Marcel Granet

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Marcel Granet (* 1884 in Luc-en-Diois , Département Drôme , † 1940 in Sceaux ) was an important French sinologist and sociologist who published fundamental works on Chinese culture . Granet was a student of the sinologist Édouard Chavannes and the sociologist Émile Durkheim . He examined traditional texts with sociological methods and thus came to new knowledge about the collective life of the Chinese of prehistoric times.


Granet was born in Luc-en-Diois in the Drôme department in France. His father was an engineer and his grandfather a landowner. He completed his school education first at a Lycée in Aix-en-Provence and later at the venerable Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, the latter traditionally being attended by ambitious students who later want to attend the École normal supérieure in Paris.

In 1904, Granet went to the École Normale after successfully completing his Baccalauréat . That year was also the turbulent Dreyfus Affair , which changed not only the political life of France, but also the educational system. The École Normale was reunited with the University of Paris at the Sorbonne in 1903 and its former students, called the Normaliens, now studied with the university students at the Sorbonne. Émile Durkheim , sociologist and founder of the Année Sociologique in 1898, was a professor at the Sorbonne and gave a course in pedagogy that every student had to attend from 1904 to 1913. Granet attended this course in his first year of study, where he got to know Durkheim and his theories, which would later greatly influence his life and work.

At the École Normale Granet dealt mainly with philosophy, law, history and sociology, whereby his work in each of these subjects was inherent in a Durkheimscher character. He was part of an elite group of students made up of the likes of the historian of Greek antiquity and founder of the Annales School of History Marc Bloch , the geographer Philippe Arbos , the sociologist Georges Davy , the Hellenist and later librarian of the École Normale Paul Etard or the mathematician Paul Lévy . In 1905 Granet joined a study group for sociology, the members of which consisted, among others, of Durkheim's sociologist, anthropologist and nephew, Marcel Mauss , the Graecist and later editor of Année Louis Gernet, and the later Durkheim sociologist and philosopher Maurice Halbwachs .

After his agrégation in history in 1907, Granet taught history at the Lycée in Bastia on the island of Corsica. A year later he got a scholarship from the Fondation Thiers to do research in the field of feudalism. In this context he dealt, among other things, with feudalism in Japan and allegedly spoke to Lucien Herr - the librarian of the École Normale from 1888 to 1926, who was actively involved in the socialist movement and the Dreyfus affair. He passed it on to the renowned sinologist Édouard Chavannes , who was probably the greatest expert on Japan in all of France at the time. Chavannes, on the other hand, advised him to start with Chinese, as this was a cornerstone for any research on Japan, and warned him at the same time that if he was so concerned with Chinese, he would probably never start studying Japan. Granet spent three years in Thiers, together with the former Normaliens Bloch and Gernet. His work on feudalism, often written in Durkheim's manner, is said to have had a major influence on the work of Bloch and Gernet. This seemed to arouse Bloch's interest in rites and myths in particular.

Granet's first publication appeared in 1911 and was a socialist pamphlet called Contre l'alcoolisme, un program socialiste (German: A socialist program against alcoholism). In the same year he left the Fondation Thiers and received a scholarship from the French government to study classical Chinese texts in China, as there was great interest in this country at the time. In Beijing he met André d'Hormon from France, who not only spoke excellent Chinese, but was also an expert in the field of Chinese scholars. In 1912, at his request, Granet sent Chavannes an essay titled Coutumes matrimoniales de la Chine antique (German: Wedding customs of ancient Chinese), which Chavannes published in T'oung Pao , the oldest sinology journal. In March of the same year, Granet found himself in the midst of the Chinese Revolution in which the Chinese Republic overturned the Qing Dynasty.

On his return to France in 1913, Granet worked first in March as a lecturer at the history faculty at the Lycée de Marseille and then in October at the Lycée de Montpellier. In December he took over from Chavannes the post of Directeur d'Etudes pour les religions d'Extrême-Orient at the École Pratique des Hautes Études. Like most men of his time, Granet served in World War I from 1914 to 1918; he was awarded a Croix de Guerre. As part of a mission, he was also briefly in Beijing in 1918. Throughout the entire World War he continued his studies in China and worked on two doctoral theses.

Granet returned to France in 1919 and married Marie Terrien in June. After the wedding he continued his academic career and passed his doctoral examination in January 1920. Its jury consisted of the British anthropologist James George Frazer . At Maurice Solovine's request , he wrote a short essay for the Science et Civilization series entitled La religion des Chinois (German: The religion of the Chinese) within six weeks in 1922 . During this time he commuted constantly between Paris and Tonnere (Yvonne department), where his wife taught at a lycée and at the same time took care of her son.

In March 1923, Henri Hubert , Henri Lévy-Bruhl , Lucien Lévy-Bruhl , Mauss and Granet, among others, met to revive Année, which was in crisis after Durkheim's death in 1917. Granet's areas of responsibility were religious sociology and legal sociology. In 1925 he became professor of geography, history and Far Eastern institutions at the École Nationale des Langues Orientales Vivantes, and in 1926 he helped establish the Institut des Hautes Études Chinoises, where he later became administrator and professor of sinology.

Two years after his friend and colleague Mauss became President of the 5th Section for Religious Studies at the École Pratique, Great Britain declared war on Germany, whereupon Mauss resigned from his office in 1940 and handed it over to Granet. Mauss, who was of Jewish origin, wanted to act in the interest of the school. (Fournier) A month later, after the defeat of the French Republic, Granet died in Sceaux near Paris at the age of 56. Mauss regarded Granet as "one of his best and most beloved friends" (Fournier)


  • La Polygynie Sororale et le Sororat dans la Chine Féodale. Étude sur les formes anciennes de la polygamie chinoise . Ernest Leroux, Paris 1920. ( Word document )
  • La civilization chinoise. La vie publique et la vie privée. (= L'Évolution de l'humanité ; 25), Paris 1929.
    • German: The Chinese civilization. Family, society, domination. From the beginning to the imperial era. Translated by Claudius C. Müller, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1985. (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft; 518.) ISBN 3-518-28118-6 .
  • Fêtes et chansons anciennes de la Chine. Bibliothèque de l'École des Hautes Études, Paris 1929. Digitized (1919)
  • La pensée chinoise. Albin Michel, Paris 1934.
    • German: The Chinese Thought. Content, form, character. Übers. Manfred Porkert , Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1985. (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft; 519), ISBN 3-518-28119-4 .
  • Études sociologiques sur la Chine. PUF, Paris, 1953.


  • Marc Bloch: Les rois thaumaturges: etude sur le caractère surnaturel attribute a la puissance royale particulièrement en France et en angleterre, 1924.
  • Carole Fink: Marc Bloch: A Life in History . 1989.
  • Michel Fournier: Marcel Mauss: a Biography. 2005.
  • Maurice Freedman : Foreword to Marcel Granet: The Religion of the Chinese People, 1977.
  • DR Gille: The Spectator. Vol. 176, March 15, 1946.
  • Witold Jablonski: Marcel Granet: His Work. In: Yenching Journal of Social Studies, January 1939.
  • Yang K'un: Marcel Granet: An Appreciation. In: Yenching Journal of Social Studies, January 1939.
  • Steven Lukes: Emile Durkheim: His Life and Work. A Historical and Critical Study. 1973.
  • Itsuo Tsuda : Une philosophie à vivre. In: Generation Tao no.27, hiver 2002/03.
  • Marion J. Lévy Jr .: Granet, Marcel. In: International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences , 1968.

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