Erwin Ritter von Zach

Victim | 18 April 1872 | Consul / Sinologist

Erwin Ritter von  ZachAt the time of his death Erwin von Zach was a retired sinologist and consul.

He was born in Vienna of aristocratic parents. He attended a gymnasium in Krakow, in Lemburg, and in Vienna, at the end of which he was a remarkable Greek philologist. With interest in the natural sciences he studied medicine at the University of Vienna in 1890, with side steps in mathematics, which was to remain a lifelong interest. He also studied classical Chinese under Franz Kühnert, and modern Chinese under Carl Kainz. In 1895, being then twenty-three, he became ill with appendicitis, and required an operation. To recuperate, he went first to the Tyrol and then to Holland. In Leiden, he enrolled as a special auditor in the classes of Schlegel and de Groot. He became proficient in Chinese, Tibetan and Manchu which was still the court language of China in those years.

He went to London to take a qualifying exam for the Chinese maritime customs service. From this career choice he never wavered. His scholarly publications would share desk space with his diplomatic duties for the next twenty-eight years. From the Chinese customs service he shifted on 27 March 1901 to the Austro-Hungarian consular service, where his language skills were desperately needed...

In 1907, declining an offer of a professorship of Manchu in Vladivostok, he became chief of mission in Hong Kong, and thereafter shifted to Yokohama. He returned to Vienna in 1909 to defend the Lexicographische Beiträge as a dissertation. There being at this time no Sinologist in Vienna, von Zach was examined by Leopold von Schröder, a Sanskritist, and Maximilian Bittner, a Semiticist. He returned to the diplomatic field as chief of mission in Singapore…

At the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1919), Von Zach was pensioned off. He was almost fifty, and almost broke. He went to work for the Dutch consular service in the Netherlands East Indies. He resigned from the Dutch service in 1925 to live as a private person in Weltevreden, dedicating himself to study, publishing articles in European journals, in the Deutsche Wacht of NEI and in Sinologische Beiträge which he published himself since 1930.

In May 1940 he is interned as dangerous alien and deported in January 1942 with the Van Imhoff. He is last seen by survivor Fischer, near the sinking Van Imhoff, sitting in a floating chair, looking around with dignity with his impressive white beard. Erwin van Zach is 68 when he drowns at sea.

More biographical sources:
- Search for "Zach" at
- Stimmer, Kurt- Erinnerung an den Diplomaten ....
Osterreichische Zeitung 15 / 16.9.2000
- Forke, Alfred - Erwin Ritter von Zach, in memoriam.
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