24 Jan /17

First Chinese-German Dictionary

first Chinese-German dictionary
The first Chinese-German dictionary (Chinesisch-Deutsches Wörterbuch, published in Hamburg, in 1924),  available at display at EVS Translations Offenbach office, as part of EVS Translations Book Museum

China and Germany are today among the top four largest economies in the World (China, with a nominal GDP of nearly EUR 8 trillion, coming up second after the USA, and Germany taking up the fourth place, after Japan, with a nominal GDP that is just half the size of its key partner’s – China).

China is Germany’s largest trading partner outside the EU, where Germany’s total trade with China rose to nearly EUR 187 billion last year, whereas Germany is China’s biggest trading partner in the EU and sixth globally (EUR 62 billion, or 3.2% of the total Chinese exports last year).

And while the China’s EU trade surplus is running at an alarming annual increase rate of 21.4% compared to 2017, Germany’s trade deficit with China follows the declining trend of the last year’s 20% drop.

The two countries moved to a strategic partnership in 2014, and their cooperation toward innovation is a key element of both Germany’s “Industry 4.0” and China’s “Made in China 2025” initiatives, where Germany is the largest European investor in technology businesses operating in China, and Chinese businesses invested over EUR 11 billion in Germany in 2016.

The current global backlash against Chinese investments, and particularly China’s buying spree in the heartland of Germany’s top technologies, is affecting the “young” bilateral foreign trade relations between the two key players that started in only 1861 with the first Sino-German Treaty to open formal commercial relations between China the German Customs Union.

In 1890, the Deutsch-Asiatische Bank was established and by 1896 Germany was second to Britain in trading and shipping in China.

Naturally, the World War I destroyed the established markets and out of nearly 300 German companies, operating on the Chinese market by 1913, only two remained in 1919.

A German-Chinese Peace Treaty was concluded in 1921 to help re-establish the commercial links between the two countries.

Alongside the geopolitical and economic factors, the Sino-German relations were further facilitated by the first Chinese German dictionary to include many business words, like trade, finance, salesperson, price, price regulation, invoice, business, report, economy, firm, foreign trade, trade regulation, trade war, business competition and other.

The dictionary was published in 1924 by the export merchant and sinologist Werner Rüdenberg. The author, born near Hanover, Germany, mastered his merchant skills in his uncle’s business in Manchester, UK and later worked as a salesman for a Berlin textile company, importing materials from China. The company sent Rüdenberg to Shanghai, where he ended up spending 16 years over a 30-year period.

The 1919 Sino-German trade downturn resulted in Rüdenberg’s compulsory repatriation, followed by several semesters in Oriental Studies at the Berlin University.

When his Chinese-German dictionary was published, the author viewed it to be of general help to interpreters, merchants, engineers, missionaries and other professionals; along with sinologists and students, as it included the old as well as the current language. And the dictionary really proved out to be useful, selling out, with the second edition hitting the market in 1936.

During the National Socialist Period in Germany, Werner Rüdenberg went to London, where in 1940 he was interned in a camp on the Isle of Man. From 1941 to 1946, he worked as a German language teacher at schools in Cambridge and London. This was followed by teaching German at Queen Mary College / Westfield College in London until 1952.

Rüdenberg, who early on showed a linguistic talent, kept on intensively studying both English and Chinese and continued with his merchant activities with China. During his London period, he received a grant to work on his English to Chinese dictionary (Shanghai dialect).

His masterwork, the Chinese to German dictionary, marks the start of reference works that facilitated the understanding of Chinese languages for Europeans.

The rare first edition of the dictionary (Chinesisch-Deutsches Wörterbuch, published in Hamburg, in 1924) is available at display at EVS Translations Offenbach office, as part of EVS Translations Book Museum.