transmediale buzz

The Berlin transmediale is, to my knowledge, one of the very best annual conferences (a “convergence” is more the appropriate word) which exist on Planet Earth.  I was very fortunate to have been able to attend the 2011 sessions, where, among other things, I was able to learn about “book sprints” (whereby a book, having been researched, is collectively authored and printed by 5 or 6 people in three or four days in a single city), “Facebook hacking” (imagine meeting someone whose life obsession is creating a “dislike” button for Facebook users), digital democracy, and electronic music triggered by facial impulses (see Daito Manabe, below right, with the author).

Now that, in the intervening year, revolution has swept the planet and North Korea and China are both still standing tall, East Asia watchers can catch the live stream, on February 4, 16:30 Berlin time, 2012 of Katrien Jacobs’ evocative and timely presentation entitled (in truly bracing transmediale style, and surely to the approval of all the “hacktivists” there who have not yet seethed within the Great Firewalls of the Middle Kingdom), “Patriotism, and Paranoia on the Chinese Internet.”

Not to be perceived as lightweight or merely sensationalist, Dr. Jacobs, who is on the faculty of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (香港中文大学), has produced a book on related themes and blogs about her work approximately bi-weekly.

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Two New Essays on China Beat: Sino-German and Sino-Korean Relations

I’ve got a few more changes in store for Sinologistical Violoncellist in the new year (most of them involving the bass clef and Japan, not necessarily in that order), but in the meantime, readers may appreciate being directed to two longer essays I recently published on China Beat, cited here in modified Chicago style:

Adam Cathcart, “Bow Before the Portrait: Sino-North Korean Relations Enter the Kim Jong Eun Era,” The China Beat, December 23, 2011.

Adam Cathcart, “Soft Power Struggle: Ai Weiwei and the Limits of Sino-German Cultural Cooperation,” The China Beat, December 15, 2011.

For those who have not been introduced, China Beat is the top-flight blog headed by Jeffrey Wasserstrom.  As a widely-published public intellectual, head of the History Department at University of California-Irvine, editor of the Journal of Asian Studies, and author of several important historical studies on student nationalism in Shanghai, Wasserstrom is someone I draw a great deal of inspiration from, so I’m particularly delighted to have a chance to write for him, as well as for some of his readers.

Shanghai Impressions, or, What Cellistic Ennui Tells Us about Cultural Dynamics in the Sino-North Korean Relationship

A few days in Shanghai rarely fails to reorient one immediately from wherever illusory place one has been prior.  In Shanghai, China’s upward thrust is paired with its revolutionary guts, its past foreign dominance juxtaposed at every turn with the new impositions of 1949.  Art of various kinds slides past taxi windows, and the low and sulfurous scent of commerce being transacted hand over fist leaves a low undertone to practically every act undertaken after noon.

Every visit to Shanghai is worth the price, but it remains possible to waste the experience, frittering away one’s time in sullen Western cafes from Seattle and reeking of a desperate quest for WiFi, or in being too rapidly sated by a stroll along the Bund as the sole recognition of the shadows of the 19th century, when in fact a Li Hongzhang-Alfred Thayer Mahan redux is perpetually in motion in the newspapers that so rapidly populate one’s backpack.

What is a wasted visit to Shanghai? Surely, it would be a visit absent a stroll along the long spine of Huaihai Road. There looms the Shanghai Municipal Library, that object of lust for many a researcher with a hunger for the dead, for old magazines, for epochs reorganized and reclaimed, for the first Chinese Republic.  Just beyond the great translucent book drop of the library, which neatly displays and precatalogues what patrons have been dropping into its great and vigilant plastic innards, the American Consulate squats in colonial splendor behind high cream walls.  Once, enchanted by a new digital device and the music positively throbbing from a scratchy erhu by an old man under those walls, I there kicked a can of RMB coins in every direction. It was a worthy metaphor for Shanghai: desire – for experience, for documents, for modernity, for funds — radiating in every direction, abundant technology colliding in mistaken entwining with a dental casualty of some unnamed province, fingertips hardened by rural farming in the one case and by urban typing in the other,  scattering metallic largesse to the sound of a Communist war song in the shadow of muted American power.

And just beyond, beyond a bend on Huaihai Road, rises a large round pillar, the largest bulwark of Western music on the mainland between Tokyo and Calcutta, the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.  To come to Shanghai and miss the opportunity to visit such a site would truly be counted as wasted.

Thumbing through the shelves at the Conservatory bookstore is always rather instructive: ethnomusicological research at the institution is abundant, and the publications in this realm are rapid and interesting. Titles like “PHONE”… proliferate.  Western-educated scholars have returned to Shanghai in droves, and their work fuels this city’s prodigious growth not simply in GDP but in lists of published work, or things in the category of what some idealistic people with no regard for the convincing heft of aircraft carrier ordinance might call “cultural capital.”

Then I ran across an intriguing new collection of cello scores “in the style of [Chinese] ethnic minorities” which I proceeded to purchase.  Upon negotiating my way through a few large crowds of Japanese moms retreating out of the campus with their children, each person radiant with the kind of upward gestalt that only in-tune group singing can provide, I went to the airport, flew to Chengdu, and there reunited with one of my cellos in order to test which of the “ethnic talents” who was writing for cello was most worthy of my attention.

Shanghai was thus dispatched.

Immediately upon opening the score in Chengdu, I was struck most by the piece “Autumn Song [秋之歌]” by Kim Jongpyong, or Jin Zhengping [金正平].  Judging from the textual introduction to the collection (focusing on “high talents from among our country’s ethnic minorities”), as well as the svelte harmonic style and harmonically supple idiom, I assumed the composer to be a successfully struggling ethnic Korean music graduate from, say, the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing sometime in the mid-1980s.  If the reader be a bit uncertain, such a provenance should be regarded as a complement: the young talents like Gao Ping who emerged out of the conservatory milieu in that era are cutting new pathways into the musical realms all over the world, and justly so.

I was quite wrong about his age, and his relationship to China’s cultural bureaucracy.  Jin’s full biography is available on the website of the Association for the Research of Chinese-Korean Music, to be explained shortly.

Reevaluating Ai Weiwei: Guest Commentary

This guest posting comes from the sizzling keyboard of Paul Manfredi, head of the Chinese Studies Program at Pacific Lutheran University and the author of China Avant Garde, one of the Internet’s best analytical stops for insights into the Chinese contemporary art scene.  Manfredi’s blog is a rich blend of image and word, and highly recommended.  My apologies, by the way, to readers for taking so long to post this essay which I received several weeks ago! — Adam Cathcart 

Reevaluating Ai Weiwei 

The news of the release of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on June 22 brought a collective sigh of relief, though one quickly tempered by the fact that the once outspoken Ai is for the time being unable to express anything at all. This unfortunate situation for Ai, however, is not a surprise or even much of a concern to many people in China itself, and that includes artists whose fates are most closely linked to Ai Weiwei. Consumers of news media in English, meanwhile, could hardly be faulted for misunderstanding this fact given the relentless reporting on the fate of this largely unrepresentative Chinese artist. What, in fact, Ai Weiwei’s experience does occasion is a deeper reflection on what it means to be a Chinese artist in the present globally linked, internet savvy, but also often blatantly ignorant media culture.

To begin with, a question: of all the ways we might describe the experience of any contemporary Chinese artist, why has “oppressed” become so prevalent? Clearly, Chinese government control of artistic expression is a factor in contemporary China, as it has been for decades. It is not, however, the only factor, or even a major factor for most artists. Moreover, as a factor, one must recognize that part of the reason Chinese artists like Ai Weiwei are popular on the world stage is precisely because of Chinese government oppression, or at least the perception of such impression.

I say perception because for those artists not inclined to play chicken with Beijing authorities, which is to say most Chinese artists, such oppression is not part of their experience. Indeed, any casual visitor to north-eastern Beijing can see that this is not an artistic culture blighted by government authoritarianism. Instead, such a visitor will see is the thriving 798 Art Zone, a major tourist destination, and the neighboring Caochangdi, Songzhuang, Blackbridge, and Huangtie art districts all vying for position of next “center” of Chinese art. If global media organizations would taken an in these places a very different picture of the life of the contemporary Chinese artist would emerge. Take for instance Huang Rui, the actual founder of the 798 district and former colleague of Ai Weiwei in the critical avant-garde art movement of the late 1970s. When asked his views on the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Huang expressed appreciation for China’s accomplishments and optimism for the direction of contemporary Chinese art. Huang’s interviews were never published. Huang, it should be noted, is no stranger to conflict with the Chinese authorities, and he regularly tests the boundaries of freedom of expression and assembly. Yet, his lapse into something like pride for his country’s achievements earned him censure from Western media outlets not interested in such a message. By contrast, Ai Weiwei’s interviews of early 2008 enjoyed broad coverage, and it was from that point that Ai began to rise as heroic, anti-government activist.

But the ultimate problem with reporting on Ai Weiwei as oppressed artist struggling against faceless government authority is that it’s inaccurate. Much of what Ai has produced in recent years actually targets the ideologically rigid value systems that constant repetition of the heroic artist narrative itself reflects. From photographing a middle finger waved at the US White House, to branding valuable Chinese antiques with Coke and other corporate insignia and then shattering them, to hand carving hundreds of thousands of sunflower seeds to be crushed underfoot, Ai challenges a wide range of assumptions, some of which underlie even his own valuation in the world art market. But this challenge extends beyond the world of art. Ai’s true value now is as a kind of global public intellectual, a place from which he challenges all of us to take more seriously the way we handle information in this transnational and transcultural media marketplace. Let’s hope that sometime soon we will be able to take up his challenge.

- Paul Manfredi

Notes on Sino-German Relations

Mark Siemons, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite correspondents in Beijing, has another piece in yesterday’s Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung.  Ironically entitled “Deutschland ist eigentlich ein zweites China in Europa [Germany is truly a second China in Europe],” it reveals a few things of note.

Foremost, the Chinese domestic media gave less attention to Wen Jiabao (and his 13 fellow ministers) in Berlin “than it would for a state visit to Central Asia.”  With virtually nothing in the Huanqiu Shibao (which Siemons calls “one of the most influential papers on transnational affairs”), a scribble in People’s Daily, and a blurb in a local Beijing paper, the visit to Germany was in the eyes of the Chinese propaganda apparatus nothing worth discussing.  Certainly there was no mention of Ai Weiwei, and why would there be?  With the giant red orgasm of the CCP’s 90th anniversary about to explode — the harmonious imposition of what the Tagezeitung calls “a unified community of belief” — why would Angela Merkel’s subtle notice about more regular and open dialogue about human rights have any traction whatsoever?

The Party thus celebrates itself in the immense bubble of humanity that is China.

Far more interesting in Siemons’ article is the notion of “Germany as a second China in Europe.”  Here Siemons characterizes his conversation with a group of Chinese intellectuals who have been keyed into this notion by writings of one particular scholar (one whose name now escapes me) at the Center for International Studies in Beijing.  The idea, according to Siemons, is rooted strongly in 19th-century notions of global power and competition, and projects a future in which Germany “leaves Europe” to unite with Scandanavia and divide the world, essentially, among itself and the U.S. and China.  Such a notion, Siemons notes, is not only tremendously fanciful, it virtually ignores Germany’s European orientation and forgets completely about the huge reluctance of Germans to strive for global power.  It seems the Chinese intellectuals have become far more Nietzschean than any German, in other words.

Finally, Der Spiegel wins the prize for the best picture caption: “The East is Red: Ferrari Red.”

“Hitler’s Stomach” in Beijing: A Review

Today in Berlin, I was cruising through the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung, the businessman’s preferred paper, for German response to the Wen Jiabao visit when I ran across an article so completely fascinating that I decided to translate it for inclusion on the blog, as it actually adds something new to the giant slapping waves of somewhat repetitious commentary in the area of China’s relations with Germany.

This translation represents 脑力劳动, which is to say, it is mental labor which has not been strained through the Google-translate machine.  Critiques of any sort are therefore welcome.  Link to the original German is here.

Poster for “Hitler’s Stomach” in Beijing — Photo courtesy Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung

Mark Siemons, “Wenn das der Mao wuesste! [If Only Mao Knew!],” Review of the Beijing Production of “Hitler’s Stomach [希特勒的肚子], Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung, 28 June 2011, p. 33.  [Translation by Adam Cathcart.]

Hitler as a tai chi-practicing pensioner with a birdcage in his hand, Hitler listening to rock ‘n roll with Eva Braun, pregnant Hitler: All of this can be seen in the Beijing “Pioneer Theater of the East,” not far from the central commercial mile of Wangfujing, led by Meng Jinghui, one of China’s most celebrated theater directors.

The premise of the play, as if Beijing were trying to overtake the Berlin Volksbuehne by point of subversive trash, arises out of no particular provocation.  In Meng’s young work, “Hitler’s Stomach [希特勒的肚子]“, the historical Gestalt [form/形状] of the title character never really emerges: when it comes to ideology or crimes against humanity, nothing in the least is said. There are, however, plenty of Hitlerian logos: the uniform, the mustache, etc., and a sly joke connected to contemporary China: Hitler as a curious foreigner, but one that everyone knows.

Before the commedian Liu Xiaoye takes the stage, films are posted of air attacks on Berlin, and two young men read news reports from the last days of the [European] World War.  But then the entertainer arrives, saying: “Don’t take this all so seriously, I just want to talk with you a little bit.” And straight away, he has the public — mainly youth wearing floral summer clothing —  laughing at his omnipresent lies: “Today, everything is stable.  The economy is stable, the prices of goods are stable.  And the most stable thing of all is speech.”

It is as ever in the traditional improvisational Beijing theater, but then into the conference, suddenly, comes Hitler: He slumps in his uniform, screams in German about the Day of the Party [Parteitag] and is greeted by two young dancers with the Hitler salute.  Later, the commedian also arrives wearing a costume of Charlie Chaplin, whose film “The Great Dictator” Hitler requests and watches a future scene play out of his suicide in the Fuhrerbunker.   Two metrosexual Wehrmacht solders get into a fight which comes to resemble lovemaking during which the stage is full of dancing and Hitler’s pregnancy is made clear like a flatulent joke that farts its way to the very end of the play.  Before his suicide, Hitler asks to be sold to the Chinese as pork.

The author notes everything that is grotesque, as a form of persiflage [bantering / 逗嘴] with history.  Perhaps the desire also here is to make fun of the contemporary [Chinese] dictatorship via the historical mirror.

But as to the degree to which history is used as a premise — and done so completely without analysis or critique — forces one to ask, unavoidably: How is this possible?  How is it possible that in Beijing, in the year 2011, that a director in intellectually respectable circles can depict the recent 20th century this way?  And, moreover, how is it possible that in these circles, no one finds anything objectionable about this?

The answer can be found elsewhere, in the fact that in China, Hitler remains a somewhat unreal figure.  Recently, a posting on Kaixin, the Chinese Facebook, reported that Hitler had been raised in Vienna by a Chinese family.  As a consequence, Hitler for his whole life maintained a grateful attitude toward China, and his greatest wish was that Germany and China could dominate and divide the world together after the war.  Almost none of the four thousand commenters on the page cast this idea in the slightest doubt.  On the contrary, 4.6% said they took Hitler as a personal hero, and 38.8% said they believed Hitler had been raised by a Chinese family.

Of course in the portrait of history put forth by the Chinese Communist Party, there is little sympathy for German National Socialism (e.g., Naziism).  Indeed, Party history is rather straightforward: If anything, it enjoins Japanese revisionists to take up the German method of Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung (“coming to terms with the past”). But the material collateral of Naziism, its propaganda, its function in the moral and political realm, remains as a kind of folklore in China, in spite of its absence from the official CCP ideology.  Many Germans who have traveled to China have had the irritating experience of being confronted with the Hitler Salute — intended as a sign of goodwill from the Chinese, not as criticism.

Ignorance thus mixes with a rude historical Darwinism among those who are impressed by, above all, how strong Hitler made Germany.  In the internet form “Baidu Zhidao [白度知道 / "Baidu Knows"] the question is frequently asked: “Was Hitler a great man?”  Many answers will take your breath away, with their cold-blooded and relativistic approval of power.  “Any victor would be criticized for being a criminal,” writes one. Another says, “Had he united the world, he would have been the greatest man in all history.”

Hitler thus appears as a reincarnation of China’s First Emperor [Qin Shihuangdi / 秦始皇帝], whose uncontested brutality was considered by a few — not least of which was Mao — to have been the necessary precondition for unifying China.

One also gets the impression that here, Hitler is taken less for his actual historical uses than as a reflexive turn on a Chinese theme, one put forth particularly by the Communist Party, of duty to lift china out of the humiliations of the 19th century and vault China back into great power status.

Another internet commentor describes not Hitler, but instead the Versailles Treaty, as responsible for the Second World War.  The Treaty of Versailles, in which Germany failed to relinquish its colonial possessions to China, but which instead were taken by Japan, sparking patriotic movements for restoration in both China and Germany.  This is the connection between the real Hitler and the one played on stage, one totally missed by the absurd fantasies played among some Chinese.

Otherwise, the propaganda principle holds: Even the evil Hitler, describes one forum reader, was an environmentalist who respected women, loved art, and read philosophy.  Thus is it is no surprise to read an immediate response on the forum: “Hitler is as great as Mao — more positive points than mistakes.”  With this as premise, the kids in the theater can almost take the play as an exhibition of opposition.

Translator’s Note: Although the article was written in early June, and run of the play has now been completed, it is an interesting commentary itself by the somewhat taciturn editors of FAZ to release this piece today, just as it was clever statecraft by Angela Merkel to welcome Wen Jiabao in Wansee at the lakeside estate of an artist,  Max Liebermann, who had been censored and silenced by the Nazi Party in 1933. To be quietly criticized by Germans, as anyone who has performed here knows, is almost as painful as an explicit rebuke.  But more about the Chancellor, and the Artist, and the Premier, in another post…

Ai Weiwei and Sino-German Relations

For the last two months, a stack of German newspapers and internet print-outs about the case of Ai Weiwei seems to have accrued first in my bags in Berlin and Paris and then in my offices in Seattle and Tacoma.  What a treasure-trove of perceptions and misperceptions, opportunity and loss, of connection do these papers constitute!  In a fantasy world that demands little more than internet and newspaper commentaries from the East Asia professoriat, the bulk of these essays would be translated and summarized on this blog, leading rather naturally to a much larger and heavily-footnoted project on the role of culture and politics in the Sino-German relationship.

Teutonic methods demand Teutonic scale, and an endurance for the word and its steady stacking, rather like a city prepares for siege.

The story of Ai Weiwei deserves such stacking, as it represents Germany’s willingness to stand up for the rights of individual artists even as Germany integrates (and competes) with China most skillfully in the economic realm.

And the story extends to the city of Berlin, one of my favorite regular haunts.  So, why not add Ai Weiwei’s potential studio in that city to my list of places to go, along with the Music School where cello sonatas are rehearsed, and the Bundesarchiv where documents about things ranging from North Korean cultural ties with East Germany to Japanese reporters in Nazi Germany are hunted down?

Well, because one’s time is perpetually limited, and my best student writer on the contemporary art world has transferred to Whitman College.  (O Schmerz! Du Alldurchdringer!)

Fortunately, other writers and commentators have picked up the ball — or the Han dynasty vase — and are running headlong forward with it in a fresh study of perspective.

Tops among them in terms of consistency and content is the new blog Free Ai Weiwei , hosted on Posterous.  This appears to be the ultimate internet resource on all Ai-related news.  The site is updated daily (“Day 52,” today’s ominous title) and provides a nice range of links and developments.  If “Der Fall Ai Weiweis” interests you in the least, I would bookmark the page and see what it has to offer.

For those who wish not to click, a healthy excerpt from the blog’s analysis should suffice:

We are living in the age where nothing has something to do with something else when it comes to doing business with China. That is the impression you get while reading Artinfo’s interview with Alex Nyerges, director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The VMFA will be the first museum to exhibit its collection in the Palace Museum in Beijing. It was announced only last week.
With Ai detained, should VMFA deal with China?

Asked if this deal with China could not be seen as an endorsement of Ai Weiwei’s detention and “a propaganda coup for the Chinese”, Nyerges answers:

No, never once would that thought have crossed my mind...

On a practical level in terms of the staff, certainly Ai Weiwei’s arrest was a topic of conversation, but quite simply our partnership and relationship with the Palace Museum has nothing to do with the Ai Weiwei situation whatsoever.

Martin Roth, currently director general of Dresden’s State Art Collections and soon to be director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, was asked if it would not be anappropriate answer to Ai’s detention to withdraw the exhibition “Art of the Enlightenment” from Beijing. He answered (paraphrased): A: Ai Weiwei is making a lot of noise all the time, that’s why the media have an obsession with him. B: Without China the production of the Phaeton would have to be closed down. (The Phaeton is a luxurious automobile built by Volkswagen in a factory near Dresden.) A little more blunt and you could think he was in the furniture (or firearm) business.

The notion of Germany’s economic needs as taking primacy over its ability to take a principled stand against Ai’s detention was early on expressed in a furious editorial in Der Tagesspiegel in Berlin, the day after the following article was published in the same forum describing Germany’s total impotence in the case of Ai, indeed, the humiliation inflicted upon Germany’s foreign relations, the tangible slap in the face which Ai’s arrest consisted of in the immediate aftermath — the very afternoon, in fact — of German Foreign Minister Westerwelle’s departure from Beijing after the opening of the massive Enlightenment art exhibit there:

In early May, the immense temporary sculpture “Leviathan,” at Grand Palais Paris until 23 June 2011, was dedicated to Ai Weiwei:

Image via Daily Mail, UK

The Guardian further describes the link to “Leviathan,” and the call to close galleries worldwide for a day in protest of Ai’s arrest.

Berlin may have summoned the Chinese ambassador to issue a rebuke last month, but no contracts, or exhibitions, are being cancelled as a result.  Not that the CCP is sending thank you notes to Westerwelle, or sitting on its hands in the Sino-German dynamic of mutual criticism.

The respected blog The Peking Duck has a must-read post on a recent People’s Daily denunciation of Deutsche Welle, the German media service.

Was People’s Daily referring to this Deutsche Welle piece about how the German government felt snubbed by Chinese behavior, and the German cultural establishment prompted to debate the merits of exchanges, in the wake of Ai’s detention?

Finally, this Spiegel interview (in English) about Ai Weiwei with an architect whose frame of reference for all of this is bad-old-East Germany will certainly open a few eyes.

Spring Cellist, Spring!

Leading the basso continuo on the Bach Concerto for Two Violins in D minor at the University of Washington, Seattle -- photo courtesy Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra

With more to come about performances in Berlin in February and April, 2011, in Seattle/Tacoma in March and May 2011, and the anticipated Berlin/Beijing!!/Chengdu tour coming up in July 2011.

Here’s a little preview of the cadenza that begins Gao Ping‘s Cello Sonata No. 1, a composition which I premiered in Berlin last April and have every intention to champion until my death (timely or untimely), indeed!

Huanqiu Shibao on Ai Weiwei

[Update: A rather comprehensive analysis of Huanqiu's Ai Weiwei coverage, as of April 8, can be found here via the scrupulous work of JustRecently.]

Imagine my surprise, when, today, I opened my friendly neighborhood Huanqiu Shibao website only to find an article about detained artist Ai Weiwei right there in a very prominent position.  This latest one describes how German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been denying Der Spiegel reports that she called for the release of Ai Weiwei.  (Certainly domestic pressure in Germany is building for her to take such a move, and Merkel’s tendency is to follow popular sentiment in virtually all things, but then again, German corporate interests [the Handelsblatt-reading crowd] are not particularly keen on Merkel butting heads overtly with China.)

A couple of government-approved Netizen comments on the story sum things up nicely:

Who is Ai Weiwei?

What is “Der Spiegel”?

If the West supports it, we must oppose it.

The same countries that were part of the 8-power intervention [of 1900]…

Ever since the Opium War…

Here is the full Chinese text of the April 6 editorial (with about 350 comments) and the April 16 editorial (which I took apart on Twitter, just search the hash-mark “#gt416aiww” to dig that).

Of course, context is everything with Huanqiu, and it’s worth recollecting when considering how Chinese readers absorb the news about Ai Weiwei.  The neighboring story to Ai Weiwei’s on the Huanqiu website is about the need for vigilance against the post-quake revived Japanese air force.  The besieged and aggrieved world view finds another outlet: is this healthy?  Isn’t the official Chinese press response to criticism of the Ai Weiwei detention in large measure quite reflexive, coiling back into tried-and-true formulaic accusations of West intervening in China’s internal affairs?

The Berlin Tageszeitung carries a fascinating short report from a rather large get-together of art-world higher-ups at the Art Cologne meetings which just ended today, dealing in part with the impact of Ai Weiwei’s arrest on the (rising) price of his artworks.

Finally, don’t miss this fascinating interview with architect Meinhard von Gerken with Der Spiegel, which, among other things, engages in a lengthy and disputed comparison of contemporary China with the old German Democratic Republic.  Gerken designed the new National Museum in Beijing, which is where the Art of the Enlightenment exhibit is being held.  And thus we have multiple German views of the Ai Weiwei affair.

Analysing the Limits of Soft Power in the Case of Ai Weiwei: Der Tagesspiegel

"Seek New Culture!" -- from Berlin Tacheles, photo by Adam Cathcart, April 2011

As promised, I am working my way through some of the prolix torrent of analysis and concern levied upon the case of Ai Weiwei by authors in Germany, and by German authors in China.

In general, the confrontation between Germany and China over cultural matters and human rights seems now primed to grow exponentially.  Museum directors are now musing openly about bringing the Enlightenment exhibition back home to Germany, and elites are wondering how in the dickens China is going to make its “German Culture Year in 2012″ anything other than a farce.  There are only so many times, the article notes, that even the Confucian axiom (“The Path is the Goal”) can rescue one from a process that seems to be getting nowhere.

The full text of his last documented interview before his detention (a conversation with Heinrik Bork) is available via the Sudddeutscher Zeitung.

The following video is a reading of this early Berlin Tagesspiegel article by Peter von Becker, which you are free to throw into Google translate, which is something I haven’t tried myself.  There are, however, subtitles by me for about the first 40% of the piece, with, maybe, more to come.