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  • “Sagt an, ihr fremden Lande …” Ostasienreisen: Tagebücher und Fotografien (1888–1901) by Otto Franke
  • Lydia Gerber (bio)
Otto Franke. “Sagt an, ihr fremden Lande …” Ostasienreisen: Tagebücher und Fotografien (1888–1901). Edited by Renata Fu-sheng Franke and Wolfgang Franke. Institut Monumenta Serica / Collecteana Serica. Nettetal: Steyler Verlag, 2009. 527 pp. Illustrations, with extensive explanatory footnotes, an index of personal names, and a list of the more than one hundred photographs included in this volume. Hardcover € 80,00, isbn 978-3-8050-0562-3.

Otto Franke (1863–1946) was one of the foremost representatives of the field of Chinese studies in Germany. From 1910 to 1923, he held the first chair of sinology in the newly founded Colonial Institute in Hamburg (later Hamburg University), and in this position, he defined for future generations the parameters of one of the leading Chinese studies programs in Germany. He expected rigorous study of both the spoken language and classical Chinese. In 1923, Franke transferred to Berlin University, where he taught until his retirement in 1931 at age sixty-eight. His numerous publications spanned the field of Chinese studies, incorporating research of the Confucian classics, namely the Chunqiu; investigations of economic and geographical topics; local history with a focus on the relations between Manchus, Han, and Mongols in Manchuria; and a discussion of contemporary political changes in China. His five-volume Geschichte des Chinesischen Reiches is beyond a doubt his most remarkable accomplishment. In this seminal work, Franke abandoned commonly held Western notions of the Chinese past as unchanging and instead presented Chinese history within a traditional German historiographic framework of political and military history. It has recently been reprinted by deGryuter.1 Among the next generation of eminent sinologists mentored by Otto Franke was his son Wolfgang (1912–2007), who edited this volume in collaboration with his daughter Renata Fu-sheng Franke. Apart from his contributions to the field of Chinese studies, Otto Franke has also been noted for his crucial role in creating the framework for the German-Chinese College in the German Lease Jiaozhou (Kiautschou) in 1908, in collaboration with Zhang Zhidong.2

The texts and photographs in the volume at hand predate Franke’s eventual fame and were written at a time when Franke served as a translator for the German Consular Service in various posts in China. The main body of this monograph (pt. 2, pp. 33–394) consists of meticulously transcribed travel diaries, which Wolfgang and Renata Franke had fortuitously discovered among Otto Franke’s effects. Beginning with Franke’s travels to his post as a translator in the German consular service in Beijing in 1888 and ending with a trip to Formosa under Japanese colonial rule in 1901, they cover a decade’s worth of observations of North and East Asia. Included are brief trips to Japan (1894) and Korea (1899), several journeys within China from his postings in Beijing and Shanghai, and, most [End Page 587] remarkable, a return trip from Beijing to Berlin. Here he first followed the tracks of two Jesuit missionaries engaged in the negotiations of the Sino-Russian treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689, and later traveled through Siberia on horseback and wagon, eventually to use the first tracks of the partly constructed Trans-Siberian railway. Franke’s diary entries for this journey, which lasted from June 12 to October 22, 1896, cover more than a hundred pages of this volume and are testament to Otto Franke’s energy, persistence, and sense of adventure. More important, all these diaries highlight Franke’s powers of observation, which were perhaps unmatched at the time.

Having received his PhD in Sanskrit and comparative linguistics (1886) in Göttingen before he began to study Chinese in Berlin, Franke explores Buddhist texts and temples in China (for example, Putuoshan Island, 1891; Tiantaishan, 1893), in Manchuria (Jehol/Chengde, 1890), and later in Mongolia (1896) with an expert’s eye. There are equally detailed observations about the economic situation in the areas he visits, including agriculture, animal herding, the quality of forests and waterways, and the living standards of local populations. He occasionally reports conversations with locals about the impact of political changes on their region. We...


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