Archive for September 14th, 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009

“China and the World – Perception and Reality”

The organizers of the Frankfurt Book Fair weren’t lacking ambition. As there were partly different perceptions, an exchange of opinions and thoughts was required to reduce misunderstandings and prejudices, they wrote in their program’s preface, under the title China and the World – Perception and Reality.

Nowadays, the picture of China in the West is strongly shaped by its economy’s growth and the related phenomena. The Middle Kingdom has risen to be a global power and will gain political and military significance in the future. The world has to adjust itself to that. Mutual, culture-related  perceptions play an important role, and determine interaction.

From the German original:

Heute ist das Bild Chinas im Westen stark vom Wachstum der chinesischen Wirtschaft und damit verbundenen Phänomenen geprägt. Das Reich der Mitte ist zur globalen Macht aufgestiegen und  wird künftig auch politisch und militärisch an Bedeutung gewinnen. Darauf hat sich die Welt einzustellen.
Gegenseitige, kulturgebundene Perzeptionen spielen dabei eine gewichtige Rolle und bestimmen den Umgang miteinander.

The official Chinese delegation arguably co-authored, and by all means studied these paragraphs very carefully in advance. And within their narrow ideological horizons, they really acted upon this roadmap. Apparently, they decided to turn the canorous blah-blah into an impressive (even if not exactly simpatico) lesson about the way China is governed and – to quite a degree – ticking today. It should also be said that it couldn’t have become so instructive without at least two further guests – Bei Ling (貝嶺), and Dai Qing (戴晴). Both of them are dissidents, and their presence was appropriate, because they are actually Chinese writers – the book fair is about people like Bei Ling and Dai Qing. That said, the official delegation from Beijing certainly thought otherwise.

Bei is a Chinese citizen, but lives in the United States. Dai flew in from Beijing, apparently after overcoming some mysterious problems with her ticket.

There are conflicting versions about what happened before the Book Fair’s symposium.

Let’s start with the Deutsche Welle‘s take.

It reports that the two were initially invited to take part in the symposium, but their invitations were later revoked after criticism from Beijing. And then they spoke. And the official Chinese delegation walked out in protest. It returned only after an apology from Juergen Boos, organizer of the book fair. Mei Zhaorong (梅兆荣), former Chinese ambassador to Germany, accused the German hosts of having changed the program of the symposium without informing the delegation from Beijing. “We did not come here for a lesson in democracy,” he said. “Those times are over.”

One day after Deutsche Welle, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung quoted organizer Boos as saying that the invitations to Dai and Bei hadn’t been revoked at all. He and the PEN Club had offered them the opportunity to make statements, but not all partners in the organization of the event had been informed about this decision in time – this proably refers to the Chinese Organization Committee in particular, but possibly to other cooperation partners stated here (to the left, under the headline), too. There had been some communication problems.  But now, “we are where we wanted to get. The discourse has begun.”

One can argue about how much credit the respective stakeholders deserve for the somewhat unharmonious discourse. But it’s true: both the official side of China, and people outside the CCP’s storybook, have had their say. They will all continue to have their say during the fair, and help us to visualize contemporary China.

%d bloggers like this: