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Reviewed by:
  • Karl Gützlaff (1803–1851) und das Christentum in Ostasien: Ein Missionar zwischen den Kulturen
  • Karin Betz (bio)
Thoralf KleinReinhard Zöllner, editors; Foreword by Winfried Scharlau. Karl Gützlaff (1803–1851) und das Christentum in Ostasien: Ein Missionar zwischen den Kulturen. Sankt Augustin, Germany: Institut Monumenta Serica; Nettetal, Germany: Steyler, 2005. viii, 376 pp. Paperback €49.00, ISBN 3–8050–0520–8.

This volume is indeed a remarkable compilation of the results of a 2001 conference in Erfurt on the highly controversial figure of German protestant missionary, traveler, and cultural go-between Karl Gützlaff, who came to play a dubious role in the Opium Wars and significantly influenced the Taiping rebellion even decades after his death.

The volume’s frontispice is already storytelling: the painting shows Gützlaff, who had adopted the Chinese name Guo Shili, in the 1840s in China dressed in Chinese attire from head to toe—which, according to contemporary reports, then was his everyday outfit. Gützlaff, quite in opposition to his contemporaries, believed that China was not at all a closed and secretive place for Europeans, but gave an example of how to open up paths for negotiating with and penetrating China by means of studying and adopting Chinese language and culture. Born in 1803 in Pomerania, then part of the Kingdom of Prussia, Gützlaff proved himself as a transnationally oriented missionary, working on behalf of not only the German protestant mission, but also the Dutch, the English, the American, and the Swedish missions; marrying three different English wives; and publishing in German, Dutch, English, and Asian languages.

After having been accepted to and trained at a Berlin missionary school, he started to work for the Dutch Zendelings-Genootschap (missionary society) in Indonesia and Thailand in 1826, studied Chinese in Java, and translated the Bible into Thai. In 1832 he hired on as a doctor and interpreter on a boat of the British East India Company that traveled north, starting in Macao and landing in Korea five months later, where Karl Gützlaff became the first German to ever set foot on Korean ground. He is said to have distributed about ten thousand copies of the Bible on his first missions, for which he made use of smuggling ships as well, quite pragmatically combining trade, missionary, and less legal undertakings with little, but improving, success.

Soon after, Gützlaff went to Macao and then to Hong Kong, where he worked on a Chinese translation of the Bible, published a Chinese-language magazine, and wrote Chinese-language books on practical subjects. In 1834 he published the Journal of Three Voyages along the Coast of China in 1831, 1832 and 18331—a publication that came to be popular beyond the circle of mission or bible societies, especially in the United States. [End Page 157]

Gützlaff, then interpreter and Chinese secretary to the British government, assisted in negotiations during the Opium Wars of 1839–1842. In response to the Chinese government’s unwillingness to allow foreigners into the interior, he founded a school for missionaries in 1844 and trained nearly fifty Chinese during its first four years. For the purpose of this missionary school and its very ambitious goal of an indigenous mission in inland China, he went to Europe for fundraising; his critics say, however, that not all of that money found its way to that purpose. He died in Hong Kong in 1851.

The editors, far from trying to establish a heroic portrait of an almost forgotten pioneer,2 offer a compilation of different aspects of Gützlaff’s life and mission, including his glories, failures, and controversies, and extending the generally more China-centered discussion of his figure geographically to Japan and Korea. Thoralf Klein and Reinhard Zöllner’s intent is to present a preliminary summary of Gützlaff’s life in ten chapters. What we get is an insightful puzzle of different aspects and incidents in the missionary’s life, each of which adds to the completion of a picture of a most particular, most controversial, but definitely outstanding personality, avoiding “approach[ing] caricature,” as Daniel H. Bays characterizes the usual reference to Gützlaff’s...