Xu Pei and the Dirty Old Men

The Philistine not only ignores all conditions of life which are not his own but he also demands that the rest of mankind should fashion its mode of existence after his own.

Attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

[The following is my tardy reaction to an article of almost two years ago which I haven’t read before.]

Xu Pei has lived in Germany for twenty years. She has since become a German citizen. In November 2008, she published an angry article about Günter Grass, who had reportedly signed an open letter supporting Zhang Danhong, a journalist with the Voice of Germany who had drawn fire for defending the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights record.

An excerpt from the open letter that drew Xu’s ire:

“A member of the Voice of Germany’s Chinese radio editorial office has lost 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. […]

My translation of the open letter in detail can be found here.

To be clear, I do not agree with the open letter. If Zhang Danhong compared censorship in China with censorship of child pornography in Germany before the open letter was written – and signed by Günter Grass -, I agree even less. Yet what I do agree with is that I want people to speak their minds here in Germany.

The most disagreeable statement about the whole matter I have found so far comes from Xu Pei herself, one of Zhang’s critics, published by the China Observer in 2008:

Before Grass, with his signature, attacked the Chinese resistance against the CCP from behind, I preferred to ignore him, rather than to criticize him. Now I’m taking the liberty of voicing my opinion, even though I’m not glad to condemn elderly people. […] Grass correctly got a place in the Hall of Shame after his opportunism, by his admission that he had been a member of the SS, had once again become palpable in 2006.

I can see only one difference between the CCP’s and Xinhua’s approach to the controversy on the one hand, and Xu Pei’s on the other. The CCP and its mouthpieces accused my entire country for its nazi past where it suited them:

Before this incident, [“incident” refers to Zhang Danhong’s suspension] multiple pro-China articles were dismissed, proving that Germany’s freedom of expression was merely a joke. What is more worrying is that anti-China sentiment may be hiding in the shadow of Nazi racism.

Xu Pei on the other hand sees nazism where people, in her view, are too “close” to the CCP.

She also has issues with Grass because he’s disgusting:

Disgusting dirty-old-men literature – the tough verdict by Elke Heidenreich makes sense to me. Chinese specialists in German studies and translators, too, had difficulties with obscene descriptions in his works. […] Mo Yan, a writer supported by the CCP’s army, couldn’t have written his obscene book Big Breasts and Wide Hips*) without Grass.

Wolf Biermann, on the other hand – what a great author.

Maybe Xu Pei hadn’t read or heard Von Mir und Meiner Dicken in den Fichten –  a (beautiful, methinks) song about outdoor sex – before praising Biermann. Or maybe I just don’t get the obvious difference between Biermann and Grass. Anyway:

Bloß paar Schritte weg vom Wege
legte ich ihr weißes Fleisch ins Gras, …

But then, Biermann was a dissident. Maybe that’s the difference.

Sure, I wasn’t happy with the Voice of Germany as it was before 2008, and I suppose the stir then did the broadcaster some good. But Germany is a comparably free country, and must remain a free country. I’m not sure if I’d want Zhang Danhong to run the show at the Voice of Germany’s Chinese Department. But I am sure that I wouldn’t want Xu Pei to replace her.

By the (supposedly) Goethe definition above, both Xu and the CCP are Philistine, or worse.

And just for the record: if anyone will ever find reason to “condemn” me, I hope he or she will always feel free do so, regardless of my age.


1) Lush Tits and Fat Asses might come closer as a translation to Xu Pei’s quote of the book title, “Üppige Titten und fette Ärsche”.


Deutsche Welle Chinese Department Acquitted, March 27, 2009
Von Mir und Meiner Dicken in den Fichten, Wolf Biermann, youtube

3 Trackbacks to “Xu Pei and the Dirty Old Men”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: