Chinese Studies
2013. Vol.2, No.1, 50-51
Published Online February 2013 in SciRes
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Projecting on China-German Enlightenment and
Volker Braun’s “Great Peace”
Hansjörg Rothe1,2
1Klinikum Coburg, Coburg, Germany
2Danube University, Krems, Austria
Received December 1st, 2012; revised January 2nd, 2013; accepted January 9th, 2013
This short report outlines a work in progress which aims at highlighting the role China played in the dis-
cussions of Protestantism and early enlightenment in Germany around 1700, and how this crucial phase
may be re-interpreted from the standpoint of the 1980ies, when Volker Braun’s drama “Great Peace”
again staged arguments illustrated with references to China. The report argues that Volker Braun’s play is
an important document of German-Chinese intercultural dialogue, and proposes the project of making a
translated version available for the dialogue.
Keywords: Enlightenment; Protestantism; Tai Ping Tian Guo; Germany; Cultural Dialogue; Philosophy;
Drama; G. W. Leibniz; C. Wolff; V. Braun
The intercultural discourse between Germany and China has
become so much easier and more natural today as compared to
previous centuries, that focussing on the deep misunderstand-
ings and false presumptions underlying those old debates of the
past has become a most promising endeavour: only now can we
truly discover what these arguments mean, because we know so
much more about each other now than our ancestors—and ex-
actly that can teach us a lot about our past and therefore about
our own cultures as they are today.
This short report outlines a work in progress which aims at
highlighting the important role China played in the sometimes
heated discussions of early enlightenment in Germany around
1700, and how this crucial phase may be re-interpreted from the
standpoint of the 1980ies, when Volker Braun’s drama “Great
Peace” again staged arguments illustrated with references to
China—in yet another crucial phase of German history.
The benefit of this project should be twofold: not only will a
deeper understanding of this discourse shed new light on Ger-
man enlightenment—the lines of thoughts, and the way they
misunderstand China and refer to the “Chinese example” for
the sake of making a point in inner-German conflicts, will al-
low Chinese scholars to better understand why the intercultural
discourse between China and Germany unfolded in the way it
did over the last three centuries. Not only in science, misinter-
pretations may give rise to important insights once their
mechanisms get analyzed.
The North-Eastern German university city of Halle on the
river Sala, as Shakespeare calls it, sets the stage. The constant
point in space (situated in the Prussian kingdom in 1700 and in
the German Democratic Republic in 1980) corresponds to the
constant stream of ideas: the traditions of Protestant Christian
thought and the enlightenment
Protestant Bullies: The Case of Christian Wolff
and His Speech on “the Practical Philosophy of
the Chinese”
Things are not always as straightforward as they seem, and
Christian Wolff’s famous Prorectorate speech of 1721 at the
University of Halle is one example. Although praising Confu-
cius was an important achievement for enlightenment, Wolff’s
admiration for Qing dynasty emperor Kangxi (康熙), of all
people, certainly wasn’t. Chinese readers will be surprised to
read the eulogies of the Halle philosophy professor, who
viewed China through the politically biased lens of Jesuit mis-
sionaries Francois Noël and Philippe Couplet. Noël’s transla-
tion of “Six classical Chinese books” served as the main refer-
ence for his speech, while Couplet’s “Confucius Sinarum Phi-
losophus” was used by Wolff for his commentaries of 1726
(Albrecht, 1985). As Matteo Ricci before them, the Jesuits of
1700 still aimed for winning power in China rather than the
souls of Chinese people, and since Kangxi had granted them the
unrestricted right of proselytisation in 1692 they served him as
mathematicians and diplomats but certainly didn’t speak out
against the Qing court’s shamanistic rites—which were as alien
to the conquered Chinese as the Manchu queues they were
forced to braid their hair into.
So being in the heartland of Protestantism, with Wittenberg
and Martin Luther’s birthplace (and place of death) Eisleben
just a few miles away, Wolff received a full blow of Protestant
bullying from Pietists August Hermann Francke and Joachim
Lange, who used thei r influence on the Prussian “Soldier King”
Friedrich Wilhelm to have Wolff ousted. But again, the motives
of these two pious men were not directed against Jesuit power
games (which they didn’t see through), but rather against
Wolff’s “outrageous” suggestion to invite Chinese scholars to
Halle to learn practical philosophy from them.
Protestants Bullied: Volker Braun’s
Revolutionary Drama “Great Peace”
Christian Wolff’s teacher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz had
been the first author to make this suggestion, as he had been the
only Protestant philosopher to support the Jesuits for not cri-
tizising the pre-Christian rites performed by Chinese Catholic
converts. His main objective had been the focus on learning
practically from Chinese culture rather than discussing religious
habits, and indeed up to the middle of the 18th century that was
what the Europeans did: with Confucianism being the main
point of interest, apart from technical achievements. In the sec-
ond edition of his “Novissima Sinica” (News from China) of
1699, Leibniz included a portrait of emperor Kangxi—but he
had also made the suggestion to send Protestant missionaries to
China instead of leaving the field to the Jesuits.
It wouldn’t be before 1807 though, that this actually hap-
pened, just seven years prior to the birth of Hong Xiuquan (
秀全). By that time the role of the Jesuits in China had been
taken over by the British imperialists, who would soon serve
the Qing emperors as generals rather than mathematicians but
still intended to win power in China. The Anglican Christian C.
G. Gordon, a.k.a. “Chinese Gordon” or “Gordon Pasha”,
crushed the armies of the Tai Ping Tian Guo (太平天国) in the
name of the emperor, while Hong Xiuquan had been heavily
influenced by Protestant missionary teachings and his “Great
Peaceful Kingdom of Heaven” was supposed to have much in
common with Luther’s “Reich Gottes” (Carter, 2000).
One hundred years after Gordon’s death the university city of
Halle for the first time heard about the Taiping revolution, and
in yet another twist of the history of ideas it was not in a public
lecture at the university as the one in 1721, but in a theatre per-
for manc e: V olke r Br aun ’s play “Great Peace” (Grosser Frieden)
again used China as an example, this time to illustrate how far
the East German Communist party rule had shifted from their
original aims (Braun, 2004). His metaphors of Wang, the phi-
losopher, and Gau Dsu, the peasant general and later emperor in
the “Kingdom of Tschin”, critizised the German democratic
republic in the costumes of Hong Xiuquan and his followers,
who cut off the Manchu queues and the whole Qing rule im-
posed on them since the days of Kangxi. The East German
rulers didn’t like his “revolutionary drama” though, which was
discussed in Protestant churches—the only places where free
argument was possible, although the rulers maintained they
themselves represented enlightenment. After the 1989 Great
Peaceful Revolution of East Germany, Volker Braun’s son-in-
law Thorsten Reich was one of the people who organized the
reconstruction of the Protestant university church (Paulinerver-
ein, 1992), which had been blown up by the communists in his-
and Leibniz’s-home town of Leipzig in 1968.
Volker Braun’s play is an important document of German-
Chinese intercultural dialogue, and it should be discussed
much more widely by both Chinese and German scholars
than it is today.
This short report is meant to support the project of making a
translated version available for the dialogue.
Everybody who would like to contribute is most welcome.
Why not plan for a podium discussion on the subject, with
Chinese and German “missionaries” learning from each other,
in the year 2017—the fifth centenary of Luther’s theses? Halle,
the old university city of Christian Wolff, would be a good
place for that to happen!
Albrecht, M. (1985). Rede über die praktische Philosophie der Chine-
sen (p. 21). Hamburg: Christian Wolff.
Carter, R. (2000). Taiping. München: Li st
Braun, V. (2004). Grosser frieden. Berlin: H enschel Theater Verlag
Paulinerverein (1992). Universitätskirche Leipzig—Ein Streitfall? Leip-
zig: Verlag Kunst und Touris t i k .
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