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Asia Seminar

  • Name:
    Asia Seminar
  • Alternative names:

    Willy Tonn's Asia Seminar

  • Kind of Organisation:
    University / Higher Education Institute / Research Institute
  • Introduction:

    The Asia Seminar was run by the scholar Willy Tonn (1902–1945), who founded it in 1943 and enriched the cultural and scholarly life in the so-called Shanghai Ghetto during the harsh wartime period.

    Word Count: 31

  • Content:

    The Asia Seminar was run by the scholar Willy Tonn (1902–1945), who founded it in 1943. Tonn received his PhD in 1924 from the Seminary of Oriental Languages at the University in Berlin, where he studied Chinese, Manchu, Vedic, Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali and Tibetan. Tonn arrived in Shanghai in 1939 and began to where he worked as a professor for literature and languages and as a lecturer. He wrote for several different periodicals, such as the China Journal, Gelbe Post, and the Shanghai Jewish Chronicle. The Asia Seminar was a kind of people’s university and offered a variety of lectures by different, invited scholars and experts on topics related to the Asian continent and beyond. After the first semesters at the humble location of 26 Chusan Road, the Asia Seminar found shelter in the hall of the SJYA (Shanghai Jewish Youth Association) School also called Kadoori School by the name of its donor. The Asia Seminar enriched cultural and scholarly life in the so-called Shanghai Ghetto during the harsh wartime period and attracted a variety of experts in different disciplines, such as the Viennese architect Leopold Ponzen, who was interested in Chinese and Japanese architecture and contributed significantly to the design of the seminar, of which he became secretary. As a result of the poor circumstances in the designated area, however, he succumbed to a serious illness and died in Shanghai in 1946. The artist Hans Jacoby was a regular visitor of the lectures given at the Asia Seminar and a friend of Willy Tonn. In his Shanghai account archived at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York Jacoby remembered that when Tonn was forced to move into the designated area in Hongkou in 1943 one of his main concerns was the care of his extensive library which proved to be difficult due to the lack of space. During the cold and wet season Jacoby painted a portrait of Tonn in his little study room. A closer look to the photography depicting the portrait reveals a strange shape emerging from under his jacket. Jacoby wrote that this form was caused by a hot-water bottle. Immersed in his work, he painted exactly what he saw. Later, he noticed the unusual bulge in Tonn's jacket and wondered about it. Another portrait Jacoby did  is a portrait of his domestic help, a woman whose name was Bao Bao. Her help and care were highly acknowledged by Jacoby in his records, but it did not mean that Tonn had sufficient resources or wasn’t lacking proper nutrition or heating coal.
    The Asia Seminar was also a place for intellectual exchange between different communities, including Chinese scholars. Tonn organised a series of art exhibitions on different topics, such as French and Jewish printmaking, Chinese graphics and painting, introducing the artistic and intellectual concepts and practice of the Mustard Seed Garden and the Ten Bamboo Studio and Sun Yat-sen’s state philosophy. With the increasingly urgent question of onward migration after 1946, Willy Tonn organised the American Seminary that provided lectures on the “American Way of Life” and English language courses as preparation for obtaining U.S. citizenship. The years of deprivation and malnutrition had permanently damaged his health. He was unable to obtain a visa for the United States. Willy Tonn emigrated to Israel in 1948 where he worked for the Museum Bezalel in Jerusalem, the Museum in Tel Aviv and for the Museum Wilfr. Israel in Hazorea. He continued to publish articles for several journals and newspapers. He never fully recovered and died in a sanatorium in Switzerland in 1957.

    Word Count: 587

  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    Shanghai Jewish Youth Association, 627 East Yuhuang Road, (Hongkou (now Dongyuhang Lu, Hongkou Qu) Shanghai

  • Signature Image:
    Portrait of Willy Tonn, painting by Hans Jacoby, photography, Hans Jacoby Collection (© Leo Baeck Institute, New York).
  • Media:
    Hans Jacoby, Portrait of Bao Bao, oil on canvas, 60.2 x 50 cm around 1940 [probably 1943 or later], Shanghai, Hans Jacoby Collection (© Leo Baeck Institute, New York).
    Asia Seminar, programme, winter semester 1943/44, Hans Jacoby Collection, Box 1, Folder 5 (© Leo Baeck Institute, New York).
    Asia Seminar, card of Hans Jacoby, winter semester 1943/44, Hans Jacoby Collection, Box 1, Folder 5 (© Leo Baeck Institute, New York).
    “Eroeffnung des ‘Asia Seminar’.“Juedisches Nachrichtenblatt, 18 February 1944, vol. 5, no. 7, p. 5.
    “Eroeffnung des Asia Seminars.” Shanghai Echo, 25 August 1946, p. 7.
  • Bibliography (selected):

    Ebner Irene. Jewish Refugees in Shanghai 1933–1947. A Selection of Documents. Archiv jüdischer Geschichte und Kultur. vol. 3, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2018.
    Freyeisen, Astrid. Shanghai und die Politik des Dritten Reichs. Königshausen & Neumann, 1999.
    Kranzler, David. “Restrictions Against German-Jewish Refugee Immigration to Shanghai in 1939.” Jewish Social Studies, vol. 36, no. 1, 1974, pp. 40–60.
    Pan, Guan. A Study of Jewish Refugees in China (1933–1945). Histories, Theories and the Chinese Pattern. Shanghai Jiao Tong University Press/Springer, 2019.
    Walravens, Hartmut. “Martin Buber und Willy Tonn und ihre Beiträge zur Kenntnis der chinesischen Literatur.“ Monumenta Serica, 1994, vol. 42, 1994, pp. 465-481.

    Word Count: 91

  • Archives and Sources:

    Leo Baeck Institute, New York, Willy Tonn Collection.

    Word Count: 8

  • Author:
    Mareike Hetschold
  • Metropolis:
    Shanghai
  • Entry in process:
    no
  • Mareike Hetschold. "Asia Seminar." METROMOD Archive, 2021, https://archive.metromod.net/viewer.p/69/2952/object/5145-11786445, last modified: 14-09-2021.
  • Hermann Schieberth
    PhotographerArt dealer

    Hermann Schieberth was a successful photographer who had two studios in Austria (from 1909/10? onwards): one in Vienna and the other in Kaltenleutgeben. Due to his Jewish background he had to flee in 1938 and arrived in Shanghai in 1939.

    Word Count: 37

    Advertisement, Photo-Studio Prof. H Schieberth, Shanghai Jewish Chronicle, 1943, p. V.
    Die Schönheit – mit Bildern geschmückte Zeitschrift für Kunst und Leben, vol. 3, no. 3, cover.Peter Landow. Natur und Kultur. Das Weib. Buchverlag der Gesellschaft zur Verbreitung klassischer Kunst, Berlin 1925.Hermann Schieberth, Akt, photo heliogravure, 23 × 31 cm, 1925.Hermann Schieberth. Oskar Kokoschka als Kriegs-Freiwilliger im k. u. k. Drag.-Reg, Nr 15 (Oskar Kokoschka as a war volunteer), silver bromid.Hermann Schieberth, Photographer Karl Schenker in aviator outfit, 1919.Rosholt Malcom, Hamilton House, around 1937 (© 2012 Mei-Fei Elrick and Tess Johnston, Historical Photographs of China, University of Bristol, www.hpcbristol.net).Rosholt Malcom, Metropole Hotel from the window of Hamilton House, around 1937 (© 2012 Mei-Fei Elrick and Tess Johnston, Historical Photographs of China, University of Bristol, www.hpcbristol.net).Emma Bormann, Foochow Road, wood or lino cut, around 1940, Shanghai (© private collection).Advertisement, Kunst-Salon, Shanghai Jewish Chronicle, 28 May 1943, p. 4. This advertisement informs that the Art Salon still has the same address. The deadline for the forced move to the so-called Shanghai Ghetto was 15 May 1943, the advertisement appeared in the Shanghai Jewish Chronicle on 28 May 1943.
    Shanghai
    Hans Jacoby
    Artist

    Hans Jacoby fled in 1938 to the Netherlands, where he was interned by the Dutch government in Hook of Holland. He was able to leave the camp and arrived, together with his wife Emma Jacoby, in Shanghai in 1940 where he continued to work as an artist.

    Word Count: 45

    Photograph, Hans Jacoby, 1940, Hans Jacoby Collection (© Leo Baeck Institute, New York).
    Hans Jacoby, Chinese Theatre Masks, oil on canvas, 66,6 x 58 cm, Shanghai, 1941, Hans Jacoby Collection (© Leo Baeck Institute, New York).Portrait of Willy Tonn, painting by Hans Jacoby, photography, Hans Jacoby Collection (© Leo Baeck Institute, New York).Hans Jacoby, Portrait of Bao Bao, oil on canvas, 60.2 x 50 cm around 1940 [probably 1943 or later], Shanghai, Hans Jacoby Collection (© Leo Baeck Institute, New York).Asia Seminar, programme, winter semester 1943/44, Hans Jacoby Collection, Box 1, Folder 5 (© Leo Baeck Institute, New York).Asia Seminar, card of Hans Jacoby, winter semester 1943/44, Hans Jacoby Collection, Box 1, Folder 5 (© Leo Baeck Institute, New York).Hans Jacoby, drawing of religious figure, Shanghai, Hans Jacoby Collection (© Leo Baeck Institute, New York).Ernst Handl, Self Portrait, drawing, 15 September 1943, Shanghai, Hans Jacoby Collection (© Leo Baeck Institute, New York).
    Shanghai