From the Feuilletons


From the Feuilletons

The China Symposium

Last weekend, as part of the lead-up to the Frankfurt Book Fair (October 14-18), a symposium on "China and the World: Perceptions and Realities" was held. The book fair had invited dissidents, including the US-based poet Bei Ling and the China-based environmental activist Dai Qing, to attend. Following protests of the Chinese delegation, however, these guests were dis-invited. This unleashed massive protests in the German media (more here). In the end, it was agreed that the dissidents could come, but could not be part of the podium.

In an interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau, Dai Qing talks about the book fair debacle and Beijing's allergy to freedom of opinion. "Anyone trying to understand today's China has to know what changes the country has undergone. In the first twenty years of the People's Republic, there was basically no literature, only propaganda. The revolution was important, not the individual. After 1978, there was a phase that I call the time of 'bound feet.' China's cultural life looked like the liberated feet of a girl whose feet had been broken and bound at birth. That wasn't pretty, but it was better than the original crippling."

The exiled author Bei Ling writes an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, containing a wonderful homage to Paul Celan, about how he felt about the symposium from which he, like Dai Qing, was initially dis-invited. "When we saw how the discussion had to be ended 'given time constraints' but how, to everyone's astonishment, a representative of the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences was given endless time to plea for more understanding for China in the West, it was hard not to think that the symposium had become a propaganda platform for the Chinese success story."

Writing in der Frankfurter Rundschau, Arno Widmann calls the China symposium a "complete disaster" which ended in tumult: "At the end, when things were getting serious in the symposium, which is supposed to launch the Frankfurt Book Fair, things fell apart; not only did the fair's director Jürgen Boos falter, the scandal of the day was that Herbert Wiesner, the secretary general of German PEN, refused to answer questions from the audience. For instance the most glaring: why he hadn't used this event to discuss the situation of authors sitting in Chinese jails."

The Sinologist Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer pleas in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung for understanding for China: "China wanted to and will move mountains and change the course of rivers, like the ancient emperor Yugong. It wants to bring a fifth of mankind into modernity -- and is seeing the first fruits of its labours. The heart's impatience turns to disgust, when these efforts are not acknowledged by the outside world."

Other Stories

Süddeutsche Zeitung 16.09.2009

During his visit to Germany, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has been operated on for a brain hemorrhage, which he attributes to the beating he received from Chinese police last month. Henrik Bork reports that Weiwei was attacked for "insisting on an investigation into the 'tofu school' scandal. During the earthquake in the central Chinese province of Sichuan on May 12 of last year, thousands of school children died in poorly-constructed schools." Ai Weiwei has documented his operation with photos that he's put on Twitter. Art critic Holger Liebs adds that, "What seems at first like exhibitionism is in fact not only his artistic strategy, but also part of his logic, that countering the censorship, despotism and physical violence of the Chinese authorities involves the use of concrete evidence."

Die Zeit 17.09.2009

"Pacifism aimed at feathering one's own nest is a moral sleight of hand," writes author Thea Dorn in response to the prominent German writers who demanded in Freitag a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan (more here). She's particularly incensed by philosopher Richard David Precht (in the Spiegel) and author Martin Walser (in the Zeit), who argue that the mission "negligently" endangers Germany's security. "On the one hand, the West as a whole is considered such a dubious culture, that we deny it the right to defend itself with force against those attacking it with out any scruples whatsoever. At the same time, we in Berlin, Cologne and on Lake Constance would like to be able to enjoy our red wine in peace. And I wonder why the current brand of pacifism is always flanked by its flipside, anti-Americanism. Precht, for example, characterises the American Way of Life as 'the 20th century's most successful weapon of mass destruction'."

Frankfurter Rundschau 18.09.2009

While visiting the exhibition of Impressionists in Vienna's Albertina, Arno Widmann has a revelation about the importance of technology and progress in art history: "In 1850 in Paris, there were 276 paint dealers. Impressionism was not born in the academy. It's the product of a new class of producers and consumers. But it's not just painting's new social role that paves the way to Impressionism. It's the new colours. The glory of Impressionistic gardens is unthinkable without the discovery of Schweinfurt green in 1822, the brilliant shine of clothing and clouds would not have been possible without zinc white." - let's talk european