rank, as in Master Mason, or a certified proficiency, as in master craftsman. Either way, calling Confucius a Meister would at some point raise the question: master of whom, mastery in what? Confucius’ main occupation was traveling and teaching; he lectured some years at the Court of Lu and in other counties. Such a Beruf in Germany would probably fall under the category Privatgelehrter (independent scholar) or Lehrer (teacher). It gets tricky from here, because just having a Beruf doesn’t guarantee appointment. An independent scholar or private teacher was independent and private precisely because he couldn’t find appointment in state education; alluding to Confucius that meant the venerable sage was self-employed and seasonal jobless on-and-off until he got tenure by that Court of Lu. In other words, the case could be made by those German academics that Confucius was an academic—just like them.

The term Berufener entails the Beruf or occupation, one’s profession, one’s appointment. That particular occupation was the key to Confucius’s Berufung. So, what is it that Confucius does, exactly? His teachings may have been worldly, but he surely had a mandate from heaven, no? Having been summoned, say, by the Court of Lu, is not exactly a Berufung; the caller ought not to be a concrete person or institution but a cause. That cause, say the House of Lu is looking for a minister of educational affairs, dictates German scholarship, could be a divine cause in practical disguise. Something that August Conrady in his Weltgeschichte (1910) described as ‘Ausübung der Humanität’[4] or ‘exercise of humaneness.’ Now, Germany’s history is full of crackpots who felt berufen not just to greatness but to teaching the barbaric tribes how to become civilized. Take Friedrich Hölderlin—a contemporary of Goethe, Schelling, and Hegel, and a leader of the period known as German Idealism—whose poetry became his ‘Schicksal und Beruf in dürftiger Zeit,’ and who conjured the coming ‘Revolution der Gesinnungen und Vorstellungsarten.’[5]

So I ventured among the Germans. […] barbarians from Old age, made more barbaric by diligence and science, and even by religion, and profoundly incapable of any divine sentiment, spoiled to the mark to the happiness of the Holy Graces, in every degree of exaggeration and impoverishment detrimental to every good-minded soul, dull and unharmonious, like the shards of a discarded vessel… […] I can not think of any people who are more torn than the Germans.[6]

This wasn’t the author’s voice, but the voice of his hero —Hyperion. The crux of Hölderlin’s Berufung as a national educator perhaps was this: In times of national crisis and social uprootedness (the French Revolution), great pedagogues were needed. It helped that Hölderlin studied Theology, which required a sound grasp of Latin and Greek, and was a lifelong Grecophile. His masterpiece, the epistolary novel Hyperion (gr.: ‘he who walks above’), is set in contemporary Greece under Turkish occupation.

The list of Berufungen (callings) goes long, and not every man received his calling from God or University; actually: most free spirits simply announced themselves to the world: Friedrich Schelling thought himself berufen to dispense the idea of Worldseele (World soul). Rudolf Steiner petitioned that he and his Waldorf pedagogy ought to be berufen into government. The urge to improve, reform, and instruct drove legions of spiritual entrepreneurs on stages that no one knew existed before. Martin Luther’s notorious: ‘Here I stand, I cannot help it.’

Another clue to Confucius’s profession comes from etymology. The idea of ‘Berufener’ for聖 sheng(ren) could be, with a little bit of drug-induced imagination, derived from its Chinese form: The classical Chinese character is assembled of the following parts: 王wang (king), 耳er (ear), and 口kou (mouth). The illustrious foreigner will see a pictogram of somebody appointed by the king as an adviser. Unfortunately, as creative as that Chinese character’s interpretation is, the呈cheng in it probably serves as the phonetic radical to its approximate pronunciation –’sheng.’[7]

Overall it seemed that since the Germans did not have a concept for sages and sagehood, and that calling the Oriental sages ‘Heilige’ was inadequate, the only other way to go for them was to stick to the Confucian practical aspect an educational one; one that not only focused on the Master’s pedagogical qualities, but also on the social values of his Sittenlehre or moral teachings. We recall that practical and moral philosophies in Germany once were synonymous (Wolff, 1721). That, of course, sets us back to square one, as the German language was and is still not capable of describing a morality outside the German realm.

If German terminologies were evidently inadequate to render the Chinese tradition appropriately, than why were the scholars still preventing a softening up or lowering the defenses toward Chinese loanwords? Because language business is not just about ‘guo or Pfanne’ or ‘zse-ma or Pferde-wart.’[8] It is fundamentally about who calls whom what, and why; a very mean and often warlike human activity about control and dominance: They would rather write ten books about why Confucius was a Berufener than one sentence that Confucius was a shengren.

The shengren is at the core of the Chinese tradition – Confucius, Laozi, Mencius, Zhuangzi, Xunzi, the Shiji, the Yi Jing, all talk about the shengren. If Germany prefers to eliminate the shengren and instead talk about some lesser versions of (Greek) Philosophen or (biblical) Heilige or (Lutheran) Berufene, that says—in a self-congratulating way—a lot about its will to create its own version of Chinese history, Chinawissenschaften [China sciences], the sophistication of cheat-and-convert scholarship, and thus its determination to make China look as if the Germans had invented it.

Heiner Roetz in his Konfuzius (1994), published by Beck Verlag, a flagship-publisher for scholars in Germany, propagated Confucius as a ‘philosopher’ –throughout his book. A risky fabrication, for now the Lunyu reads awkward. For example, originally, Confucius was said to ‘no longer belittle himself not having met a shengren’ (Lun Yu, 7.26; 7.34). Roetz didn’t want his readers to pick up the Chinese term shengren. It needed to disappear. But translating that Confucius ‘never in his life met a real philosopher’ sounded not the Master’s typical modesty but his unlearnedness. Was he a nerdy nerd? So instead, in the German version of that episode, Confucius now laments that he has never met ‘einen großen Denker’ [a great thinker]. How disappointing. The shengren had been eliminated; the aspect of sagacity had gone. Close to the end of the book, Roetz – like all good Germans – adopted Richard Wilhelm’s translations ‘Genie’ and ‘Heiliger’ for no apparent reason other than parroting Richard Wilhelm, because that’s the only way to get promoted in German China Studies—it’s a cartel, a cooperative arrangement.

Inge von Wedemeyer published her views on Confucius in 1986. As one of the very few female scholars at that time, academia should have cared about her voice. After all, women tended to value social relationships more than men, and usually did not participate in any ritual of potency and fight for status with other men. By now, at least since the eternal struggle between James Legge’s translation of shengren as ‘the sages’ and Richard Wilhelm’s translation of shengren as ‘die Heiligen,’ Europe had fallen into two ideological camps: the Germans still wanted a religious China without sages and sagehood, and the Anglo-Saxons wanted a China with sages and sagehood, without religion. Von Wedemeyer initially opted for the educational third aspect (the first one was the divine aspect, resulting in ‘saint;’ the second one the sagacious aspect, resulting in ‘sage’) and appointed Confucius to a Sittenlehrer and Moralapostel (moral teacher and moral apostle), but fell back on biblical language as soon as engaging with her publisher and editors and advisers; and not only that, she decorated her ‘new’ legacy interpretation of Confucianism with the language of enormity: gewaltig (gargantuan), der Menschheit (of humankind), Superthesen (super-theories) and konfuzianische Bible (the Confucian Bible). Religious vocabulary like Gütigkeit (amiableness) and Menschlichkeit (benevolence) are explained by direct reference to the Bible and Jesus Christ.[9] And just like Karl Jaspers’s categories of Great philosophers, von Wedemeyer categorized Confucius as a Grosser im Geiste[10], called Confucius and Mencius ‘Philosophen,’ and the shengren she translated as follows: ‘What does it take for someone to be called a holyman? The answer is: He whose knowledge penetrates the great truth is called a holyman.’[11] To conclude this, our lady scholar tried to please everyone and featured everything… except, of course, the correct Chinese names: shengren.

[1] Simson, 2002, pp. 81, 82, 90, 94, 95, 169, 246

[2] Craig, 1982, p. 129

[3] Jaspers, 1957, p. 154

[4] Conrady, 1910, p. 540

[5] Martens, 1961

[6] Hölderlin, 1992: ‘So kam ich unter die Deutschen. […] Barbaren von Alters her, durch Fleiß und Wissenschaft und selbst durch Religion barbarischer geworden, tiefunfähig jedes göttlichen Gefühls, verdorben bis ins Mark zum Glück der heiligen Grazien, in jedem Grad der Übertreibung und der Ärmlichkeit belaidigend für jede gutgeartete Seele, dumpf und harmonielos, wie die Scherben eines weggeworfenen Gefäßes… […] Ich kann kein Volk mir denken, das zerrißner wäre, wie die Deutschen.”

[7] Fu, 2003, p. 697

[8] Conrady, 1910, p. 488

[9] von Wedemeyer, 1986, pp. 36-37

[10] Ibid., p. 6

[11] von Wedemeyer, 1986: ‘Wie muss einer sein, dass man ihn einen Heiligen nennen kann? Die Antwort lautet: Was man einen Heiligen nennt, dessen Wissen durchdringt die grosse Wahrheit.”

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