The Richard Wilhelm Translation Centre

The Richard Wilhelm Translation Centre was founded in 1993 by the late Professor Helmut Martin.

The Centre does not teach translation but offers courses, seminars and lectures on subjects relating to the theory and practice of translation to augment the Department’s language and literature courses. In doing so, the aim is to create awareness of and develop an understanding of the linguistic, historical and sociological aspects of translation from Chinese to German.


Apart from a large number of works on translation theory, the Richard Wilhelm Translation Centre has a significant and unique collection of German translations of texts from all epochs of Chinese literary history, starting with the Book of Songs, which goes back as far as the 10th century B.C., and extending to the thought-provoking social novel of modern China Shanghai Baby.

New acquisitions and ongoing periodicals ensure that the library has all the latest German language translations. A pdf file (1.95 MB, 973 pp.) of the Translation Centre’s older holdings can be downloaded here. For more recent acquisitions since 1998 please refer to the Ruhr University PRIMO.

Opening hours
Normally Mondays 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.; Tuesdays 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; Wednesdays 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; Thursdays 12:00 a.m – 4:00 p.m.; Fridays 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 a.m.

Borrowing conditions
Up to five items may be borrowed for a period of one month; the loan can be renewed for a further two months. Borrowers are required to leave a one-off deposit of 50 Euros.


Postal address
Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Fakultät für Ostasienwissenschaften
Universitätsstraße 150
44780 Bochum
Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Faculty of East Asian Studies
Room 3.18
Universitätsstraße 134
44799 Bochum
Contact through phone, facsmile or email
Phone: +49 234 3228253 or 3224699
Fax: +49 234 3214265
Christian Schwermann
Undergraduate assistant:

Who was Richard Wilhelm

Richard Wilhelm

The Translation Centre was named after Richard Wilhelm (1873–1930) who lived some 100 years before translation was recognized as a serious scientific discipline. He studied Theology in Tübingen and in 1899 joined the East Asia Mission as a missionary in the then German colony Qingdao. Unlike his European contemporaries, Wilhelm did not consider the indigenous population to be aliens and potential enemies. As a priest, teacher and missionary he did much to develop the education system and was honoured by the Chinese imperial court for his contributions in this field. Wilhelm set up a German-Chinese school and it was this that brought him into contact with Chinese scholars and, in time, prompted him to study Chinese literature.

In 1905 his first translations of Chinese works appeared, including parts of Confucius’s "Analects" (Lunyu). By this time he was very much averse to the Eurocentric working methods of the missions in China and had become a "spiritual mediator between China and Europe": "The missionary in China can no longer from a superior position as member of a civilised society meet a lower stage of civilisation, but he must take his standpoint as one human being to another" (R. Wilhelm, ed. Salome Wilhelm, Cologne 1956, 138). From 1922 to 1924 he was cultural attaché to the German ambassador in Peking and taught at university there. In 1924 he returned to Germany to the newly established chair of Chinese at Frankfurt University where he was appointed professor in 1927.

After leaving missionary work in China, Richard Wilhelm devoted himself exclusively to Chinese studies. His vast lifework included the first ever German translations of the Chinese classics, such as, e.g., the Yijing, the Daodejing, Zhuangzi, Mengzi and Lunyu as well as a several volumes on classical philosophy. To the present day scholars refer to him in their comments and translations, and innumerable lay readers who find more recent, heavily annotated specialist translations difficult to ‘digest’ still use his translation of the Yijing (I Ging. Texte und Materialien, Jena 1924, Cologne 1973–) for their personal horoscope.

Detailed bio-bibliographical information on Richard Wilhelm can be found on the pages of the Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon.

Some Thoughts on Translation

     With his language the author creates national literature; world literature is made by translators. - José Saramago

Without translators there would have been no Nobel Prize in Literature for Gao Xingjian or Mo Yan, indeed without translators there would probably be no international Nobel Prize in Literature at all. For how else would the international committee of adjudicators be able to read the nominated works unless they were translated?

And yet literary translators are usually overlooked. Reviews of new publications in German rarely mention that the book is a translation. Translation is like cleaning – it only gets noticed if it’s badly done.

This is also reflected in the remuneration of translators who usually work on a freelance basis. "Translator" is not a legally protected occupational title. Most of those working in the profession are poorly paid autodidacts who either have to have a second means of earning a living, who are provided for by a gainfully employed partner, or who are extremely thrifty – with all three applying in some cases.

In the academic field translation was not taken seriously for many years, because it was deemed to have no scientific relevance. Today, it is taught at universities and can be studied in a dozen or so universities or similar institutions in Germany.


Since the Translation Centre was founded in 1993, it has organized a number of courses, seminars and lectures on the theory and practice of translation which were very well received. Liaison is maintained with Translation Studies both at Ruhr University and other universities as well as with practice-orientated institutions outside of the academic field. These include first and foremost the Europäisches Übersetzer-Kollegium Nordrhein-Westfalen in Straelen, an institution that was set up to promote international exchange.


Between 1994 and 2000 the Richard Wilhelm Translation Centre published some twenty translations from Chinese literature (arcus chinatexte) as well as several essays and studies (arcus texte). The aim was to promote intercultural understanding and to elucidate China’s way forward for the Western reader.