Report from the Jianchuan Museum Cluster, Sichuan (Die Zeit)

Last year I made two trips to the Jianchuan Museum Cluster in Sichuan, the PRC’s only private collection of museums and facilities which are completely ground-breaking in their somewhat individualistic take on curating and historical interpretation in general.  The museum cluster, owned and very much directed by the entrepreneur Fan Jianchuan, includes a museum of the Cultural Revolution, among other things.

An excellent overview of the museum’s themes (with video) is available here; my colleague in Tokyo, Jeff Kingston, wrote this piece for Japan Times after visiting me to talk Chinese nationalism in Chengdu last winter.

But here is the most recent reporting from the museum site, from the pen [aus der Feder] of Angela Kockritz, one of Germany’s best reporters in the PRC.

et la pièce de résistance

Assessing U.S.-China Competition After the Hu Jintao Visit

Chinese basketball players spreading a Confucian message of harmony and hope in the year 2010. -- Well, maybe Nass is right, forget 2010...

What follows is a straight-up reading of Matthias Nass’ op-ed in Die Zeit recalibrating the US-China relationship, with special reference to debt and national security, and Hu Jintao in Washington. In general, the message is one wherein China dominates, but the execution of the points is, at least, interesting to me, and most everything (with the exception of the last minute, which I’m working on later), is annotated for English speakers.

Link to the reading.

For more readings of Nass (and his analysis of the Uighurs in Guantanamo Bay issue) from 2009, this video , with very little English translation, is perhaps also useful.

“We Are the Better West”:German Architecture Critic on Dubai’s New Tower of Babel

The other night I encountered a stupendous, if somewhat Chicken-Little-esque, review by Hanno Rauterberg in Die Zeit about the Burj Khalifa, the world’s new tallest building. Of interest here is the kind of recognition of the foot-dragging of Western democracies in producing such feats, and the sense of the global future tacking to the East.  And the fact that the review stems from a German critic who sees echoes of the Weimar period utopianism in this new global order makes the piece all the more delicious.

So here it is in four parts, minus fancy editing and three-piece suits by Leipzig tailors, but with the best German I can muster on a weeknight in North America.  If readers have suggestions for ways that I could continue such features in modified fashion, I’d welcome the feedback:

Neue Turm -- via Karim Sahib/Getty and Die Zeit

Smashing Chunks from the Great Firewall in Berlin / Ai Weiwei in Munich

A great convergence is occuring again between Germany and China.  As the 9 November anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (“der Mauerfall” / “le chute de la Mur”) approaches, further thoughts are twisting around the notions of democracy and democratic change.

Two examples:

The first is the Berlin Twitterwall, a magnificent little online monument to the fall of the wall.  The site was basically overtaken by comments by Chinese netizens denouncing the Great Firewall of China (GFW for short), that is, until the site was blocked in China yesterday.  As the Berliner Morgenpost reports (in German), the organizers of the Berlin Twitterwall were mainly concerned that the site would be taken over by Neo-Nazis — and thus were overjoyed when their own handiwork became a platform for social change in the PRC.

Veteran journalist Mark MacKinnon has a solid post up on this matter on his blog, which also includes tales of his late August 2009 journey into North Korea.    The title?  “Mr. Hu, Tear Down this Firewall!”

Unfortunately, Barack Obama and his familiar, the Dartmouth Chinese Studies major and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, have no such ability to channel Ronald Reagan in speaking with their Chinese counterparts.

I have as yet found no indication in the Chinese media that discussion of any kind of Germany’s unification or the fall of the wall (both major anniversaries approaching for the Germans) will be permitted in the mass media, still smarting from the Frankfurt Book Fair fiascos.  Don’t be suprised if somehow China is offended as Germans wonder aloud why China hasn’t undertaken a similarly rapid road to democracy, or their reminiscing on how the Tiananmen Square events of 4 June 1989 helped to stimulate protestors in Leipzig and East Berlin.

The second convergence relates to artist Ai Weiwei, a man wholly lionized in the German press, such as in this article from Die Zeit:

I’ve got the whole thing digitized, but will probably release it in dribs and drabs, as it’s a very long article and, by and large, the readers of this blog are Anglophones rather than Wagnerites (assuming most Germans love Wagner’s music, which they really ought to).   I also find my mannerisms a bit annoying and my office cluttered, but that can’t be helped.  As Ai’s exhibition is entitled: So sorry!  There is a great deal of bitterness toward the PRC buried in this article, which among other things recounts Ai Weiwei’s childhood in exile — he was born in 1957, on the cusp of his father being exiled to the desert during the Anti-Rightist campaign.  As the CCP was fawning over itself on October 1, Germans were sitting down to their morning coffee to learn about the Cultural Revolution from Ai Weiwei, a man, in their eyes, of singular stature and moral weight.

Hat tip to Just Recently for the Berliner Morgenpost tip.

Remembering Tiananmen and 1989 in Europe [1]

June 4, 1989 may lay buried under new epochs already, but the meaning of that date for China and its observers is clearly going to continue reverberate for decades.

The Germans, perhaps most of all.  China was, and remains, highly sensitive to commemorations of June 4, 1989, but for Germans, the inspiration of the Chinese student movement of the 1980s, and the violent end to the spectacle, acted as catalysts for deep introspection and mobilization by East Germans in particular.  Today, Tiananmen 1989 is recalled in Germany as invioably mixed with the “peaceful revolution” which came that fall with “der Mauerfall” the falling of the wall) in November.  The Germans call this “die Wende” or “the change/the turning point”, and so they remain 1. mindful of the inspiration of Chinese students of that epoch, courage which added to their own impetus to act against the German Democratic Republic, and 2. still somewhat quizzical: Why is it that China failed to have its own peaceful revolution in 1989?

From an "Ausstellung," or exhibition, on Berlin's Alexanderplatz, June 2009

From an "Ausstellung," or exhibition, on Berlin's Alexanderplatz, June 2009

East German Students demonstrate in support of Chinese colleagues at a Protestant youth gathering, DDR

East German Students demonstrate in support of Chinese colleagues at a Protestant youth gathering, DDR

Banned East German flyer protesting Tiananmen Massacre; this image and above reproduced from the Alexanderplatz ausstellung

Banned East German flyer protesting "mass murder" at Tiananmen; underneath the corpse reads "China is not far!"; this image and above reproduced from the Alexanderplatz ausstellung

Taken in combination with the Germans’ unparalleled and actively cultivated culture of public memory, the aforementioned adds to German exasperation with China: Why is it that Chinese on the mainland are so unable to commemorate the event?  The active suppression of memory is a subject that veritably cascades from German presses, and so we ought to heed this impulse when it is applied to China.

(This leads me to wonder, as someone who has written a modest amount about Chinese memory of the War of Resistance / World War II, if any kind of theoretical literature exists which juxtaposes or equates the repression of memory of the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen with, say, Holocaust denial in Iran, orm for instance, the American selective memory of the Vietnam War.   A recent essay in Beijing’s Wenyi Pinglun (Cultural Critique) at least begins to tie these threads together, but that is the subject for a future post.)

And thus the Western press reports about the 20th anniversary of June 4, 1989 from the German press are especially interesting.  Let us begin with Heinrik Bork, the correspondent for the center-left Munich newspaper Süddeutscher Zeiting. His dispatch from Beijing, published on June 5, notes the standard battery of police in the square on that day, but he goes on with some deeply critical commentary:

Auch zwanzig Jahre nach dem Massaker in Zentrum Pekings, bei dem Soldaten mit Panzern und Maschinengewehren gegen unbewaffnete Demonstranted vorgegangen waren, bleibt dieses Datum fur die kommunistische Fuhrung in Peking problematisch.  Waehrend viele Student heute vor allem am Geldverdienen und nicht so sehr an Politik interessiert sind, gibt es gleichzeitig eine nicht zu unterschatzende Zahl von Unzufriedenen und Reformverlieren.

Bork further notes that Liu Suli, “the owner of a beloved cafe in the university district, hung curtains in the window with the roman numerals ‘VI’ and ‘IV’, seeking to remember the massacre.”  The reporter goes on, “the police forced (zwangen) him to take them down.”

On June 4, 2009, notes Bork, German Chancellor Angel Merkel remarked on the massacre in the somewhat resonant city of Krakow, Poland.  And Bork cedes to Ai Weiwei 艾, who is becoming somewhat of a superstar in Europe, the entire last paragraph of the newspaper storyfor a stunningly moralistic/ironic quote from the artist’s blog “Let us forget!”

(In dissembling Ai Weiwei’s rage, his public nudity, his crude gestures ["Fuck Pekin," noted the left-wing Parisian journal Liberation gleefully, giving Ai's flick-off of Tiananmen square an entire striking black-and-white page on June 17], it is too rarely remarked that he inherited the core of these contrarian characteristics from his father, the poet Ai Qing 艾青.  One need only read Ai Qing’s Resistance War poetry / 抗战 诗歌 , its description of a bloodly, smiling and defiant inexplicably giant China of 1937, to get a sense of how little such an artist’s will can be bent against his morality.)

In her long exposition on Tiananmen in the voluminous weekly newspaper Die Zeit, Angela Köckritz begins with a colorful recollection, some strong writing, about the visit to the apartment of “Xue,” who was 13 years old in 1989, and whose apartment got shot up on June 4 of that year.  Students today, notes Köckritz with opprobrium, know nothing of it.  The reporter she lists the things the Germans know so well; in the absence of these standard objects of commemoration in China, one gets a sense of the vacuum here: “Nichts erinnert an den 4. Juni, keine Plakate, kein Bild, kein Gedenktag [Nothing recalls June 4: no placards, no picture no day of rememberance.” “For Xue,” Köckritz concludes the paragraph, “nothing remains of that day except a few pestering questions [by a reporter].”

Some Chinese critics claim that European reporters don’t speak Chinese and have no understanding of Chinese culture. I know that such critics exist, because I met one last night in the form of a very intelligent Chinese Ph.D. student in engineering, last night at a party in a very interesting space at the end of the #19 train tracks at the Gare Montparnasse in Paris.  He insisted that French reporters were smug and sprachlos in Chinese.  In the case of the French press, there are times he might be right; for example, on June 17, Le Monde published an insular, snide, smug and technically-accurate-yet-basically-misleading dispatch about rich and disinterested young Berliners, a piece seemingly uninflected by solid reporting or linguistic acumen.  This is to say, that in the case of French reporters in China, a lack of understanding or linguistic acumen is certainly possible.  But I am still hunting and hope to debate this further with Mr. Song at a later time.

Anyone who thinks that European reporters are simply ignorant of Chinese culture or unable to apply their substantial knowledge to China should take a closer look at Köckritz’s work.  Her article slides into a two-paragraph analysis of the Beijing theater scene and the nature of art and protest.  And she does so without resorting to the easy way; e.g., Ai Weiwei is here left on the sideline:

“So alt wie die Zensu ist der Versuch, sie zu umgehen.  Und eine Kultur, in der Zensur immer eine Rolle spielte, entwickelt feine Mechanismn bei dem Versuch, sich ihr zu entziehen.  Gemeint ist die Kunst, zwischen den Zeilen zu lesen, das Unausgesprochenen mitzuhoeren, einin Text zu drehen und zu wenden, bis er seine geheim Botschaft offenbart.”

She then goes on to recollect how seditious writings were spread and hand-copied from Sichuan to the east coast during the Cultural Revolution.  (Perhaps these are the fore-runners of the “pornographic hand-copied stories” which Hu Jintao referred to in 1984.)  And prior to this, we learn that forced forgetting (“zwangsvergessen”) in China is hardly a phenomenon unique to Tiananmen; the Great Leap Forward is also eclipsed and repressed, for “the official written history only wishes to build the picture of China on the road to Great Power status [caution; I did a sloppy translation of this particular phrase, best to consult the original if using for academic purposes].  The author concludes with a Wang Dan reference, and does a bit of comparison with Falun Gong.  But her most powerful sentence may be this: “Krise und Jahretage — eine potenziell explosive Mischung [Economic Crisis and Anniversaries -- a potentially explosive mix].”  And here she arrives at the key point: any allowance of demonstration or public commemoration of virtually any event, let alone one that has been so forbidden and potentially impassioned as June 4, is particularly unwelcome by the CCP under conditions that, in spite of 7.1% economic growth (reported in Tsing Tao Ribao, July 18, 2009, issue found strewn on the floor of the #12 subway line last night), they do not wish to unlock.

Heinrik Bork makes a similar point in concluding his June 3, editorial, beginning with the potentially offensive opening salvo: “In this year China will again send soldiers to the Square of Heavenly Peace.  Don’t worry, they won’t shoot anybody.”  He then goes on to explain the primacy of the anniversary of the 60th year of the PRC’s birth, concluding the editorial with a note that economic dislocation, if severe enough in China, “could roil the societal consenus of the last 20 years, and unsatisfied urbanites might again go to the streets.”

One final note on Kockritz: One of the great things about writing for Die Zeit is that length is never an issue: just spill it, go all out with those Teutonic impulses, 记者!  Articles in tiny typeface can spread across two full pages.  Which is why Die Zeit is a weekly.


Heinrik Bork, “‘Die Herrschenden hoffen, dass jeder vergisst': Nur wenige mutige Chinesen wagen es, an das Tiananmen-Massaker zu erinnern ['The Rulers Hope That Everyone Forgets: Only a few audacious/ballsy Chinese venture to remember the Tiananmen Massacre]” Süddeutscher Zeiting, 5 June 1989, p. 7.

Heinrik Bork, [editorial by a reporter in the field!] “‘Pekings Rueckwaerts-Laeufer: Zwanzig Jahre nach dem Tiananmen-Massaker gibt es viele heimliche Demokraten in China [Beijing's Run Backwards: Twenty Years after the Tiananmen Massacre there are many clandestine democrats in China]” Süddeutscher Zeiting, 3 June 1989, p. 5.

Angela Köckritz, “Die zensierte Trauer: Vor 20 Jahren uberrollten Panzer demonstrierende Studenten in Peking.  Wer an di Opfer erinnern will, muss eine Geheimsprache beherrschen [The Censored Trauma: 20 years ago tanks rolled against demonstrating students in Peking.  Those who wish to remember the victims must use Pig Latin,” Die Zeit, 4 June 2009, p. 6.

Uighurs in Guantanamo – Will Nine Go to Munich?

Hamburg’s Die Zeit features a brace of editorials debating if Germany should accept the request of the Obama administration to take 9 of the 17 remaining Uighur detainees from Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay in order to facilitate the closing of the prison there. The Uighurs have the ability to destabilize relations with the PRC, however, since both the US and the PRC agree that the ETIM [East Turkestan Independence Movement] is a terrorist organization.

Here are my just-posted YouTube readings and [soon-to-arrive] thumbnail translations of the editorials, which are pretty fresh”

and some background news, including an interview with their lawyer, from Voice of America:

Here is my partial translation of the article below:

But [of course we should accept the Uighurs, it is] self-explanatory!  Practicality and humaneness require us to accept the request of the United States.  Barack Obama had hardly been in office for 48 hours when he already made it known that he intended to close the Guantanamo prison camp within one year.  For this he deserves highest recognition – and every [possible] assistance.

Recall that the Europeans had for years pressured [gedrängt] George W. Bush to put an end to this instutitionalized law-breaking.  [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel put it this way: “The existence of this prison is not in accordance with my understanding of respect for human rights [Rechtsstaatlichkeit].”

Our answer to the question of the Americans can only be enunciated thus: Whichever [of the convicts] is unguilty, whoever for understandable reasons the Americans do not want to have making their new homes in the U.S., whoever also cannot go back to their [original] homes on account of new anguish that would fall upon them, can find refuge with us.

In the meantime, here is the full text of the pro argument which I read above [no further text by me in this post, it is exclusively from Die Zeit]:


Sollen wir Uiguren aufnehmen?

JA sagt Matthias Naß: Das ist politisch klug

Häftlinge im US-Lager Guantánamo auf Kuba: Soll Deutschland neun freigelassene chinesische Uiguren von dort aufnehmen?

Häftlinge im US-Lager Guantánamo auf Kuba: Soll Deutschland neun freigelassene chinesische Uiguren von dort aufnehmen?

Die Namen von neun Uiguren stehen auf der Liste, die Barack Obamas Sondergesandter Daniel Fried unlängst der deutschen Regierung überreicht hat. Sie sitzen derzeit wie etwa 250 andere Häftlinge im US-Ge fangenenlager Guantánamo auf Kuba. Deutschland, so die Bitte der Regierung Obama, möge die Uiguren aufnehmen, um die Schließung des Lagers zu erleichtern. Nach Einschätzung eines US-Gerichts stellen die neun keine Gefahr dar. In ihrer Heimat in China drohen ihnen neuerlich Haft und Folter. Soll Deutschland den Männern Asyl gewähren? Darüber ist in der Großen Koalition in Berlin heftiger Streit entbrannt. Außenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) ist für ei ne Aufnahme, Innenminister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), aber auch einige SPD-Innenpolitiker widersprechen.

Aber selbstverständlich! Vernunft und Menschlichkeit gebieten es, der Bitte der Vereinigten Staaten nachzukommen. Barack Obama war keine 48 Stunden im Amt, da hatte er schon verfügt, das Gefangenenlager Guantánamo innerhalb eines Jahres zu schließen. Ihm gebührt dafür höchste Anerkennung – und jede Hilfe.

Schließlich haben die Europäer George W. Bush jahrelang gedrängt, dem institutionalisierten Rechtsbruch ein Ende zu setzen. Angela Merkel hat es so gesagt: »Der Einsatz solcher Gefängnisse ist nicht vereinbar mit meinem Verständnis von Rechtsstaatlichkeit.« Nun, endlich, soll das schändliche Kapitel abgeschlossen werden.

Unsere Antwort auf die Anfrage der Amerikaner kann deshalb nur lauten: Wessen Unschuld erwiesen ist; wer Amerika nach überstandener Folter verständlicherweise nicht zu seiner neuen Heimat machen möchte; wer aber auch nicht nach Hause zurückkehren kann, weil ihm dort neuerliche Verfolgung droht, der sollte bei uns Aufnahme finden.

Nun aber haben scheinheilige Hüter der Inneren und Äußeren Sicherheit einen Streit entfesselt, als wollten die Amerikaner unsere Sicherheit aus den Angeln heben! Als wollten sie sich trickreich vor Schadensersatzprozessen schützen (die doch von München aus genauso leicht zu führen sind). Als wollten sie den Zorn Pekings, das in den Guantánamo-Uiguren lauter ostturkestanische Terroristen sieht, auf die naiven Deutschen umlenken (die doch nach dem Dalai-Lama-Empfang im Kanzleramt längst wieder gute Geschäfte mit China machen).

US-Vizepräsident Joe Biden hat beteuert: »Die Leute sind wirklich unschuldig. Wir sind bereit, sie nach allen unseren Kräften zu unterstützen, damit sie sich schnell integrieren können.« Natürlich, man kann den Chinesen mehr glauben als Biden. Man kann und man sollte mögliche Verbindungen der Uiguren zur separatistischen Islamischen Bewegung Ostturkestan prüfen.

Nur ist bei all den Rufen nach »mehr Informationen« vor allem eines herauszuhören: Ausreden, Ausreden, Ausreden! Es ist die alte moralische Wurstigkeit, die schon der Kanzleramtschef Frank-Walter Steinmeier im Fall Murat Kurnaz offenbarte. Irgendwas wird an den Vorwürfen schon dran sein! Im Übrigen: Was geht uns das alles an?

Aber reden wir nicht von Moral, reden wir von politischer Klugheit. Guantánamo ist in der islamischen Welt zum Synonym für die Doppelmoral des Westens geworden. Wohlgemerkt: des Westens, nicht Amerikas allein. Denn europäische Staaten waren beteiligt – weil Flugzeuge der CIA hier zwischenlandeten; weil es Indizien dafür gibt, dass auch in Europa Gefängniszellen zu Folterstätten wurden; weil Verdächtige nach Syrien, Pakistan oder Ägypten überstellt wurden, wohl wissend, was ihnen dort bevorstand.

Nun kommt Barack Obama, sucht das Gespräch mit den Muslimen, will die Ignoranz, den Hass der Bush-Jahre überwinden. Und beginnt dieses Gespräch mit der einzig richtigen Geste: Guantánamo zu schließen. Und wir wollen ihm dabei nicht helfen? Wenn wir den Respekt der Welt – und den Respekt vor uns selbst – verspielen möchten, wäre dies der richtige Weg.


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