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22 December 2011

The first edition of Otto Maenchen-Helfen's book "Journey to Asiatic Tuva"

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The first edition of Otto Maenchen-Helfen's book "Journey to Asiatic Tuva"Dear friends! Our electronic library has just increased by some unique material - the first edition of  the book by the first traveler in Tuva - Otto Maenchen-Helfen "Journey to Asiatic Tuva" (Berlin, 1931) in German language. As Marina Mongush writes about this work, this book, as well as D. Carruthers' book "Unknown Mongolia" (first volume - "Uriangkhai Krai") remain to this time the most demanded books about Tuva,  which were at one time published in the West (New research of Tuva. 2010, No. 2).

In M. V. Mongush's overview, there are these data: Austrian of German extraction O. Maenchen-Helfen was a sinologist by education. He studied at universities in many cities of Europe - including Vienna and Leipzig. At the end of the  1920's he got to Moscow, where he for some time worked at the section of sociology and ethnology of Moscow institute of Marx and Engels. When he found out that Communist university of Nations of the East (KUTV), a well known "hatchery" of national cadres at the time was preparing an expedition  to remote and unknown Tuva, he decided to join it no matter what.  Overcoming all bureaucratic obstacles, the young and desperate German went to Tuva. He was 35 at the time - the best age for learning about unexplored horizons.


It has to be noted that the end of 1920 - beginning of 1930's was in Soviet Union a period of  formation of foreign tourism as such. At this time all kinds of visits to USSR and regions under its control (including Tuva), regardless of professional accreditation of the visitors and purposes of the visit, were considered by Soviet government from the point of view of development of international economic and cultural ties. For that reason, for the majority of visitors coming to USSR for various reasons, conditions were arranged for travel to the regions, and even a minimum of tourist services were offered.  Moscow decided whom to send where and when. Thanks to this circumstance, Maenchen-Helfen's trip to Tuva was possible. However, personal initiative and interest of the German guest also played a large role in its realization.


After his return to Moscow, Maenchen-Helfen published a short article about Tuva in one of Moscow newspapers. It was evaluated by critics of the ideological review as pro-Soviet, and the author did not cause any suspicions of the secret police as to his political orientation. However. Later when he was already back in Berlin, Maenchen-Helfen wrote a whole book about his Tuvan expedition, which was oriented in a somewhat another spirit. In the book, he openly called Tuva a Russian colony, which, in the ideological understanding of those times was a totally seditious statement. Nevertheless, the book was translated into Russian. Currently the original of that translation is being kept  in the Archive of Foreign politics of Russian federation (VPRF) in Moscow, in the section "Referentura po Tuve) (fond 153, opis 7, file 3, act 6).


The book is written in a lively language, and reads easily. In places the author's tone is facetious-ironic, sometimes sarcastic. Most things described there are not of a really serious scientific character. The author jumps from one theme to another; he often expresses contradictory opinions; some of his conclusions are superficial and mistaken. At first, as he himself admits, he was interested only in petroglyphs and shamanism, but he became carried away by political events in Tuva as the trip progressed.  Maenchen-Helfen's attention is attracted by various themes: reindeer herding, hunting, Tuvan clothing and food, Buddhist holidays Tsam and Maidyr, Tibetan medicine, Chinese and Russian trade and many others. To write a little bit about everything and at the same time about nothing in particular is the characteristic feature of his work.


P. Schweizer writes that Maenchen-Helfen's book disillusions serious researchers, even though it reads well as travel notes. He explains the politicized aspects of its contents by the fact that in his life Maenchen-Helfen was more of a politologist that ethnologist, which is what he considered himself to be. Being an obvious social democrat, he had to be true to himself: in the first place, he was always interested in politics. However, Otto Maenchen-Helfen's widow states that her husband wrote in a great hurry, because the publisher was pushing him. That is why it came out somewhat superficial and contains many inaccurate statements.


Coming back to Austria from USSR, Maenchen-Helfen in 1933-1938 lived and worked in Vienna. Then he emigrated to America, where he worked for  the rest of his life as a professor at University of California  in Berkeley. His last large work was devoted to the history and culture of China, which was published in 1973. He never returned to Tuva.


The book was translated into Russian twice. The first translation was seen by historian Nikolai Mollerov. As he writes, that variant of the translation was made by an unknown person for the National committee of foreign affairs of USSR (NKID) soon after the Berlin edition was published. It was meant for official use, was never published, and for a long time was not included in scientific circulation even in fragments.


The second translation is already well known, and was performed by D. Oyun. In this form, the book is included within the anthology "Uriangkhai. Tyva depter." (M., 2007-2009).


The first edition will be interesting to all those who study the history and culture of Tuva, as well as study or understand German language.

 For convenience of download, the file is divided into two parts (PDF format).


(Translator's note: actually, O. Maenchen-Helfen's last large work, published in 1973 by University of California Press, was "The World of  The Huns: Studies in Their History and Culture".)

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