Archive for April 28th, 2011

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Interview with an Expert: the too-friendly Maikefeng*)

The too-friendly Maikefeng

The too-friendly Maikefeng

Wolfgang Kubin, a sinologist of Bonn university, a professor, translator and a lyricist, was interviewed by German weekly Die Zeit, apparently this week.  The interview was published on Tuesday. Asked if the current German show at the National Museum of China in Beijing – The Art of Enlightenment – should have been scheduled in China at all by the Germans, given the case of Ai Weiwei, Kubin replied that this wasn’t the age of the Cold War:

“we need to work with each other. We must keep holding conversations, no matter if we like our counterparts and arguments, or if we don’t. Every severance of talks will only lead to even bigger, unnecessary complications. Relations between Germany and China are traditionally very good, and we should make the most of them (Die Beziehungen zwischen Deutschland und China sind sehr gut, das ist ein Pfund, mit dem man wuchern kann).

Kubin suggested that Chinese state security were “a state within the state”, which “does what it wants to do”, and which “can’t be controlled”. Ai Weiwei’s arrest had in fact been a loss of face [apparently a loss of face inflicted on the CCP leadership by the state security, in Kubin’s view – JR]  – and “completely unnecessary. One could have solved things differently. If he really evaded taxation, one needs to question him, but one must not make him disappear.”

Die Zeit: For 2012, China plans a China Cultural Year  in Germany. Should we allow for that, given the public opinion which is taking shape in China? (Für 2012 plant China ein Kulturjahr in Deutschland. Sollen wir das zulassen, gerade in Anbetracht der öffentlichen Meinung, die sich derzeit in China bildet?)

Kubin: After all, it isn’t as if political censorship existed only in China – it exists over here, too. It’s just that we don’t talk about it, or it is presented in a different way. The ways of thinking in terms of black-and-white must end. ( Es ist ja nicht so, als gäbe es die politische Zensur nur in China – die gibt es bei uns ja auch so. Nur reden wir nicht darüber oder sie wird anders verpackt. Das Schwarz-Weiß-Denken, das hier in der Presse und auch in Diskussionen immer mehr um sich greift, muss ein Ende haben.)

The Die Zeit reporter didn’t follow up here, which is something I don’t understand. Whichever way you look at it, this doesn’t make the paper look good. If Kubin had explained in more detail as to how censorship exists in Germany, it would help to understand that China isn’t “that bad” after all, and it would address a genuine grievance in Germany. It would be useful to two ends at least. And if he had been unable to offer a convincing explanation, readers would have learned something, too. Did Die Zeit  know which kind of censorship Kubin was referring to, and therefore avoided the topic? Or didn’t they dig deeper out of respect for the professor? Either way – they avoided an issue which many readers would have liked to have answered, as the commenter thread following the article shows. Some commenters speculate, but noone claims to know the answer.

When it comes to China itself, rather than to German views on it, the core of Kubin’s message seems to be one about fear, envy, and loyalty.

Die Zeit: Is it for fear that the intellectuals don’t speak out, or doesn’t it matter to them?

Kubin: I know what you would like to hear: for fear. But the matter is more complex. There is a certain negligence, a certain disinterest, a lack of preparedness to get involved when it comes to people who aren’t doing that fine. Chinese history and cultural history isn’t taken into consideration sufficiently. There is hardly any Chinese intellectual, artist, writer who would say something positive about a Chinese colleague. There is a long tradition of that.


Die Zeit: All the same, this Chinese intelligentsia lives under an authoritarian regime.

Kubin: There aren’t only Chinese people in China, but in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and America, too. Why is there no press which would be similar to ours? Why no manifestations of protest? Nobody would get punished there. The reason is simple: because Chinese people, basically, identify themselves with the state, with the nation – and especially when they draw material benefits from that. The other side, intellectual liberties, don’t seem to matter as much there, as they do here. Apparently, people are willing to make sacrifices. That is hardly understandable for us. But it seems to be a fact which is rarely reflected upon here.

Kubin doesn’t deny that fear may play a role in many Chinese intellectuals’ behavior – see the second line of his first answer within the above quote -, but he is leaving fear as a factor completely out in his actual answer. If people don’t protest in Hong Kong, or Taiwan, or America, why then should the Chinese government use repressive tools at all? Is he unfamiliar with the Taiwanese press? Again, no follow-up questions from the interviewer.

While Kubin agrees that Ai Weiwei’s detention is illegal, he questions the German mainstream press, too:

How can we be sure that Ai hasn’t evaded taxation? In Germany, it is blindly believed that the accusations brought forward by the state must be 100 per cent wrong, and only constitute a pretense for his arrest.

And how will we ever know? Does Kubin expect that, once specifically accused, Ai can still expect an acquittal when in court, even if not guilty? Again – no follow-up question by Die Zeit.

A sinologist who defends the way China is ruled is no surprise to me – although there are sinologists who are much more critical than Kubin. But I’d expect Die Zeit to be more professional when asking questions – or at least to explain as to why the interview had been so meek.

After all, maybe Kubin simply filled in a questionnaire, and faxed it back to the paper’s central editorial department. But that would be something  readers need to know, to understand the interview’s background.


*) What’s a maikefeng? Look it up here.

» Der Übersetzer “in Klammern”, Deutsch-Chinesisches Kulturnetz, April/September 2009
» Hermit: Kinakännaren, November 3, 2009

Updates / Notes
I added Deutsche Welle as a tag, as it has become a topic within the commenting thread. On another note, while I highlight changes to the wording of an already published post, I have a habit of changing tags or categories without extra notice. Links may change, too, if old links become dead links.

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