Chinese Studies

Prof. Dr. Thomas Zimmer 司馬濤

Distinguished Research Professor at the Center for Chinese German Cultural and Social Exchange at Tongji University Shanghai

Academic Career

  • Since 2018 Professor at the Center for Chinese German Cultural and Social Exchange at Tongji University Shanghai
  • 1999 Habilitation, Sinology, University of Bonn
  • 1995-2003 Lecturer, Sinology, University of Bonn
  • 1992 PhD Sinology, University of Bonn
  • 1989 Diploma/Master degree in translation, Seminar for Oriental Languages at the University of Bonn

Research Focus
Prof. Zimmer has specialized in pre-modern and contemporary Chinese narrative art and linguistic studies of the written colloquial Chinese language (baihua). More recent interests include research on China´s ancient geo-philosophical concepts as well as scientific and cultural exchange during the Ming and Qing dynasties until the late eighteenth century.

Tomb of the sailor Zheng He (Photo ©Thomas Zimmer). Between 1405 and 1433 (the year of his presumed death, other data mention the year 1435) Zheng He, born in 1371, sailed a total of seven times with a huge fleet to the coasts of East Africa and Arabia. Several writings by fellow sailors provide information about Zheng's voyages, and he is also the main character in a 15th century novel entitled «Popular Tale of the Sea Voyage of the Eunuch Zheng He to the West» (Sanbao Taijian xiyang ji fengyu yanyi 三寳太監西洋記通俗演義). The tomb, which was restored in the 1980s, is located in the Ox Head Mountains (Niushoushan 牛首山) near Nanjjing.

Major Publications
Zimmer has published Baihua - On the Problem of the Writing of Spoken Language in Chinese: Represented on the Basis of Morphological Characteristics in the bianwen from Dunhuang (Baihua - Zum Problem der Verschriftung gesprochener Sprache im Chinesischen: Dargestellt anhand morphologischer Merkmale in den bianwen aus Dunhuang, St. Augustin: Monumenta Serica, 1999), The Chinese Novel of the Late Imperial Period (Der chinesische Roman der ausgehenden Kaiserzeit,  München: K.G. Saur, 2002), and  Awakening from a Coma? A Literary Approach towards Contemporary China (Erwachen aus dem Koma? Eine literarische Betrachtung des heutigen Chinas, Baden-Baden: Tectum Verlag, 2017), which has received the ICAS Book Prize in 2019 for Asian Science Publications written in German.

Other Activities
From 2003 to 2009 Zimmer was Vice-Director of the Sino-German School of Post Graduate Studies (CDHK) at Tongji University in Shanghai. Between 2012 and 2018, Zimmer worked as the Vice-Dean of the Sino German College and as Head of the German Cultural Center at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology (USST) in Shanghai.

Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) was a member of the Jesuit Order and arrived in China in 1582. After learning the Chinese language, he and his friars, together with Chinese scholars, produced numerous writings in which the religious, cultural and scientific knowledge of the time was introduced to Chinese scholars. Probably Ricci's best known map is the «Complete Map of all Countries of the World» (Kunyu wanguo quantu 坤輿萬國全圖), which was produced in Beijing in 1602. In deliberate contrast to the Eurocentric, occidental cartography, Ricci placed the Chinese Empire in the centre of his map in order to make the Chinese observers more clearly aware of the size of their empire, but also of its position in relation to the rest of the world. Ricci's map was additionally provided with explanations in Chinese characters as well as geographical and ethnological descriptions that give information about the world known in Europe in the sixteenth century.