The Chinese Communist Party seems intent on preventing any spillover from Europe’s orgy of commemorations of 1989. China Daily has featured just a small handful articles about German reunification in the last two months, including one about how one in eight former East Germans “wants the wall back.” In announcing the arrival of the rock band U2 in Berlin, China Daily yesterday noted, almost in passing, that “The wall was eventually torn down in November 1989.”
Torn down by whom? And for what reason? Unbelievable.
This October 22 story from China Daily on commemorations in Berlin seems not to have counterpart in the Chinese langugage press.
The Chinese press appears to be unblemished by any story about China’s historical relations with the old East Germany. Is it above China to mumble a “kyrie elaison” for a departed comrade? Admittedly, I haven’t checked the various obscure journals, but to me this lacuna is unsettling.
Vice-President Xi Jinping, who was in Germany in mid-October, wasn’t going to bring up such topics in spite of being surrounded with ample stimulation. Leave such things to the mangled artists! And after all, there are only certain Germans one is encouraged to discuss in the PRC. Xinhua describes Xi Jinping’s remarks at the Frankfurt Book Fair:
Xi said China upholds the idea of building a harmonious world with sustained peace and common prosperity.
Thanks to the exchanges among various cultures, people from different countries could get to know Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) from Germany, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) from Britain and Confucius (551 BC-479 BC) from China, Xi noted.
And so we get Goethe instead of Erich Honegger or Egon Krenz. No congratulations to Germany for having survived and thrived through two decades of unification, no recollection of the old state. How is one supposed to “seid umschlungen” in such an environment, anyway?
Maybe with this “harmonious architecture” Germany is marketing to China.
In the meantime, the Great Firewall of China gets assailed by Chinese netizens posting on a Berlin Twitterwall, which I blogged about yesterday.
Why is 1989 so pregnant and so dangerous for the CCP? Perhaps because the European revolution was peaceful, and the German revolution remains linked to memories of China’s violent suppression of the peaceful revolution that same year.
Shades of June 4, yet again.
Thus, in the meantime, it is up to the Germans in China to educate on the high significance of the Wall (1961-1989) and its fall (all links in Chinese!):
– The German embassy launches a “Germany for Beginners” program in Peking
– Think what this list would look like in China: Sites of commemoration of the East German past
– And interview with author Frederick Taylor on his history of the wall, Die Mauer
– Artistic commemorations of 1989
– On Checkpoint Charlie
– Children of 1989 — affecting! and, just because it was so damn fun and the company so lovely, I’ll conclude with
– the techno party at the Goethe Institute in Beijing (the accompanying slide show may be of note!)
However excellent these resources might be, there are a couple of politically-minded omissions in these materials which need to be pointed out. First, so as not to offend the Chinese with untoward references to the CCP’s repression of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, the Chinese version of the timeline of events on the impetus for the fall of the wall does not reach back to spring 1989 starting only in autumn of that year.
As I wrote about with healthy doses of images from Berlin’s Alexanderplatz this summer, many deep connections (thematic, personal, political, artistic and otherwise) existed between the twin democracy movements in the PRC and the German Democratic Republic in 1989; the repression of the Beijing students on the square helped to galvanize the East German student movement in particular.
(Meanwhile, as a document I found in the Berlin archives attests, the North Korean Democratic Youth Leader who met with his East German counterpart that spring was blithely confident that China, East Germany, and North Korea could whether the storm of change. As it turns out he was only two-thirds correct. North Korean retrospectives on 1989 are another matter entirely, but also not without merit — one imagines a collective sigh of relief, of momentary congratulations among the upper echelons of the Korean Workers’ Party elite before getting back to the latest “100-day speed campaign” while Turkish kids in eastside Berlin Skype with their paramours in Ankara.)
Secondly, the German magazine editors elected to leave untranslated and thus unpublished in Chinese a version of an article on historians reconstructing Stasi (secret East German police) documents — perhaps someone fears the censor? I had always imagined it was a mark of honor to have an article or poster returned to your address, thick with blue pencil markings of the censor. In other words, such a packet would indicate at least that an effort had been made on the part of the author. But in the meantime I shall have to settle for peer reviews.
The Wall is dead; long live the Wall.