Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Nazis Distrust of Sinology

For obscure reasons I've been reading quite a few of the old French Sinologists of the inter-war period lately. And one thing puzzled me a bit - why did the Nazis so seemingly hate and distrust the Sinology community in those countries it conquered? For instance, the fate of two of France's best Sinologists:

Two excellent graduates of both the École des Langues Orientales Vivantes and the École Française d’Extrême-Orient Paul Pelliot (1878-1945 - on the right) and Henri Maspero (1882-1945) - on the left) both fell foul of the Nazis during World War Two in Paris: both were arrested by the Gestapo who distrusted the Sinology community and forced the Société Asiatique to meet clandestinely. Pelliot, who had refused Nazi demands to officially register the Société, died shortly after the liberation of Paris (of cancer) while Maspero was accused of working with the French Resistance and sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. Despite a plea from Erich Haenisch (1880-1966), the German Mongolist and Sinologist, author of the three volume linguistic study Lehrgang der Chinesischen Schriftsprache (1933) and former Professor of Mongol and Manchu at Berlin University as well as being Chair of Sinology at Leipzig University, to release him, Maspero died inside Buchenwald.

So I've long pondered why the Nazis so distrusted and seemingly despised Sinologists and Sinology? Of course the Nazis hated a lot of people - Jews, gypsies, slavs, leftists of all descriptions, gays etc so Sinologists are just another group to dislike. But why so apparently vehemently and more so than near east Orientalists for instance? Well, I've thought about and here's my theory for what it's worth:

The Nazis of course distrusted cosmopolitan Europe and harked back to various romantic rural Aryan idylls. They saw those parts of Europe that were agricultural and populated by people of good Saxon stock as 'authentic'. This was in contrast to the western seaboard of Europe with its cities, dominated by merchants, looking towards Britain and other, in the minds of the Nazis, ‘anti-European powers’. These ‘deracinated’ places and people had, in the Nazi mindset, turned against their European roots and were ‘infecting’ the rest of Europe with their ‘materialistic, bourgeois capitalist mentality’. Within this Europe the Nazis disliked were the major homes of European Sinology, looking to another non-European civilisation for ideas and answers and out of plain curiosity.

From the Baltic States, via northern Germany (the trading Hanseatic Hamburg was a city distrusted by many Nazis) and Denmark, down to Lisbon and, of course, England – a strip of cities, populated by bourgeois capitalists who liked to trade freely with others regardless of race and creed (though obviously employing gunboats etc when the mood took them). It was from this section of Europe that expeditions went out to discover the world, build empires and trade with countries such as China (Portugal to Macau, Dutch to the Spice Island, England to everywhere etc). The Nazis distrusted anyone who looked beyond Europe and anyone who seemed to be advocating free international trade and exchange. Sinologists then, both studying an ‘alien’ culture and one where European free traders had congregated, were then naturally to be distrusted. As usual with those the Nazis distrusted they were to be persecuted as the French Sinologists Pelliot and Maspero were and eventually annihilated as indeed Maspero was at Buchenwald.

Just thinking - I'd be fascinated to known any other theories or indeed any serious Sinologists who managed to find an accomodation with the Nazis. I was always told that there was no such thing as a good Nazi (or fascist) novel, play, work of art etc - was there any Nazi Sinology?


Oliver said...

German Wikipedia has no more than 1 sentence: "Das Exil vieler Chinawissenschaftler in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus schadete der Sinologie nachhaltig." "A great number of sinologists was in exile during the Nazi period, which did lasting damage to sinology." It also mentions that almost a quarter of all German sinologists in the post-war era were trained in Eastern Germany, then relocated to Western Germany. Evidently the renewed Eastern German interest in China was due to a large part to the fact that post-1949 China was communist.

Which, of course, still doesn't answer the question why the Nazis hated sinologist.


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