, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 281–300 | Cite as

Hermann Hesse’s concept of world literature and his critique on Chinese literature

  • Chunhua ZhanEmail author


Hermann Hesse drafted in 1927 an outline of world literature in his article Eine Bibliothek der Weltliteratur (A Library of World Literature) in which he took Chinese literature as one of the important sources. In 1935, from German translation of historical novel Water Margins (水浒传) Hesse gave a response to Goethe’s ideal of world literature and defined it as the last common spirit “through empathetic translation, to broaden and enrich one’s own language and literature”. Chinese literature playing this landmark role in Hesse’s world literature is not groundless, but closely related with his continuous reading, commenting on a variety of Chinese literature for 30 years in his early career. He praised the perfect form of Chinese poetry, and ascribed Chinese drama to a treasure of stage art. He argued Chinese short narration with the magic to transform freely and broke through reality and illusion. Hesse also evaluated three Chinese romantic fictions The Fortunate Union (好逑传), The Wonder of the Second-Plum (二度梅) and The Plum in the Golden Vase (金瓶梅). He commented twice on the masterpiece Dream of the Red Chamber (红楼梦), initially criticized it was not a classic because it embodied no Chinese wisdom, only afterwards reaffirmed that it was a masterpiece depicting “a mood of decline and fatigue”. Hesse’s critique on Chinese classical literature not only provides a vision of literary communication between the East and the West, it is also closely related with his cultivation of world literature, which greatly enriches the construction of “world literature” in the early twentieth century.


Hermann Hesse Critique on Chinese literature World literature 



I would especially thank the outstanding interdisciplinary scholar Prof. Frank (Ding-Ping) Qian whose suggestions and modifications in language for the paper make it hyperchromic. Derrick Catling and Dr. John Patrick McCumiskey also participated in the revision of my article. I’m grateful for what everyone has done for me! This paper is a part of the Chinese National Social Science Fund Project “The study of Hesse and the Chinese spiritual resources under the perspective of world literature” (15BWW012).


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Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of the HumanitiesZhejiang University of Finance and EconomicsHangzhouChina

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