The following sentence appeared in an article in the Illustrirte Zeitung of Leipzig in 1845:1

Er erlernte die zwei gangbarsten der verschiedenen chinesischen Dialekte und, um sich völlig als Chinese zu nationalisiren, ließ er sich unter den chinesischen Stamm Koë aufnehmen, legte auch sofort chinesische Kleidung an.

Here's how it appeared in the original publication:


I want to render this in English, and it is fairly clear. However, I'm having trouble with the clause in bold, since:

  • lassen sich can be used so idiomatically; and
  • aufnehmen has a very wide range of meaning, and I'm not sure of the correct nuance here.

I have consulted the standard online sources, as well as my big Oxford-Duden dictionary. The best I've got for that at the moment is:

... he affiliated himself with the Chinese tribe of Koë, ...

Have correctly understood the two issues noted above?

1 The article provides an account of the work of Karl Gützlaff.


3 Answers 3


Your understanding is correct. Heutzutage würde man sich in etwas aufnehmen lassen. However, there's a fine nuance:

Er schloss sich dem chinesischen Stamm Koë an.

He affiliated himself with the Chinese tribe of Koë.

Er ließ sich in den chinesischen Stamm Koë aufnehmen.

He made the Chinese tribe of Koë affiliate him.

So, the author of that text wanted to make clear Gützlaff did not only imitate the Koë, but there was some kind of ritual, bribe, patronage or something which made at least some Koë accept him as their peer.


A better translation for sich aufnehmen lassen would be to have oneself admitted (or accepted) or to get oneself admitted

... he had himself admitted into the Chinese Koë tribe, ...
... he got himself accepted into the Chinese Koë tribe, ...

or posssibly (depending on how much work was involved)

... he contrived to have himself ...

Sich aufnehmen lassen is definitely not a passive role in this sentence


My understanding of this passage is that Gützlaff actively learned Chinese dialects, and actively chose to wear local clothes.

These were behaviours and activities under his control.

Your difficulty arises because of the passive part he has to play in becoming a member of the tribe. It is therefore more important that his passive, receiving role in becoming a member is emphasised. It is not possible for him to say: "I am one of you!" and immediately it is reality. It is the tribe that makes this decision and allows or invites him in.

So I'd suggest something like:

He let himself become admitted into the tribe.

But that seems quite inelegant, or should I say: like a germanised or quaint style? Unless a most literal translation or approximation is required, you may probably change this into the much preferred active voice variant.

He learned…, he wore… they admitted him…

Coincidentally, gTranslate agrees when translating:

He let himself become admitted into the tribe. into German: Er ließ sich in den Stamm aufnehmen.

But also prefers a more modern style in the other direction:

Er ließ sich in den Stamm aufnehmen. into English: He was admitted to the tribe.

But it is important to note that both variants retain his passive role in that game.

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