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Persecuted Sinologists – the Missing Generation

Exhibition Opening on October 29 at 6:15 p.m. at the Confucius Institute at Freie Universität Berlin

№ 370/2014 from Oct 23, 2014

An exhibition depicting the persecution of sinologists during the time of National Socialism in Germany will open Wednesday, October 29, 2014, at 6:15 p.m. at the Confucius Institute at Freie Universität Berlin. The exhibition was conceived by the sinologist Mechthild Leutner from the East Asian Seminar of Freie Universität, who will introduce the topic at the opening ceremony. Roberto Liebenthal, a grandson of the internationally recognized German specialist in Chinese Buddhism, Walter Liebenthal (1886–1982), who was in Chinese exile from 1934 to 1952, will speak about the impact of persecution and exile on his family. The exhibition will be open Mondays through Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. until January 28, 2015. Admission is free.

The National Socialist dictatorship from 1933 to 1945 had a severe impact on the fledgling field of sinology in Germany as well as on the academic study of China in general. From roughly 50 individuals who had scholarly positions working in the field of sinology – be it in universities, museums, publishing companies, libraries, or other institutions – or had just completed their university degree in sinology, 36 were forced to emigrate from Germany or Austria. Some of them were officially prohibited from working, and others never returned to Germany from trips to China or other countries. The majority of the persecuted scholars was of Jewish origin or went into exile because of their Jewish partners. Seventeen of the individuals were persecuted primarily for political reasons. Adolf Reichwein, a member of the socialist party (SPD), and Philip Schaeffer, a member of the communist party (KPD), were actively involved in political resistance through the Kreisauer Circle and Red Chapel groups, and as a result were executed. The French sinologist Henri Maspero died after his deportation to the Buchenwald concentration camp. It was mainly the younger generation, who emigrated. Of them, 25 had studied sinology at the University of Berlin, including most of the doctoral students of the highly regarded sinologist and historian Otto Franke. At first other European countries and China were the most important new locations for the emigrants, and later the United States was also an important new home.

After 1945 there were very few locations in Germany where research was being done on China. The broad spectrum of research covered by the scholars who had emigrated – they were anthropologists, social scientists, linguists, historians, art historians, philosophers, and scholars of religion with a focus on China – was lacking after 1945, when the discipline was being built up again in Germany. The emigrants were significantly involved in the development and expansion of sinology in their countries of exile. There they founded new schools and through their numerous students, brought about a rapid development of sinology in the United States and worldwide. They had no influence, however, on the re-formation of the subject in Germany after 1945. It took more than 30 years until a younger generation emerged in both parts of Germany that had as broad an understanding of the subject as had been established before 1933. The absence of this generation and its methodological approach is still apparent in sinology in Germany today. This exhibition was curated as a reminder of the names and fates, works and achievements of the sinologists who were persecuted by the German National Socialist regime.

Time and Location

  • Mondays through Thursdays, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.; exhibition opening on Wednesday, October 29, 2014, at 6:15 p.m.
  • Confucius Institute at Freie Universität Berlin, Goßlerstraße 2–4, 14195 Berlin

Further Information

Dagmar Yü-Dembski, Email:,