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November 30, 2016

40 years of GDCF Dusseldorf: Do we still need a German-Chinese friendship society?


Thomas Heberer


The GDCF as an organization

The Society for German-Chinese Friendship (GDCF) was founded in 1973 as a federal association in Stuttgart. It is the first book to be published on the internet in China, which is the first of its kind in China. Representatives of the so-called “K-Groups” at the time of the GDCF. With the death of Mao in September 1976, the subsequent fall of the proponents of the “Cultural Revolution” (1966-76), the end of this chaotic phase and the initiation of economic reforms in the late 1970s, a large proportion of these groups of China and the GDCF. China was no longer the land of their dreams and utopian ideas. 1976 what was the year in which the GDCF Düsseldorf was founded.


At its peak, the GDCF consists of nearly 40 local associations with over 3,000 members. To the Federal GDCF also included the “new China”. There was a lot of activity in the Federal Republic, in which the Federal Association and its local associations were not involved. The city of Cologne is the largest city in the world, with a population of more than 50 million people, with a population of more than 50 million for the Chinese disabled association) and exchange on the sponsorship level. A special role was played by “Aktion Gastfreundschaft”in the framework of which local associations have managed to keep the growing number of Chinese people in Germany, mainly students, academics and other specialists, in contact with Germans. The GDCF and its work enjoyed a high esteem in China in August 1986 the then party chairman Hu Yaobang Thomas Heberer gave a four-hour individual interview as GDCF Federal President.


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Thomas Heberer in conversation with former chairman Hu Yaobang (1986)


The shift in membership was also reflected in new structures. The GDCF advisory board, chaired by the prominent ambassador and writer Erich Wickert, included renowned figures such as the journalists Peter Scholl-Latour, Carola Stern and Karl Grobe-Hagel, but also the Mayor of Mainz, Jockel Fuchs and the entrepreneur Heinz Priess ,


The turning point came in 1989. On June 1, a large number of Chinese artists came to Germany. In nearly 50 cities, China weeks were planned, for which the GDCF had advanced with large amounts. After the precipitation of the urban protest movement on 4 June, all the cities said the events and the GDCF stayed on the expense. Financially the Federation was ruined, publishing houses and travel companies went bankrupt. The GDCF as a federal organization remained disputed over the further course of the association, so that it dissolved in 1990. What remained were individual local associations, which were independent of each other.


Nothing has changed to the original, central goals of the remaining local associations: to contribute to international understanding and understanding and understanding between Germans and Chinese.


Friendship and understanding of China

The notion of “friendship society” derives from the context of the dictated friendship between the former socialist countries or at least the left solidarity with such countries. As such, today he is basically overtaken. From a critical point of view it is also necessary to ask what content the term “friendship” can still have in modern times. In my opinion, friendship does not simply mean accepting, but involves a great deal of efforts to “understand” the “other”, in this case China. And in fact, this understanding is not as easy as many believe. The diverse and heterogeneous structures of this country and its population make such an understanding extremely difficult. Anyone who is concerned with this, quickly realizes that understanding is a life task. The diversity and diversity within China, the diverse regional peculiarities, cultures and traditions and their manifestations complicate the understanding of this country. Neither Beijing nor Shanghai, neither the poverty areas within the country nor the prosperous regions on the coast represent China. They are all the only building blocks in the huge mosaic called China. Lucien Pye, an American political scientist and one of the great experts in Chinese politics and culture, once wrote that today’s China is not simply a national state among many others. It is, rather, a civilization which pretends to be a state. The China of today is as if the Europe of the Roman Empire and that in the time of Charlemagne had existed to this day, as a single national state. He wanted to point out the heterogeneity and diversity just described. China is not a unified system but a continent, a puzzle with quite different parts: different development and development conditions, diverse and partly contrasting geographical, economic, social and political structures and systems. “One country, a thousand systems,” I once said elsewhere. And that makes it so difficult to understand this complex structure. In assessing and evaluating China, one must also acknowledge that there is no universal “reason” or logic, but diverse forms of thought, action and rationality, which are also culturally conditioned. European-North American (so-called


Meanwhile, China has become a much more open, globally oriented and self-confident country. Chinese travel to the world and even ordinary citizens often know well about Germany and the Germans. Many people are familiar with German cars, football clubs and national players, while Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels are still revered by many, Kant and Nietzsche, Beethoven and Bach, Heinrich Heine and the Grimm brothers are well known and appreciated. Germany is the most popular and respected country in China. Conversely, it has become easier for Germans today to travel to China or to work there. The information on China is numerous and diverse – a new confusion has emerged which not only makes understanding easier.


So what can a German-Chinese friendship society still do today?

The understanding of the development of China is still relatively low, and prejudices are widespread. It remains, therefore, a central task to inform about China, its development and its problems, to correct false interpretations and thus to promote understanding for the country. The Olympic year 2008 has illustrated how fast one-sided interpretations can turn into prejudices and negative reports.


The relations between Germany and China are good and stable, but not conflict-free. The disputes between the two countries are about economic issues such as the unequal treatment of Chinese companies in Germany and German companies in China. Export issues play a role (dumping prices) and the assessment of whether China should be given a market economy status. Politically, there are different ideas of development and different political conceptions. Contradictions are inflamed by the question of the globalization of political structures and institutions (such as democratization, legalization, division of powers), the globalization of cultural moments (universalism of human rights, individualization, questions of values, etc.) or economic and legal aspects (eg Livelihoods before legalization, independence of the law). Multipolarity, or universal universalism, a juxtaposition of systems, cultures, and life-worlds or their approximation – these questions often lead to violent controversies. A glance at the history of the German Chinabilians also shows that these images always oscillated between periods of idealization and devaluation.


It is not a question of the future, but it is not the only way to achieve this. It is not a question of the future Germans and Chinese promote.


Professor Dr. Thomas Heberer is Professor of China’s Politics & Society at the University of Duisburg-Essen and co-director of the Confucius Institute Metropolis Ruhr at the University of Duisburg. From 1981 to 1985 he was Deputy Chairman and from 1985-1990 Federal Chairman of the Federal Association of the Society for German-Chinese Friendship. He is a member of the GDCF Düsseldorf.