07 April 2008

Die Gelben Spione

The Yellow Spies

Reading the translation on ESWN of Encounters With a German is absolutely depressing. It’s like a stage play version of everything I long feared and has now gone full blown about the huge collision between Chinese and Western worldviews and our inability to communicate. To recap, a young Chinese woman (?) living and working in Germany winds up in a nasty, bitter tat-for-tat with a German colleague. In escalating volleys of angry vindictive remarks they descend into a battle of name-calling over whose government and media is a liar. To wit:

After almost two weeks of bombardment by the German media, I was getting very emotionally distraught. On the evening of March 25, I heard that Spiegel was spreading more rumors in their new issue. So I bought a copy of Spiegel at noon to retain as evidence. When I came in to the office and put the magazine on my desk, K asked; “You bought Spiegel?”

I said: “Yes.”

She said: “Why did you buy it? Because the subject is Tibet?”

I said: “No.”

She said: “Because the essays are well-written?”

I said: “No.”

She asked: “Then why?”

I could no longer control myself as my hands were trembling: “Because I have never seen such a big lie.”

Although she did not understand fully what I meant, she glared at me and she said angrily: “What do you mean?”

I said: “Everything that you read and watch all day on television, magzines and newspapers are all lies.

She was ready to blow her top and she told me solemnly: “You have no right to say that our media are lying! I have never been to Tibet, but from our media reports, I can see that this situation in Tibet is very, very, very serious! We cannot go to Tibet to look for ourselves. We do not know what happened. But I am willing to believe what is said by our television. I also think that your media are lying and what you see is not real! If you want to criticize German media, you better go home and criticise your own Chinese media first!”

I turned to the Spiegel report and I pointed at it and said: “This photo shows our policemen rescuing an injured Han person. But the caption said that the police are arresting a Tibetan. This is a lie.”

She was not looking at what I pointed out to her, for she continued to stare at her own computer screen. She said, “I don’t know what they are doing. But your policemen have arrested many Tibetans. They have opened fire and killed people. But your television channels are telling lies. What right do you have to say that the German media are lying?”

And that’s just for starters. The part that struck me about this, though, was Der Spiegel. Der Spiegel was a flashpoint for some nasty Chinese-German relations the past year, and not because of the Merkel - Dalai Lama meeting. In August 2007, Der Spiegel ran a cover story in their print edition titled “Die Gelben Spione”, or “The Yellow Spies”. In an article titled Prinzip Sandkorn (available in German in Google cache here), the author alleged “that Chinese hackers linked to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) installed Trojan spy programs camouflaged as Word and PowerPoint documents on several computers at the Federal Chancellery, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Economics and Technology, as well as the Federal Ministry for Education and Research.” The Chinese embassy denied the allegations, and like other Chinese hacker stories, I take it with alot of salt.

But what really got Chinese in Germany pissed off was the title, The Yellow Spies, as well as some of the content of the article. I don’t know German, but my girlfriend does, and the German blog SpiegelKritik pointed out some of the less than spectacular elements of the piece:

“Und auch an Geschäftsessen, bei denen lebenden Affen mit einem Hämmerchen die Schädeldecke eingeschlagen wurde, um ihr warmes Gehirn auszulöffeln…”

“And also at business lunches, in which monkeys skulls are hammered open in order to spoon out their warm brains…” [according to a petroleum expert who has been visiting China since the 1970s.]

SpiegelKritik: Nun, ich war 16 Jahre alt und das war Mitte der Achtziger Jahre, als ich damals den eigentlich erst ab 18 freigegebenen Film “Gesichter des Todes” auf Video gesehen habe.

Mind you, I was only 16 years old and only had the eyes of an 8 year old when I saw the 18+ only film “Faces of Death” on video. [SpiegelKritik goes on to point to the Wikipedia entry on Monkey Brains(Cuisine), though I think he’s reading a similar though not identical German version]

“Chinas Dienste können nach der Einschätzung der westlichen Konkurrenz auf das größte informelle Spionagenetz der Welt zurückgreifen: 800.000 Spitzel. “Jeder Student, jeder Geschäftsmann, der ins Ausland gelassen wird, steht in der Schuld der Partei”.

“China’s spy agency can estimate Western competition by drawing upon the world’s biggest informal spy network: 800,000 spies… Every student, every businessman, who is permitted abroad, is in debt to the Party”

SpiegelKritik: Hier wird ein in vielen deutschen Köpfen vorherrschendes Klischee bedient: Viele denken immer noch an die DDR.

It’s a very prominent cliche in Germans minds that they’re referring to here: many will surely think of the DDR (East Germany). Then it goes on to say:

“In Deutschland studieren mehr als 27.000 Chinesen…” und dann wieder etwas weiter der bereits oben zitierte Satz “Natürlich ist nicht jeder… ein Informant, vermutlich AUCH NUR eine Minderheit”.

“In Germany there are more than 27,000 Chinese students…” and then further along in the text the already quoted phrase: “Of course not everybody is… an informant, perhaps EVEN ONLY a minority”.

800.000 - 27.000 - VERMUTLICH davon AUCH NUR eine Minderheit, klar, aber ganz sicher tausende „gelbe Spione“! Das ist suggestiv, reißerisch und diffamierend…

800,000 - 27,000 - of which perhaps EVEN ONLY a minority, sure, but definitely thousands of “yellow spies”! This is suggestive, sensational and defamatory…

Die größte Gefahr dieses Spiegelartikels ist aber der suggerierte Generalverdacht, der alle Chinesen in Deutschland als vermeintliche Wirtschaftsspione darstellt. Eine Steilvorlage für den rechten Mob, um demnächst auf Volksfesten wie in Mügeln die Jagd auf “die gelben Spione” zu eröffnen.

The biggest danger of the Spiegel article is how all Chinese in Germany are depicted as potential economic spies. It’s a playbook for right wing gangs, to soon begin the hunt for “the yellow spies” during the next festival in Mügeln [Mügeln is the town in Saxony where a mob chased Indian men down the streets yelling “foreigners out!”]

Dieser Spiegel-Artikel ist nicht besser, nein sogar viel gefährlicher, als wenn beispielsweise die NPD Ausländer als kriminell oder “Arbeitsplatzdiebe” darstellt. Der Spiegel ist für viele Deutsche eine Heilige Kuh, was der Spiegel schreibt ist wahr. Unter dem Deckmantel des investigativen Journalismus wird hier eine große Geschichte verkauft: „Die gelben Spione“ in Deutschland. Und das um möglicherweise den Thesen einiger Spiegelredakteure um Gabor Steingart und ihrem „Weltkrieg um Wohlstand“ Nachdruck zu verleihen. Die Verantwortung bleibt dabei auf der Strecke.

This Spiegel article is not much better, but a lot more dangerous, than when for example the NPD depicts foreigners as criminals and job thieves. Der Spiegel is for alot of Germans a holy cow, what Spiegel writes is true. Under the cover of investigative journalism a great story is sold: “The Yellow Spies” in Germany. And thats possibly in order to emphasize the thesis of one of the editors of Der Spiegel, Gabor Steingart, his “Global War for Prosperity”. There’s a lack of accountability here.

That Der Spiegel is a “holy cow” to many Germans would explain the German woman’s reaction over the copy that the Chinese writer claims is full of lies. One can only imagine her outrage at this page at anti-CNN.

SpiegelKritik also blogged about a lawsuit launched by some Chinese in Germany claiming the story was racist, defamed the Chinese worldview, and desecrated the Chinese flag and other national symbols. The prosecutors office found no evidence in its investigation.

But Chinese in Germany took to the streets, and the Internet, posting numerous photos on iamchinese.de, a German Chinese forum, and video on 6park (links here). This anger is, I imagine, subtext to the appearance of Der Spiegel in “Encounters with a German”, which is being republished all over the Chinese net (tiexue, sina, eastday, tianya, hexun, myspace). Relations between Chinese in Germany and the natives was not entirely tranquil.

UPDATE: And then there was the fake Terracotta Warrior story, which probably didn’t do German media any favors either.

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