Abschied nehmen von Ji Xianlin

Ji Xianlin, the Chinese linguistic sage of Peking University

Abschied nehmen von Ji Xianlin

This letter of condolence was first published in Die Zeit Leserblog on July 15th, 2009:

I was deeply saddened to hear about the death of Ji Xianlin on Saturday morning. It came as a shock to Peking University and the people of China. The tragic news spread from within Peking University. Students cried, teachers were in tears. Classes were cancelled. Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao sent their letters of condolences.

Ji Xianlin was a kind, peace-loving and gentle soul, a cultural master and an academic giant.

He is known to every student in China and well respected all over the world and in particular in India, Japan, and also Germany, where he spent 10 years (1935-1945) of his student life as the first DAAD student to learn Sanskrit, Pali and Tocharian, among others.

I consider myself very fortunate to be able to study under his star and his pupils at Beida. To my knowledge, Ji Xianlin’s influence as a role model, cultural phenomenon and educator could be compared to Rabindranath Tagore of India, or Tsunesaburo Makiguchi of Japan. Accordingly, in China he is commonly referred to not as ‘ren’ or mortal but as ‘sheng’ or sage. Wen Jiabao called him a “national treasure”.

Last time I saw Ji Xianlin alive was shortly after the Beijing Olympic Games, when we chanted Sanskrit songs on CCTV3 in order to honor our mentor on Teacher’s Day on 10th of September 2008. Ji Xianlin was in good humour and still expressed a remarkable memory.

China lost a great idol and Germany a true friend, and we can only try to imagine how much they will miss Ji Xianlin.

May the Gods bless you and your families during this time and always.

Thorsten Pattberg

Peking University