Posts tagged ‘Deutsche Welle’

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Annual Blog Summary: Thousands of Miles to Cover (if you want to)

WordPress offers an annual report for 2013 to each individual blogger, with individual statistics. As the previous summary for 2012, too, the 2013 summary for JR’s China blog is upbeat. And it handsomely ignores an interesting fact: this blog has seen the second traffic decline in two consecutive years. That’s what my actual WP dashboard tells me, and it’s useful information indeed. It helps me to think about what makes me write, and what makes others read.

Reflecting on the statistics, I understand that my entries haven’t necessarily become less interesting. I’ve posted less frequently, of course. But that’s probably not the only reason fort he decline. The decline in stats began in 2012, and it didn’t come with a decline in blogging activity. A rough estimate, based on my drafts on my computer,  suggests that there were 252 new posts in 2011 and 275 new posts in 2012.

There’s a number of factors that, maybe, drove this blog before 2012, and that abated somewhere in the second half of 2011, or the first half of 2012.

One is the general trend. Microblogging has, in many bloggers‘ lives, replaced actual blogging. Facebook may be another alternative to blogging (even if one I’d never consider myself).

My own writing may be a factor, too. To rate the quality of someone’s writing, or the appeal of it to readers, is difficult when it’s actually your own writing. I’m not trying to be my own critic now. But there’s one thing I can easily discern. Before 2012, I wrote about China and human rights, and made fun of the CCP. It was simple argumentative technology, and it was easy reading. From 2012, I turned to a more “researching” or “deliberative” kind of blogging. There’s probably a post to mark the turn: JR turns to science.

It’s never become real science, I guess, but it did become more about translation and analysis. This started in December 2011, the timing of that post basically corresponds with my memory.

The topic that made me change my blogging approach – not completely, but gradually first, and then to quite a degree – was the Zhang Danhong incident in 2008, and the case of four Deutsche Welle employees who were sacked in 2010/2011. My own situation had changed, too. After having lived in China for a number of years, I had returned to Germany – probably for good. I can’t imagine living in China for another number of years. The people and things that matter most to me are now here.

That doesn’t make China less fascinating to me. But my perspective has shifted. It’s where China has an impact on life in Germany, and the other way round, what interests me most.

Many different worlds

Are you covering this?

In a way, that seems to have the potential of a pretty global topic – there are “thousands of miles” where one country, or one civilization, overlaps with another. But these are, seemingly anyway, rather unspectacular seams around the globe. They usually go as unnoticed by the public as does Chinese economic involvement in Africa or Latin America. Jeremy Goldkorn bemoaned the state of the South African media in 2010: even if a foreign country becomes your new number one trading partner, you may not notice it  at all.

The challenge for the press would be to start digging on those sites, along those global borders and seams around the globe – in a way that people want to read. The challenge for a blogger may be pretty much the same.

But to react to this (supposed) demand would require much more of my time, and a willingness to become more „public“ on the internet, as a person. And it would be an experiment which still wouldn’t necessarily lead to a bigger impact.

After all, these reflections are only about what I think people would be interested in. Many bloggers – and many news people and entertainers – believe they know what people actually want to see most. And in most cases, their beliefs are probably wrong.

But if I were a press pro (with a generous boss), I’d probably give it a try. And yes, a bit of curiosity remains: how would it work out?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

World Radio Day, and how did Li Wai-ling get Fired?

February 13 (Thursday) was World Radio Day. That was an adequate day for the Hong Kong Journalists Association to bring Li Wai-ling (or Li Wei-ling, 李慧玲) and the press together. But let’s go through the issues one by one.

The Genius leads the spectators: engineering of consent in its early stages in applauding his works.

If everyone is happy, who needs a free press?

China’s growing economic weight is allowing it to extend its influence over the media in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, writes Reporters without Borders, in their 2014 report, published earlier this week. The BBC added a palpable story on Friday, about the sacking of Li Wei-ling, a radio talk show host at a commercial station in Hong Kong who has been sacked and who, on a press conference on Thursday, accused the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of having put pressure on her employer.

Organizations like Reporters without Borders have their merits. This may be even more true for the Hong Kong Journalists Association who organized Ms Li Wei-ling’s press conference. Reporters, talk show hosts and all the people who are critical and daring in the face of power deserve solidarity.

But this goes for reporters and journalists in Western countries, too. The problem with stories like the BBC’s, served to an American or European audience, seems to be that they blind people for problems at home. Here, too, broadcasters need to apply for frequencies. Here, too, they need to rely on political decisions when they are public broadcasters. On licence fees, or on public budgets. Advertisers, too, may exert influence.

My window on press freedom is small. The case I really looked at rather closely during the last years was that of the Chinese department at Deutsche Welle. I’m looking at these issues as a listener to and reader of the media.

This post might serve as the short version, and here is a longer one. They are about German politics, and the media.

The freedom of the press isn’t necessarily the freedom of a journalist to speak or write his mind, or to publicly highlight whatever scandal he or she may discover. This depends on a reporter’s or journalist’s employer, and frequently, reporters and editors-in-chief in the free world are very aware of when to better censor themselves, so as to keep their jobs.

This tends to be particularly true when a journalist’s contract is non-permanent. You don’t need state authorities to censor journalists when journalists’ employment is as precarious as is frequently the case in Western countries.

There is no point in pitting Chinese journalists against Western journalists, or the other way round. But there is a point in looking at every situation without ideological blinkers. Suppression of freedom from commercial organizations (and, sometimes, public-private networks) may still allow media that offer valid criticism of suppression in totalitarian countries – after all, that’s “them”, not “us”. Media in totalitarian countries can also, at times, provide valid criticism of media in freer countries. It is useful to read and listen to as many different outlets from as many different political systems as you can.

But there is no need or justification to blindly trust either of them. Without a broad global audience that develops criteria to judge press reports, freedom will get under the wheels of authoritarianism, even in – so far – free societies. The internet has become a place where journalists and their listeners and readers should meet, and be as honest with each other as they can. Its also the place where the struggle for freedom on the airwaves has to begin, time and again, whenever powers of whichever color try to weigh in on them.

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Related

» Radio Sparsam, Jan 26, 2014
» Authentic, Feb 16, 2013

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

New Deutsche-Welle Director: Great Challenge, Fascinating Task

Peter Limbourg, previously in charge of news and political information at ProSiebenSat.1 TV Germany, became director of Germany’s publicly-owned foreign broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) on October 1. He succeeds Erik Bettermann. Deutsche Welle spokesman Johannes Hoffmann published a press release on Monday (edited by press officer Xiaoying Zhang), quoting Limbourg:

It is a great challenge and a fascinating task to be at the helm of Germany’s international broadcaster. Deutsche Welle is a media organization that enjoys an excellent reputation with its audiences worldwide. In a world, where a large number of international broadcasters are now promoting a variety of views, it is all the more important for us to persistently stand for our shared values. We will continue to ensure the credibility that DW’s staff, with great commitment, has established over the last 60 years by providing quality journalism. We will also consistently enhance DW’s multimedia profile.

Limbourg is considered “close to the Christian-Democratic Union”, the ruling party of German chancellor Angela Merkel. Limbourg’s predecessor, Erik Bettermann, is a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and had been in several political functions on the party’s federal level and in the city state of Bremen before becoming DW director. He had been DW director from 2001 to 2013 (September 30), starting during Gerhard Schröder’s (SPD) chancellorship, and getting a second six-year term in November 2006, when the SPD was a junior partner in a “grand coalition” with the Christian-Democratic Union. At the time, Deutsche Welle was funded with 270 million Euros annually, according to Der Tagesspiegel, a paper from Berlin.
Deutsche Welle, as a public broadcaster, is supposed to be autonomous in its decisionmaking, but this autonomy appears to be constrained by political influence on the appointment of its directors, and budgeting and task planning are subject to consultation procedures with the federal government and the lower house of Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag.  Deutsche Welle itself does, however,  have  the last word concerning the task planning.

In 2013, the DW budget was still (or again?) at about 270 billion Euros, the same amount as reportedly in 2006.

Deutsche Welle saw a major change in its tasks in 2009, when then director Bettermann announced that the broadcaster wants to reach people who influence opinion making and democratic processes. Prior to that, in 2008, a brawl in the broadcaster’s Chinese department had caught the attention of both the German and the Chinese press. A collection of links of blogs reflecting the aftermath can be found here. A second round of disputes at the Chinese department, including labor disputes, started by 2010. Contrary to 2008, the disputes ended with the termination of contracts with four Chinese or German-Chinese members of DW staff, and went almost unreported in the German press, while getting a lot of coverage in the Chinese press.

An aspect that was usually not emphasized in the Chinese coverage, but played an important role in the weak position of the Chinese or German-Chinese staff appears to be the nature of their work contracts. Probably in or around 2011, Michael Hirschler, a labor union officer, described how DW had frequently succeeded in getting rid of quasi-employees. This seems to apply in all or most cases in the Chinese department of 2010/2011, too.

Peter Limbourg’s statement as quoted in the DW press release of October 7 does not seem to suggest big changes in the broadcaster’s policies. He wants to conduct extensive talks with DW’s staff, the Broadcasting Board, the Administrative Board as well as political and social groups and then set out a new strategic plan for Deutsche Welle for the period from 2014 to 2017. The emphasis appears to be on “shared values” and “multimedia”.

For some information (based on German press) about how the new director was elected, and other impending changes at DW, click here.
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Related

Federal Labor Court, June 22, 2013
Interview: Wang Fengbo, Jan 26, 2012
Different platforms, Deutsche Welle press, June 2011
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Friday, June 28, 2013

Shortwave Log, Northern Germany, May / June 2013

When the Greek government suspended ERT broadcasts, the shortwave frequencies were an exception. The Voice of Greece kept broadcasting there. As I don’t understand Greek, I can’t tell if the programs were live, or from the archives, i. e. produced prior to closing ERT down.

"Music contest between Apollo and Marsyas", Voice of Greece QSL card, 1985.

“Music contest between Apollo and Marsyas”, Voice of Greece QSL card, 1985.

There may be different possible ways to explain why the shortwave broadcasts up – to me, the most likely one would be that shortwave frequencies are obtained in international negotiations in the framework of the International Telecommunications Union, and given that shortwave frequencies are considered a scarce resource (even though much less scarce today, probably, than during the Cold War), a country may need to use such frequencies with international reach in order to keep them, and not losing them to other interested countries. The same mechanism is at work within countries regulatory processes, as described with Kenya as a case in the news, in 2012.

My log list for May and June is short – it’s the outdoor season.

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Recent Logs

International Telecommunication Union letter codes used in the table underneath:
AUS – Australia; ARG – Argentina, CVA – Vatican;  CUB – Cuba; RRW – Rwanda.

Languages (“L.”):
C – Chinese; E – English; G – German; I – Italian.

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kHz

Station

Ctry

L.

Day

Time
GMT

S I O
12045 Deutsche
Welle Kigali
RRW E May 5 04:20 5 5 5
21640 IRIB Tehran IRN E May 5 10:27 5 4 4
 4835 ABC
Alice Springs
1)
AUS E June 3 19:51 4 3 3
17590 Vatican
Radio
 I I June 4 12:00 5 5 5
15345 RAE
Buenos Aires
ARG G June 10 21:00 4 5 4
11710 RAE
Buenos Aires
ARG C June 12 04:37 2 2 2
15345 RAE
Buenos Aires
2)
ARG C June 12 10:35 3 3 3
 6000 RHC Habana
Cuba
CUB E June 24 03:00 4 4 3

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Notes

1) Recording »here.
2) Recording »here. Details about Chinese service »here.

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Related

» Previous Log, April 2013, May 4, 2013

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Freedom of Opinion on Workdays

In Zhu Hong‘s (lost) case against Deutsche Welle, there are two factors that may matter most. One would be the difference between conviction or Weltanschauung on the one hand, and differences in opinion on the other. As I understand it, communism, atheism etc. would be Weltanschauungen. Someone employed by a church or a church institution may get fired when he or she declares to be atheist, and that may be legal, as churches are Tendenzbetriebe. Media and publishers, too, are Tendenzbetriebe. However, mere differences of opinion won’t lead to getting sacked that easily, at least not in theory, and employers who give it a try anyway may have a hard time in the labor courts.

The other factor to be reckoned with in Ms Zhu’s case would be her weak position as a quasi-employee (arbeitnehmeränlich beschäftigt). Neither of the four editors at the Chinese department [addition: who lost their jobs or contracts in 2010/11] had a permanent contract. At least one of them, however, was fully employed, but as a temporary employee, not as a permanent employee.

The member of the DW employee committee who basically confirmed the content of the [addition: open letter by] former Chinese-department staff published by Neue Rheinische Zeitung in 2011, was – my interpretation – no temporary employee, let alone only a quasi-employee. He was in a position to differ. Zhu Hong wasn’t.

I was made aware of the two (possible) factors, mentioned in the first paragraph here,  in the commenter thread on my German-language blog, over the weekend. This discussion changed my perception in some ways – the commenter is apparently a lawyer, and was quite prepared to share his views – he noted, however, that it was too early to arrive at final conclusions, as the federal labor court hasn’t published its written opinion yet. The federal labor court argued that Ms Zhu had not been fired for a Weltanschauung. She was no communist. However, if Deutsche Welle wanted more  journalistic distance between itself and the government in Beijing (and the court didn’t try to judge if this was so), even that would be sufficient legal justification to end cooperation with Ms Zhu.

The commenter himself didn’t see the major issue in the concept of Tendenzbetriebe. A labor court case, he wrote, was similar to civil suits in that only the material and arguments brought forward in the proceedings right in court were considered by the judges. That made these proceedings different from administrative courts that may frequently carry out investigations on their own, to get a comprehensive picture.

For an employee with no permanent contract, it won’t be easy to find a point against the (former) employer that would lead a court’s objection to the dismissal of a quasi-employee like Ms Zhu. This is the status of many journalists in Germany. It is a status that makes it easier for papers or other media to fire staff who work on non-permanent contracts, once the deadline is reached, be it for differences or disputes, be it for economic reasons (downsizing). And this, in turn, may lead – an obvious conclusion, in my view -, to a large number of editorial or reporting staff who are afraid of conflicts, with – obvious, I think – drawbacks for freedom of opinion.

In an article not related to the Chinese department in particular, Michael Hirschler of the labor union Deutscher Journalistenverband wrote (undated, but apparently posted early in 2011) that when downsizing is the reason for dismissals, Deutsche Welle has frequently succeeded in getting rid of quasi-employees. The same was true for many other German broadcasters. Hirschler’s advice for freelancers, including quasi-employees, was to join one of the unions – Deutscher Journalistenverband or verdi – to get entitled to the benefits of legal counsel.

Certainly, politicans needed to do their share, too, to keep Deutsche Welle going, wrote Hirschler. In the world of international broadcasting, Deutsche Welle wouldn’t be competitive without sufficient funding. Both freelancers at Deutsche Welle, and permanent employees, should address politicians to this end.

But the next problem may be right there. German federal parliament itself, a place for many lofty speeches condemning questionable avoidance strategies of permanent employment contracts, employed de-facto permanent employees as seemingly self-employed (scheinselbständig), Süddeutsche Zeitung reported earlier this month.

Freedom of opinion and social justice are great topics for Sunday speeches. But they may be very different stories from Monday through Saturday.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Federal Labor Court rejects former Deutsche Welle Journalist’s Case, confirms previous Instances

Zhu Hong‘s case was rejected by the federal labor court in Erfurt on Thursday for not being conclusive. In the court’s view, Zhu hadn’t been discriminated against for her convictions, because it didn’t matter if and where something like a Communist worldview still existed (Es könne dahinstehen, so das BAG, ob und wo heute noch eine “kommunistische Weltanschauung” o.ä. existiert). (In this context, the court apparently confirmed that Zhu had no Communist convictions and was no member of the CCP.)

Even if Deutsche Welle wanted more  journalistic distance between itself and the government in Beijing, and even if this had been the reason for Deutsche Welle to terminate cooperation with Zhu, this did not mean that Zhu had been discriminated against for her convictions.

Also, sympathy for a country didn’t spell sympathy for a party behind a government.

Source: juris.de

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Zhu Hong is one of four former Deutsche Welle journalists or editors who lost their jobs or contracts in 2010 and 2011. At least two of the four, Zhu Hong and Wang Fengbo, went to court. Zhu Hong lost at the first instance at the local labor court in Bonn, in March 2011, and again at the second instance, at the Landesarbeitsgericht (state labor court) in Cologne, early in 2012. Zhu had argued that the termination of her work for Deutsche Welle – after some 23 years – had come in the wake of the Zhang Danhong controversy, which had been lasting since summer 2008. The controversy, with Deutsche Welle, Chinese or Chinese-born dissidents in Germany and overseas, and a group of German authors as substantial participants, had reportedly compelled Deutsche Welle director Bettermann to commission a former television news anchor, Ulrich Wickert, with authoring an opinion.

Wickert’s opinion was never officially released, and only part of it became known in the press. It comprehensively acquitted the Chinese department. But while Wickert’s findings seem to have played a role in the labor dispute and in some or all of the hearings, they remained unpublished.

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According to Wang Fengbo, one of Zhu’s former DW colleagues who followed the hearing in Erfurt, chairing judge Friedrich Hauck said that Deutsche Welle had to be seen as a Tendenzbetrieb.

This term needs some explanation – Eurofound provides a definition: “tendential” establishments would be those in which, owing to the nature of its particular purpose, the provisions of the works constitution are only partly applicable. [...] The category covers all establishments which serve political, religious, charitable, educational, scientific or artistic aims or engage in news reporting and the expression of opinion.

Church-run kindergartens, for example, are usually Tendenzbetriebe. While other kindergartens – commercially- or state-run – are not allowed to consider the faith of an employee a factor, church-run kindergartens, schools, etc. may do so.

Eurofound addresses the issue of journalism and Tendenzbetriebe more specifically here.

Political parties, labor unions, employer associations, and even printing plans that belong to a newspaper group would be Tendenzbetriebe – not to mention the papers themselves, privately-owned papers included. Co-determination, a German concept of co-management of a company by its employees, is also limited in Tendenzbetriebe.

There was a rather big audience – some thirty people, apparently law students with no partiulcar interest in Zhu’s case, but looking on as part of their studies.

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These are some initial impressions. Wang Fengbo described his and his three former colleagues’ story in an interview early last year, and a link collection with related posts can be found here (I realize that the collection could use some updates).

More details may follow.

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Updates/Related

» Vorwürfe müssen belegt werden, DJV, June 21, 2013
» Ein BAG-Urteil und seine Vorgeschichte, June 20, 2013

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Deutsche Welle Labor Disputes

The case of Zhu Hong (祝红), one of the four journalists who lost her contract with the foreign broadcaster’s Chinese department in 2010/2011, will be heard at Germany’s Federal Labor Court in Erfurt, on Thursday morning (June 20).

The case of her colleague Wang Fengbo (王凤波) is expected to be heard in December this year, also at the Federal Labor Court.

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[Update, June 22, 2013: Federal Labor Court rejects former Deutsche Welle Journalist’s Case, confirms previous Instances ]

Related

» When your Employer suspects…, Feb 18, 2012
» Chronological link collection, Feb 3, 2012

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Monday, June 3, 2013

June 4, 1989: the Unsinkable Boat of Stone

Tiananmen Square has a meaning to China – not just Beijing – as deep as the Place de la Bastille‘s for Paris, or that of the Alexanderplatz for Berlin. On 400,000 square meters, Tiananmen Square – according to relevant tourist information – provides space for one million people. That’s how the square has been used – for gatherings ordered by the Chinese Communist Party, when Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic, for Hua Guofeng‘s eulogy on Mao Zedong in 1976, and for military parades celebrating the People’s Republic’s 35th, 50th, and 60th birthday.

In 1997, on Tiananmen Square, a limited number of people celebrated the return of Hong Kong. The limitation had conjecturable reasons – eight years and four weeks earlier, Chinese army and police troops had quashed a student movement – that movement, too, had its public center in Tiananmen Square.

Ever since 1911, Tiananmen Square had been a place for gatherings outside the scripts of the powers that be. The first, probably, was the May-Fourth movement, sparked by the transfer of formerly German possessions in Shandong Province to Japan, rather than to China, in 1919, after World War One. Chinese intellectuals had begun to perceive their country not just as a civilization, but as a nation, interacting with other nations and falling behind internationally. In 1919, there were no celebrations. There were protests.

The May-Fourth movement has since been canonized. CCP historians see the movement as the beginning of progressive processes during the first half of the 20th century, leading to the CCP’s rise to power. But even Hua Guofeng’s eulogy on Mao, in September 1976, had been preceded by expressions of grief months earlier, in April, for the late chief state councillor Zhou Enlai. The more radical followers of Mao Zedong considered that an affront.

Personal impressions from the 1976 “Tian An Men incident” apparently made Wu Renhua, later a dissident, honor Hu Yaobang with a wreath on Tiananmen Square, in April 1989. Hu Yaobang had just passed away, and some points seem to be noteworthy:

When Hu died, he had been removed as the CCP secretary general for more than two years. Apparently, the party leadership had considered him to be too reform-minded. Expressions of grief from the population might be considered an affront by the party leaders, too, and they probably did, even if it took more than six weeks for the party to put an end to the movement of intellectuals and students in  which Wu Renhua had been taking part.

By then, the movement had long gone beyond their original motivation of honoring Hu Yaobang. Through anti-corruption protest, it had turned into a movement for democracy.

Also, Wu Renhua, then an about thirty-three years old lecturer from the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, was part of the movement, but – according to his own account – rather going along with it, than driving it. His actual confrontational attitude towards the CCP  only built after the massacre – an outrage that he had never seemed to expect from his country’s leaders.

And even if the University of Political Science and Law played an important role in the 1989 movement, the Beijing University, the Beida, had the traditional, leading role.

Rivalries among the 1989 dissidents are nothing unusual today. Frequently, they are personal rather than political, accompanied by allegations that X is self-important, that Y is a CCP collaborator, or that Z is remote-controlled by Falun Gong – somehow unpredictable or dangerous.

June 4 has become an unsolved complex in Chinese history. Whoever studied in a major Chinese city in 1989 will know that complex. “Sure”, a Shanghainese told me in the early 1990s, “we were all protesting.” To her, however, the matter was closed with the end of the movement – ostensibly, anyway. Many Chinese people born after 1989 hardly know about the existence of the movement, and among those who do remember it, at least some consider the crackdown a rather lucky outcome: be it because they don’t think that the students were able to handle politics in 1989, be it because they see a foreign conspiracy against China’s stability and China’s rise behind the former movement.

By 2008, a trend had changed. Many Chinese people who used to feel respect for (Western) democracies had changed their mind. Frequently negative coverage by Western media on the Beijing Olympics certainly played a role here – the negative foreign echo was spread selectively, but broadly by Chinese media. Some overseas Chinese in Germany even organized a silent protest against the biased German media who had failed to spread their patriotic message and who had therefore muzzled them. Add how the mighty had fallen in the financial crisis – China’s period of growth still continued, thanks to state stimulus programs that tried to compensate for falling imports by Western economies. Criticism from abroad – that’s how the Chinese public was informed (frequently correctly) – was an expression of foreign envy. The ideas so vigorously discussed in 1989 have given way to the truculent nationalism of new generations, Isabel Hilton noted in 2009.

In 1990, Yang Lian (楊煉), a Chinese poet in exile, published this:

The darker the sky, you say that the boat is old,
the storms it bore are long gone,
it is for us to erase the Self, let the boat of stone rot away.1)

That, of course, is the last thing a boat of stone will do.

What is the role of the 1989 dissidents today? According to C. A. Yeung, an Australian blogger and human rights activist, hardly any role. Dissidents abroad, above all, appear to be out of touch with many activists inside China. This may also be true for Wei Jingsheng, an exiled Chinese who lives in Washington D.C..

Wei wasn’t part of the 1989 movement. At the time, he had been a political prisoner for some ten years. He was only released in 1993, and soon, he was re-arrested. Since 1997, he has been in America.

It requires a strong – and at times probably dogmatic – personality to resist the pressures Wei faced. No confessions, no concessions to the Chinese authorities through all the years of imprisonment. To people like Wei, “foreign interference” in China’s “internal affairs” is no sacrilege, but necessity. Such “interference” may not create space to live for open dissidents in totalitarian countries, but it does, at times, enable dissidents to survive. In that light, it was only logical that Wei attended a hearing of the German federal parliament’s culture and media committee on December 2008, about the alleged proximity of Germany’s foreign broadcaster’s Chinese department (Deutsche Welle, DW)  to the CCP. DW Staff and program should defend human rights and democracy as a matter of principle, Wei demanded.

It turned out that Wei didn’t actually know the DW programs, jeered Xinhua newsagency.  Wei didn’t disagree: “As a matter of fact, I have said from earlier on that I would not listen to the broadcast of the Deutsche Welle’s Chinese service that has been speaking on the CCP’s behalf.”

Such appearances in foreign parliaments may appear fussy, and near-irrelevant. But in 2002, Dutch author and exile observer Ian Buruma had still believed that Chinese dissidents abroad could play a big role:

Let’s say there are suddenly serious splits in the Chinese government. Things start to move rather quickly. All kinds of things are going to happen. And then, it can be that you suddenly need people who know how to operate in Washington, who know which buttons to press and [who] have contacts in Congress, and so on. And this has happened in the case of Taiwan, for example, where you had dissidents in the 60s and 70s who hung around, languished, were considered to be irrelevant until things began to change in Taiwan politically and suddenly, they were important.2)

But maybe, by now, that role has diminuished further – if Buruma’s original observations were correct. Maybe Wei Jingsheng and other dissidents, among them those who had to leave China after June 4, 1989, will play a role similar to the one Wolf Biermann, an East German exile in West Germany, anticipated for himself long before the Berlin Wall came down: at times cheering from the sidelines, providing advice once in a while, but hardly authoritatively. Only on his return to East Germany, Biermann mused, his actual exile would begin, as hardly anyone would recognize him: Dann beginnt erst mein Exil.

The actual historical events of spring 1989 are a different story, however. These days, the CCP neither condemns the events, nor does it condone them. The topic is entirely shunned.

In Hong Kong, people haven’t forgotten. After all, the June-4 crackdown came as a shock for a society that was to return to the motherland eight years and a month later. June 4 is part of tradition there. For many Hong Kong activists who demand more democratic rights for Hong Kongers themselves, solidarity with mainland activists or dissidents is part of their self-image.

The only official evaluation so far: Deng Xiaoping defends his reform policies of economic openness and political repression, June 9, 1989

The only official evaluation so far: Deng Xiaoping defends his reform policies of economic openness and political repression, June 9, 1989 (click picture for video)

In 1995, Deng Xiaoping‘s daughter Deng Rong suggested in an interview with the New York Times  that only later generations could judge the 1989 events. She didn’t know how people thought about it – but my father at least, in his heart, believed that he had no other way.

It may take years before a re-evaluation of the 1989 movements may begin. Or it may only take months. The CCP could initiate one if it feels strong enough, or the citizenry could initiate one if the party gets weaker.

Nobody inside or outside China knows what is being thought about the movement. And many Chinese may only find out what they think once it becomes a topic – when it gets unearthed, gradually or rapidly, in a controlled or spontaneous process.

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Notes

1) Yang Lian: Alte Geschichten (I-IV), Der einzige Hafen des Sommers, aus: Masken und Krokodile, Berlin, Weimar 1994, quoted by Joachim Sartorius (Hrsg): Atlas der Neuen Poesie, Reinbek, 1996, S. 67.
天空更加阴暗  你说  这船老了
一生运载的风暴都已走远
该卸下自己了  让石头船舷去腐烂
夏季  是惟一的港口

2) Jatinder Verma: Asian Diasporas, BBC (World Service), Sept 2, 2002

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