Documentary on Germany and China: When kindness smiles, it hurts

When it comes to beer, the world is pretty simple. Let’s take a look at Qingdao, China, 12,000 kilometers from Berlin. Here was the typical German colony of the colonial era. Last year’s Germania brewery still exists today. “Everyone in China drinks Tsingtao beer,” asserted a female journalist when speaking of the mega-state’s largest brewery – which has preserved the historic boiler room with German inscriptions to this day. At the opening of the Chinese Beer Festival, people in dirndl dresses danced with plastic beer cups. This first fusion of Chinese and Western culture became a success story.

The world is only simple when it comes to beer

The simplicity of beer is deceptive. The ZDF documentary “We Germans and China” shows the complexity and complexity of the relationship between Germany and China. At first the German Empire was terrifying.

Recommended book: “The New Silk Roads”

Present and future of our world

In his speech on the dispatch of German soldiers, which went down in history as the “Letter of the Huns”, Kaiser Wilhelm II demanded that the name of Germany become so well known “that no Chinese again would dare even to regard a German with some suspicion.” The so-called protection forces marched and killed and killed in order to show the German reputation. Today we are the good guys in Germany – and we look with suspicion at China which, with its human rights abuses and declarations of friendship with Putin, provides ample reasons to look at it with suspicion.

There are fears on the German and Chinese sides – and a strange confession

The colonial past is unforgettable. As the Chinese president emphasized on the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party: “We will never again allow ourselves to be subject to foreign powers. Anyone who tries this will see bloodshed on a great steel wall.”

So concerns on both sides, and in abundance. But also a confession that seems strange from today’s perspective. Consider NSDAP member John Rabe (“The Good Nazi,” New York Times). When the Japanese invaded China in 1937, he saved 200,000 Chinese from being attacked. It is celebrated to this day. “In China, we honor John Rabe,” said President Xi Jinping.

Helmut Schmidt shook hands with a dictator who killed 70 million people

History offers parallels in their histories. In 1949 Mao proclaimed the Communist People’s Republic. The Federal Republic of Germany was also established in 1949. Bonn only recognized China in 1973. In 1975, Helmut Schmidt, the first Federal Chancellor, traveled to Beijing and shook hands with Mao – the dictator “who at that time had an estimated 70 million people on his conscience” , as geologist Kai Vogelsang judged in a ZDF documentary, “and congratulated him on his successful policy.”

Business comes first, ethics much later. The ostracism of the Social Democrat, who has no word to say about human rights in China, is paying off. Trade benefits. In 1983 the first Volkswagen plant was built in China. Today the group is the largest automaker in China. Consultants Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schroeder expand cooperation and knowledge transfer “so that both peoples benefit”. Professor Vogelsang comments: “Change through trade has been a reassuring illusion, and that does not work in a partisan state like China.”

When kindness smiles it hurts

China is Germany’s most important trading partner. Since Putin’s attack on Ukraine, we’ve seen how fast money is flying through the sky. Not every politician today likes to see photos of him shaking hands and smiling at the cameras next to the aggressor. Not everyone likes to be reminded of his embrace toward China’s rulers, either. And you’ll wish even the 12,000km distance from Quingdao to Berlin. Smiling kindness can hurt. History is harsh there.