The cover of the Max Planck Institute's current research journal features five rows of Chinese characters against a red background. Spokeswoman Christina Beck says an image agency claimed they were old Chinese characters and an institute sinologist said they were "uncontroversial."
Chinese guest professors who saw some of the 55,000 copies disagreed.
Beck said Wednesday the characters were actually "an employment ad for young women that points in a very specific direction."
The institute has issued an apology to the visiting Chinese scholars. An upcoming run of 22,000 English-language copies will have a new cover.