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Brecht and Chinese Philosophy

From: Philosophy and Literature
Volume 1, Number 3, Fall 1977
pp. 307-324 | 10.1353/phl.1977.0011

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Brecht and Chinese Philosophy
Renata Berg-Pan
Indiana University


1. Richard Wilhelm was the scholar who introduced the German public to Chinese thought. He wrote numerous books on Chinese philosophy and, in a way, represented for Germany what Arthur Waley represented for England.

2. From Bertolt Brecht, Gesammelte Werke, 20 vols. (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1967), 2:651.

3. From Dwight Goddard and Henri Borel, Lao Tzu's Tao and the Wu Wei (New York: Brentano, 1919), p. 25, Poem 29.

4. Translated by D. C. Lau in his Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967), Poem 30. Also cited by Antony Tatlow in "Towards an Understanding of Chinese Influence in Brecht: An Interpretation of 'Auf einen chinesischen Theewurzellöwen,' and 'Legend von der Entstehung des Buches Taoteking'." Deutsche Vierteljahresschrift (June, 1970), 353-88. I owe much to Tatlow's excellent essay.

5. Lau, Lao Tzu, Poem 75.

6. Lau, Lao Tzu, Poem 73.

7. Brecht, GW, 11:100.

8. Brecht, GW, 9:660. The translation is mine.

9. Sergei Tretiakov, "Bert Brecht," in Peter Demetz, ed. Brecht: A Collection of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1962), p. 27.

10. Bodo Uhse, "Von alter und neuer Weisheit," in Hugo Witt, ed., Erinnerungen an Brecht (Leipzig: Reclam, 1964), p. 237.

11. See Leben des Konfutse in Brecht, GW, 7:2986/2993. [The Life of Confucius]; the work has not been translated into English.

12. Translated by the author from posthumous papers in the Bertolt Brecht Archiv in East Berlin.

13. Translated by the author from posthumous papers in the Bertolt Brecht Archiv in East Berlin.

14. Brecht, GW, 12:391.

15. Grusche is the main character in Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle. Under the motto, "Terrible is the seduction by goodness," Brecht shows in his play how she, although not the physical mother of an abandoned child, takes it upon herself to raise the child during a time of war and disorder, endangering her own life and thus proving herself to be a better mother than the child's physical mother, who had simply left it behind when she fled.

16. This occurs especially in Brecht's hitherto untranslated prose work Me-ti oder das Buch der Wendungen [Me-ti or the Book of Changes] which deals essentially with the political situation in the Soviet Union and in Germany during the twenties. One might also describe this book as Brecht's spiritual autobiography, because he attempts to come to terms with his political beliefs, including his support of the policies of Stalin. See especially Brecht, GW, 12:562.

17. Brecht, GW, 18:222 ff.

18. Brecht, Arbeitsjournal 1938-1942 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1973), p. 227.

19. Brecht, GW, 11:100.

20. Brecht, ibid.

21. Brecht, GW, 4:1563/4.

22. Alfred Forke, Me-ti: Des Sozialethikers und seiner Schüler philosophische Werke (Berlin, 1922), p. 7. Brecht read Forke's work during the twenties and his personal copy was marked by numerous comments and lines, indicating that he had read it with care. Mo-Tzu is the accepted English spelling.

23. Brecht, GW, 4:1553. This is my translation.

24. Forke, p. 510.