Archive for November 15th, 2008

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Unharmonious Days at the Voice of Germany’s… Update

The following is a translation of an open letter by 49 – or 65 – China scientists *), publicists and politicians in Germany. They refer to an initial open letter written by Chinese dissidents, by German authors et al which is the topic in my post of November 14.

Then follows a link to and a quote from a third open letter (under “2.”) I’m not 100% sure if the second letter is really the response to the one I’ve translated here, especially as the open letter and the response to it refer to a different number of (initial?) signatories. But chronologically and by content, the one defending Zhang Danhong and the second one quoted under “2.” are connected.

The first para following here is my translation of the open letter in defense of Zhang Danhong (she’s not mentioned by name) as documented by the online magazine Perlentaucher (in German). After that, I’ll link to the response to it which is available in Chinese and English.


“A member of the Voice of Germany’s Chinese radio editorial office has los her function as a deputy department manager recently. She didn’t lose this function because of verifiable misconduct at work. Rather, she was punished for, among others, had having quoted the assessment of one of the leading China correspondents, the Beijing correspondent of Die Zeit, in public discussions: That overcoming poverty for 400 million Chinese people was one of the greatest improvements of human rights in recent time. No doubt – one can argue about that. But it must also be allowed to argue, and obviously one must be entitled to quote such statements as a journalist.

An “Authors Cycle of the Federal Republic”, in a letter to the German Bundestag (federal parliament) has accused the Voice of Germany’s Chinese service of advertising the Party State in China. The authors circle mentions a “re-import of dictatorial propaganda” and demands a “check-up for all editorial departments which cover totalitarian including Russia”, plus the establishment of an independent observer who is immune against dictatorship” to monitor the broadcasts, and finally a retrospective five years of coverage, plus another checkup of possible Stasi [former East German secret police] pasts of the Voice of Germany’s employees.

At the same time, some Chinese dissidents who are members of the Falun Gong sect or connected to it wrote to the Bundestag and accused the Voice of Germany to be a “friendly medium for the Chinese government”. In fact, the Voice of Germany’s Chinese-language website has been constantly blocked in China for the past three years up to the Olympic Games. Falun Gong propagandists also identify the alleged doyens of “red infiltration in Germany”: Helmut Schmidt and a number of leading German China scientists who were interviewed by the Voice of Germany several times and who made efforts for a realistic view on China during the past few years. (Link: Die Rote Welle aus Deutschland.)

This argument is part of the dispute about how to judge the current development and rise of China. Is China a rogue state which becomes an increasing threat at home and abroad, or a country in a continuous transformation process that proves to be an increasingly reliable cooperation partner in international matters? Differing and sometimes conflicting images characterize this process: There is human rights abuse, corruption, power abuse, and at the same time, there is a change in the structures of the system and which brings about significant improvement for the majority of the people. Such conflicting developments require differentiated judgment. That kind of differentiating however didn’t exist in a large share of German media coverage before and after the Olympic Games. The Voice of Germany tried to go against this trend.

The “Open Letters” to the Bundestag call for marginalization and censorship. Accusations like during the Cold War are made (“red infiltration”). Journalists, scientists and politicians who want to point out the variety and conflicting facets in China’s development with carefully researched coverage and analysis and who do not consider China a “rogue state” become targets of intimidation and attempts to discredit them. The aim seems to be a prevention of any differentiated communication about China’s development in journalism and science and a try to commit every stakeholder in this field to blanketly negative coverage on China.

These occurences give us reason to point out these disturbing developments and backgrounds to all the stakeholders of the media, of politics and science, to maintain the principles of journalistic and scientific professionalism, individual responsibility and objectivity without reservation. Above all, we ask them to side with those who are attacked without justification by the current campaign.”

[Signatures underneath the original]


A number of authors, legislators and researchers (among them two members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council) then wrote a letter in response to the above one. Both a (probably complete) Chinese and English version of the following response are available on Woeser’s Blog (thanks for the hint, C.A.).


As sinologists, you have exhausted all effort to learn the Chinese language, and in the proess you have forgotten the German adjective used to describe the independent intellectual: “unbequem” — causing discomfort or unease. The true intellectual will always stand in opposition to those in power, and an unconditionally totalitarian government should be subjected to even more monitoring and restraint, with intellectuals causing all the more unease to the holders of power.

I withhold my own comments for now (I spoke much of my mind with the previous post about the Deutsche Welle / Voice of Germany), so I’m waiting for others to comment first now. I’ll probably have a very busy week away from the internet, but will be back to this beautiful blog (it’s becoming an addiction) some time before next weekend – at the latest.


*) I mean no offense with writing “China scientists” inverse. However, I find “Chinawissenschaftler” (meaning China scientist, a term used in the open letter) confusing. Not sure if it should mean sinologist, or something else.

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