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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 188-193

Dissemination of traditional chinese medicine in germany from an intercultural perspective: A brief introduction of franz hübotter

Institut für Archäologische Wissenschaften, Denkmalwissenschaften and Kunstgeschichte, Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg, Bamberg 96047, Germany

Date of Submission26-Jul-2021
Date of Acceptance06-Aug-2021
Date of Web Publication30-Sep-2021

Correspondence Address:
Mr. Fang- Chao Liu
Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg, Bamberg 96047
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_33_21

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Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is the cultural heritage of all humankind. TCM not only embodies the cultural crystallization of the region and the nation, but also performs the important mission of curing the lives, saving the sick and maintaining the health of the people. In the history of the spread of Chinese medicine to the West, foreign missionaries have played an important role, and researches about this role have continued in China. In the history of Chinese medicine in Germany, there is a pivotal figure named Franz Hübotter (1881–1967), who broke through the deadlock in the academic research of Chinese medicine in the 19th century in Germany, but the discussion on his contribution has been comparatively rare in China. His works and translations are not only of medical value, but are also valuable historically, culturally, and socially. The historical development of TCM has the authenticity of history, the integrity of the environment, and the richness of the times. Medical experts have explored and verified the value of medicine. Translators and scholars are mainly concerned with the dissemination of knowledge from an intercultural perspective. This paper provides a primitive and objective introduction to Franz Hübotter, hoping to trigger off the secondary research among scholars of different professional backgrounds and to expand professional thinking, and then get over the barriers of disciplines.

Keywords: Contributions to the Knowledge of Chinese and Tibetan Mongolian Pharmacology, Franz Hübotter, traditional Chinese medicine

How to cite this article:
Liu FC. Dissemination of traditional chinese medicine in germany from an intercultural perspective: A brief introduction of franz hübotter. Chin Med Cult 2021;4:188-93

How to cite this URL:
Liu FC. Dissemination of traditional chinese medicine in germany from an intercultural perspective: A brief introduction of franz hübotter. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Oct 26];4:188-93. Available from: https://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2021/4/3/188/327160

  Educational Background Top

On December 5, 1881, Franz Hübotter was born in a family with artistic atmosphere in Weimar. His father Eduard Hübotter (1839–1919) was a court actor, and his mother Hulda (1840–1915) was a Coloratura singer. Three years later, his family moved to Berlin. He had two uncles who were doctors and they surely had an influence on him. From 1892 to 1901, he studied at the Humanistischen Friedrichsgymnasiums Middle School in Berlin. At the same time, he showed a keen interest in linguistics. He learned Hebrew and Polish and began to learn Eastern languages in middle school. At the age of 20, he was formally enrolled by the School of Medicine, University of Jena. He studied in Jena, Berlin, and Heidelberg. In addition to medicine, he also studied Chinese and Manchu languages. Five years later, he received a doctorate degree at University of Jena in 1906 and passed the national medical examination. In 1907, he obtained the medical license.

From May 1907, Franz Hübotter worked as an assistant to the surgeon Professor Fedor Krause at Augusta-Hospital in Berlin. One year later, he worked as an assistant to the brain surgeon Victor Horsley in London. In 1909, Franz Hübotter worked as an assistant to the surgeon Eugéne Doyen in Paris while studying Sinology in Chavannes. In October of the same year, he returned to the Augusta-Hospital in Berlin. In the next few years, in addition to working in the circle of medicine in Berlin, he also participated in various language courses in Leipzig, including Sanskrit, Chinese, Manchu, Tibetan, Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. In addition, he also learned Italian, Russian, Danish, Swedish, and Japanese by himself, and wrote a doctoral dissertation in linguistics about Zhan Guo Ce, and finally received a PhD in Sinology in Leipzig in 1912.

  Contributions to the Knowledge of Chinese and Tibetan Mongolian Pharmacology Top

On June 26, 1913, Franz Hübotter submitted the translation of Contributions to the Knowledge of Chinese and Tibetan Mongolian Pharmacology (Beiträge zur Kenntnis der chinesischen sowie der tibetisch mongolischen Pharmakologie) for teaching qualification to the University of Berlin. However, the dissertation defense was held in 1914 in the auditorium of the University of Berlin, and the habilitation was not smooth because there was a fierce argument in the process.[1] Contributions to the Knowledge of Chinese and Tibetan Mongolian Pharmacology was in the Guan Bu Zha Bu period, when the Mongolian, the Han, the Manchu, the Tibetan, and other ethnic groups had friendly mutual contacts, the opportunities for medical exchanges and bilateral trading of medicinal materials increased among all ethnic groups. In order to encourage the Mongolian people to purchase medicinal materials, Guan Bu Zha Bu Contributions to the Knowledge of Chinese and Tibetan Mongolian Pharmacology, a book that recorded 380 kinds of Tibetan and Chinese medicines.[2] The translation of Contributions to the Knowledge of Chinese and Tibetan Mongolian Pharmacology by Franz Hübotter has the length of 324 pages. The Introduction of the book was written in German, Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian, English, and Turkish. The main body of the book is not only the translation of names of these drugs, but also some explanatory manual drawings. What makes this book more interesting is that Franz Hübotter wrote his Motto in Chinese on the title page of the preface: 集腋成裘 (literally, many a little make a mickle) [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Contributions to the Knowledge of Chinese and Tibetan Mongolian Pharmacology translated by Franz Hübotter

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Franz Hübotter wrote in the Introduction thus: …A more complete collection of drugs used in Mongol or Tibetan Medicine can be found in Peking, in the shop of Wan J Hao (万亿号) between the British and Russian Legations near the so-called Mongol market.

The proprietor published a list of 365 drugs obtainable at his store, giving the names in Tibetan and Chinese characters and adding the pronunciation of the Chinese in Tibetan letters: the drugs offered for sale in the shop were not always exactly the same as the original productions of Tibet bearing these names in that country; but their medical virtues were stated to be similar. Purchasers were requested not to suppose that these drugs have been collected without judgment. Besides this, the sellers direct the attention of the public to the advantage of procuring drugs from a great firm instead of buying them in retail shops. The postscript was signed by Gonbedian, Professor of the Tibetan school at Peking.[3]

The body of the book is divided into five chapters as follows [Figure 2]:
Figure 2: Diagram for the proportion of chapters in Contributions to the Knowledge of Chinese and Tibetan Mongolian Pharmacology

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  1. Tibetan–Chinese pharmacopoeia
  2. Plants that are not listed in the Tibetan–Mongolian Pharmacopoeia, but are mostly used in China
  3. A range of remedies of animal origin
  4. Recipes
  5. Indices.

According to the number of pages, the proportion of each chapter is as follows:

The first chapter is subdivided into four categories [Figure 3]:
Figure 3: Distribution diagram of dosage form in Contributions to the Knowledge of Chinese and Tibetan Mongolian Pharmacology

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  1. Medicines of the mineral kingdom, e.g., gold, silver, copper, iron, songer shi jade, pearl, and abalone shell
  2. Medicines of the plant kingdom, e.g., borneol, camphor, white sandalwood, red sandalwood, Acronychia pedunculata, suxiang incense, and eaglewood
  3. Medicines especially taken from the animal kingdom, e.g., rhinoceros horn, pilose antler, Haibadou, Antelope blood, snake meat, peacock meat, and dragon bone
  4. Attachment, e.g., Ulmus macrocarpa Hance, Xietengguo, Baiyicao, mandala, alfalfa, impatiens balsamina, and the root of kudzu vine.

In Chapter 2 of the book [Figure 4], there were plant medicines often used in China but not belonging to the Chinese, Mongolian, or Tibetan medicine system. For instance, walnuts, Chinese azalea, podophyllum, kelp, nanmu, camphor, geranium, daemonorops draco, Coptis chinensis, radix picrorrhizae, Clerodendron cyrtophyllum, and lilac daphne flower bud. In Chapter 3, Franz Hübotter recorded animal medicines from Mongolia: antelope horn, monkey bone, otter liver, groundhog liver, nanny goat liver, wolf stomach, and tongue.
Figure 4: Excerpts from chapter two and chapter three of Contributions to the Knowledge of Chinese and Tibetan Mongolian Pharmacology

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In Chapter 4 of the book [Figure 5], Franz Hübotter translated formulas with different effects, only one prescription for each effect. However, there were many formulas about menstruation and child birth. There was a detailed description in Shou Shi Bian (Ein chinesisches Lehrbuch der Geburtshülfe) [Figure 6] published in the same year.[4] In the first page of the chapter, Franz Hübotter introduced the unit conversion table.
Figure 5: Two pages from chapter four of Contributions to the Knowledge of Chinese and Tibetan Mongolian Pharmacology

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Figure 6: Formula Compilation for Longevity translated by Franz Hübotter

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There were 21 categories of formulas and 51 formulas in total, namely:

  1. Tonifying and nourishing formulas: Sijunzi decoction, liujunzi decoction
  2. Exterior effusing formula: Renshen baidu powder
  3. Interior-relieving formula: Dachengqi decoction
  4. Emetic formula: Guadi powder
  5. Harmonizing formula: Huoxiang zhengqi powder
  6. Exterior–interior formula: Sanhuang shigao decoction
  7. Dispersing and supplementing formula: Pingwei powder
  8. Qi regulating formula: Buzhong yiqi decoction
  9. Blood regulating formula: Xijiao dihuang decoction
  10. Wind expelling formula: Xiaofeng powder
  11. Cold dispersing formula: Lizhong decoction
  12. Summer heat dispelling formula: Liuyi powder
  13. Dampness disinhibiting formula: Wuling powder
  14. Dryness moistening formula: Soufeng shunqi pill
  15. Fire purging formula: Baihu decoction
  16. Phlegm removing formula: Erchen decoction
  17. Astringing formula: Jinsuo gujing pill
  18. Worm killing formula: Huachong pill
  19. Sore and ulcer formula: Jinyinhua wine
  20. Menstruation and child birth formula: Qianjin baotai pill, antai drink, antai formula, antai dihuang sharen decoction, xiongqiong decoction, penmu pill, xiaoyao powder, xionggui buzhong decoction, foshou powder, supplemented xionggui decoction, mulberry wine, bianchan shenfang, baosheng wuyou powder, shenghua decoction, qinghun powder, shixiao powder, duoming powder, duoming elixir, pingwei powder, yongmai powder
  21. Others: Mammary rock, mammary welling abscess, xianluan formula, cough, mammary swelling, sanxian decoction, huashi powder, yongquan powder, gualou powder, and baishaoyao powder.

For the fifth part of the book, the Indices, Franz Hübotter chose to write it in German, Chinese, and Tibetan.

  Working Background Top

Franz Hübotter was qualified as a teacher for defending his thesis on Contributions to the Knowledge of Chinese and Tibetan Mongolian Pharmacology. Besides teaching in the University, he worked as a public medical officer at Augusta-Hospital in Berlin from August 4, 1914, to October 1, 1919. In 1916, he married a young nurse Eva Pusch, but Eva died only 4 years after the marriage. Shortly afterward, he was designated to serve as a medical officer on the Russian front. In 1918, he worked in two hospitals of X Army Corps in Hannover and returned to Berlin after the end of WWI in 1919. In 1920, he published 3000 Years of Medicine in Berlin [Figure 7].[5]
Figure 7: 3000 Years of Medicine by Franz Hübotter

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From 1921 to 1925, he taught medicine and German at the medical college at Kumamoto University in Kyushu, Japan. Franz Hübotter married his second wife Annemarie Hornemann (1895–1968) when he was 40 years old. In 1923, his daughter was born and was named Eva probably out of the love for his first wife. The ensuing year saw the birth of his son Fritz.

In November 1925, Franz Hübotter came to Yiyang, Hunan Province of China, as a missionary, and worked as a doctor in a local Norwegian missionary hospital for 1 year and a half while squeezing time for academic research. In 1926, Franz Hübotter's translation Two Famous Chinese Doctors, Chunyu Yi and Hua Tuo (Zwei berühmte chinesische Ärzte des Altertums Chouen Yu-J und Hoa T'ouo) was published in Tokyo, Japan, as the 21st volume of the research results of the German East Asian Mission, Part A (Band XXI, Teil A). This is a supplement to the second issue of the seventh volume of the Archives of the History of Medicine (Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin Band VII, Heft 2, Leipzig 1913), which was published in Leipzig in 1913. Franz Hübotter used the Couvreur–Zottoli system for Chinese names and expressions in the book. It was the first time that Chunyu Yi and Hua Tuo, the two ancient Chinese doctors, were introduced to the Germans. However, it is obviously clear from the preface that Franz Hübotter is more concerned about the medical value. He wrote: This book may be the oldest Chinese medical history apart from the Huang Di Nei Jing, but the difference is that Huang Di Nei Jing has only theories and no records of practicing medicine.[6]

There were totally 48 pages of this book, which were divided into two parts: 26 pages about Chunyu Yi and 17 pages about Hua Tuo. In the first part, Franz Hübotter translated the record of Chunyu Yi (淳于意) from chapter 105 of Shi Ji (《史记》Records of the Historian). Franz Hübotter translated the Biography of Chunyu Yi in the first 3 pages, especially the classic historical story of Tiying saving his father. After that, he translated the 26 medical records from the earliest medical history record Zhen Ji (《诊籍》Medical cases) in detail. In the translation, he specifically explained that because Sima Qian (司马迁), the author of Shi Ji, was not a doctor, but there were ambiguities that could not be explained in his records of medical records. He maintained this uncertainty in his translation, including its authenticity, and drew explanatory sketches. The second part of the book is about Hua Tuo. Franz Hübotter affirmed Hua Tuo's important historical position and medical value but he found that there were many controversial and contradictory evaluations about Hua Tuo. In his translation from Gu Jin Tu Shu Ji Cheng (《古今图书集成》 Compilation for Ancient Modern Books) Volume 920 [Figure 8], there was only less than one page of Hua Tuo's biography, but after that, there was a detailed translation of his 23 medical history records [Figure 9].
Figure 8: Chun Yuyi and Hua Tuo, two famous Chinese doctors' biographies translated by Franz Hübotter

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Figure 9: Ilustrative rough draft in Chun Yuyi and Hua Tuo, two famous Chinese doctors' biographies, translated by Franz Hübotter

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In 1929, one of his most important works Die Chinesische Medizin was published in Leipzig [Figure 10]. The full name of the book is Die Chinesische Medizin zu Beginn des XX Jahrhunderts und ihr historischer Entwicklungsgang,[7],[8] which was completed by Franz Hübotter when he was a missionary doctor in Yiyang, Hunan Province of China. This book has a total of 356 pages and consists of thirteen chapters, including the translation of Nan Jing (《难经》Classic of Difficult Issues) wrote by Bian Que (扁鹊) and Bin Hu Mai Xue (《濒湖脉学》Binhu's Sphygmology) wrote by Li Shizhen (李时珍). In the history of German research on Chinese medicine, this book enabled Germany to surpass France in terms of gaining the direct contact with Chinese medicine.[9],[10],[11]
Figure 10: Chinese Medicine by Franz Hübotter

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In 1930, Franz Hübotter worked as a doctor in Qingdao's Wunsch-Hospital. However, he opened his own private clinic later (with 8 beds, X-ray equipment and a full set of surgical equipment) at No. 36 Jiangsu Road, Qingdao City, Shandong Province, with his family residing away at No. 12 Longkou Road of the same city. Two years later, his clinic obtained a business license, and there was also an American associate, Dr. Don G. Lew, so the clinic was called Mei De Hospital (US-Germany-Hospital). The house in Qingdao was renumbered in 1935, so the clinic address was changed to No. 10 Jiangsu Road while the home address was No. 46, Longkou Road. In 1936, his wife returned to Germany with their children because the children were old enough to go to school. In 1938, Franz Hübotter moved the clinic to his home at No. 46, Longkou Road. The American doctor also left. Since then, the name Mei De Hospital no longer existed. A year later, the British doctor Dr. Richard Brown joined the clinic, so Franz Hübotter moved to reside at No. 9 Hunan Road and separated his residence from the clinic.

Franz Hübotter returned to Germany in 1953 and was appointed honorary professor of medical history at the Free University of Berlin. He began teaching in the following year. In addition to traditional medicine and homeopathy, he was the first person to usher in Chinese acupuncture and moxibustion to a German university. He taught students traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and its history, which had a profound impact.[12],[13] In 1960, he went to Tokyo, Japan, to give a speech at the Acupuncture Conference. In 1967, Franz Hübotter, the doctor whose work built a bridging communication between Chinese and Western medicine, died in Berlin at the age of 86.

  Conclusions Top

The TCM culture is facing unprecedented historical opportunities, but it must also meet the challenges of the new era. The thriving of education is the basis of national rejuvenation and the rise of the country. The earliest pedagogical work Xue Ji (《学记》 Education) proposed that to rule the country and bring the people stability, the most important is to carry out moral education. The research on Chinese medicine is constantly changing from its striving by quantity to its strengthening by quality. Taking history as a mirror, we can observe the rise and fall of the important events and learn the lessons. Research on the history of Chinese medicine can help reveal the epoch's meaning of Chinese medicine as well as expand the social potentials of the Chinese medicine. In doing so, it particularly functions to pay attention to its multidimensionality, put it in the world coordinate system, inherit and carry forward the culture of Chinese medicine, transform people with medicine, educate people with medicine, and enrich the mind with medicine. Franz Hübotter [Figure 11] studied Chinese medicine for more than 50 years, translated a large number of TCM classics into German, and spread the practice of Chinese medicine to Germany. He was good at both theory and practice. Patience, confidence, and perseverance enabled this German researcher of Chinese medicine to become a landmark doctor in history, especially in the 19th century when Western medicine held the decision-making position in the medical field. Under such Eurocentric circumstances, Franz Hübotter still made his choice of learning about Chinese medicine. His choice is more than a personal attitude but it represents a historical perspective that goes beyond time and space. And that made all the difference.
Figure 11: Senile figures of Franz Hübotter

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Translator: Shu-Na Zhang (张淑娜)



Ethical approval

The author has no ethical conflicts to disclose.

Conflicts of interest


  References Top

Zhang XY. Chinese medicine study in Germany of the early 20th century: A case study of the Chinesische Medizin by Franz Hübotter. Beijing: Beijing Foreign Studies University; 2016.pp.18-9. Chinese.  Back to cited text no. 1
Dao Le GY.Literature research on Fan han yao ming. Tongliao:Inner Mongolia University For Nationalities; 2020. p. 44. Chinese.  Back to cited text no. 2
Hübotter F. Contributions to the knowledge of Chinese and Tibetan Mongolian pharmacology. Berlin: Urban and Schwarzenberg; 1913. German.  Back to cited text no. 3
Hübotter F. Shou-Shi-Pien. A Chinese obstetrics textbook. Berlin: Urban and Schwarzenberg; 1913. German.  Back to cited text no. 4
Hübotter F. 3000 years of medicine. A historical outline, encompassing the time from Homer to the present, with special consideration of the connections between medicine and philosophy. Berlin: Oscar Rothacker; 1920. German.  Back to cited text no. 5
Hübotter F. Two famous ancient Chinese doctors: Chouen Yu-J and Hoa-T'ouo. Tokyo: Deutschen Gesellschaft für Natur- und Völkerkunde Ostasien;1927. German.  Back to cited text no. 6
Hübotter F. Chinese medicine at the beginning of the XX. Century and its historical course of development. Leipzig: Verlag der>Asia Major< Dr. Bruno Schindler;1929. German.  Back to cited text no. 7
Gao X.The dissemination and research of Chinese medicine in the West since the 15th century. Chin Med Cult 2015;6:23. Chinese.  Back to cited text no. 8
Fan YN.A Study on missionaries' translation and introduction of traditional Chinese medicine in modern China[dissertation]. Jinan: Shandong University Of Traditional Chinese Medicine; 2012. pp. 22-3. Chinese.  Back to cited text no. 9
Fan YN.Research on the Spread of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Germany. Journal of Shandong University of Traditional Chinese Medicine 2014;5:470-61. Chinese.  Back to cited text no. 10
Zhang Y,Li YC,Zhang L,Wang QN. Exploration of the historical and cultural origins of TCM classics and their overseas communication and translation. Chinese Medicine and Culture 2019; 2:18.  Back to cited text no. 11
Wang FW. Characteristics and countermeasures of the development of Chinese medicine education in Germany. Academic Journal of Chinese PLA Medical School 2002;4:81. Chinese.  Back to cited text no. 12
Zeng Y.Niu YH.Foreign menbers and their researches on Chinese medical history in early Chinese Society of Medical History.Zhonghua Yi Shi Za Zhi 2019;49: 370-1. Chinese.  Back to cited text no. 13


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6], [Figure 7], [Figure 8], [Figure 9], [Figure 10], [Figure 11]


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