Hellmut Wilhelm

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Hellmut Wilhelm (Chinese: 衛德明; pinyin: Wèi Démíng; 10 December 1905 – 5 July 1990) was a German sinologist known for his broad knowledge of both Chinese literature and Chinese history. His father, Richard Wilhelm, was also a noted sinologist.

Wilhelm was an expert on the ancient Chinese divination text Yi Jing, which he believed to represent the essence of Chinese thought.[1] He also produced one of the most widely used German-Chinese dictionaries of the 20th century. He held teaching positions at Peking University and the University of Washington.


Wilhelm was born in the Chinese city of Qingdao, Shandong Province, the son of the prominent missionary and sinologist Richard Wilhelm. His early education in China coincided with the Xinhai Revolution, when the Qing Dynasty was overthrown and China moved toward republican government, and he was intimately familiar with the Chinese intellectual world of that era.[2] Japan, who had declared war on Germany in 1914 at the beginning of World War I, soon occupied Qingdao, and Wilhelm was then sent to live with friends in Shanghai.[3] Following the war, Wilhelm's family returned to Germany, where his father became the first chair of Sinology at the University of Frankfurt. Wilhelm initially worked towards a career in law, passing the Staatsexamen ("State Examination") in law in 1928.[4] However, after his father's death in 1930, Wilhelm decided to continue his father's work in ancient Chinese literature, and pursue a career in Chinese scholarship.[5]

Wilhelm pursued graduate study in Chinese at the University of Berlin. He wrote a dissertation on Ming Dynasty scholar Gu Yanwu,[6] receiving a doctorate in 1932. Wilhelm then returned to China, where he lived and worked in Beijing until 1948. He taught German language and literature at Peking University and produced the Deutsch-Chinesische Wörterbuch, a well-known German-Chinese dictionary. During the early 1940s, Wilhelm would frequently give lectures on Chinese history and thought to the German-speaking community in Beijing.[1] In 1944, Wilhelm published a set of lectures on the ancient Chinese classic Yi Jing entitled Die Wandlung: Acht Vorträge zum I-Ging – subsequently translated into English as Change: Eight Lectures on the I Ching – which have become the most widely read introduction to the Yi Jing in a Western language.[1]

In 1948, Wilhelm became a professor at the University of Washington, where he taught until his retirement in 1971. He authored dozens of articles and manuscripts, and was a key figure in establishing the Far Eastern and Russian Institute. A collection that includes documents relating to his life, photographs, and manuscripts of his scientific work on Gu Ting Lin and the Yi Jing can be found in the German Exiles Archive of the German National Library.


Selected Works[edit]

  • (German) Chinas Geschichte: Zehn einführende Vorträge ["China's History: Ten Introductory Lectures"] (Chung-kuo li-shih shu-yao 中國歷史術要). Peking: Vetch, 1944.
  • (German) Die Wandlung: Acht Vorträge zum I-ging ["Change: Eight Lectures on the I-Ching"] (Chou-i shu-yao 周易術要). Peking: Vetch, 1944.
  • (German) Gesellschaft und Staat in China: Acht Vorträge ["Society and State in China: Eight Lectures"] (Shih-ch'ün yüan-kuo 史群元國). Peking: Vetch, 1944.
  • (German) Deutsch-chinesisches Wörterbuch ["German-Chinese Dictionary"]. Shanghai: Nössler, 1945.
  • Change: Eight Lectures on the I-Ching. Translated by Cary F. Baynes. Bollingen Series, 62. New York: Pantheon Books, 1960.
  • Heaven, Earth, and Man in the Book of Changes: Seven Eranos Lectures. Seattle, London: University of Washington Press, 1977.


  1. ^ a b c Knechtges (1992), 6.
  2. ^ Knechtges, (1992), 5.
  3. ^ Taylor (1992), 8.
  4. ^ Knechtges (1992), 5.
  5. ^ Hellmut Wilhelm and the I Ching, University of Washington, accessed 8 October 2011.
  6. ^ (German) Wilhelm, Hellmut. Gu Ting Lin, der Ethiker. Inaugural-Dissertation zur Erlangung der Doktorwürde genehmigt von der Philosphischen Fakultät der Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität zu Berlin (Darmstadt: L.C. Wittich'sche Hofbuchdruckerei, 1932).


  • "Hellmut Wilhelm, Memories and Bibliography", Oriens Extremus 35 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz & Co: 1992), 5-34.
    • Knechtges, David R. "Introduction", 5-7.
    • Taylor, George E. "Hellmut Wilhelm, Pioneer of China Studies", 8-11.

External links[edit]