SchizOlympics: Deutschland Edition

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, 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.

  • Sebastian

    Btw. check out the new Spiegel, title: “Lords of the Rings (Foto with barbed wire Olympic rings), How the Chinese government suppresses its people”

    In Spiegel every second issue is either about the 3. Reich or China, I already canceled my subscription.

    I also would be pissed about “The yellow Spies” with reminds me a bit of “The yellow peril”.

  • Nano

    The Chinese are often seen to be submissive and peaceful when they are residing outside China. Though sometimes the Chinese resort to violence on an issue, they are more likely to occur only inside China. That is why the foreigners dare to bully and humiliate the Chinese worldwide.

    On the other hand, if we are to look at the conflicts with muslims, the Europeans and Americans are more willing to give muslims due respect. They are fearful of antagonizing them to the extent that their western governments and their media dare not even associate the word ‘Islam’ with terrorism committed by Islamist jihadists and extremists. In Europe and USA, the governments appease the muslims with preferential treatments in order to placate them. They have built facilities in universities and airports to allow muslims to pray at their convenience and allow de facto syariah laws to run parallel with their legal system. USA/NATO have recently illegally and forcibly annexed Kosovo from Serbia for the benefit of the islamic Albania.

    How is it that the situation is so different in the case of the Chinese? Two main factors stand out: One, the muslims have learnt how to use the westerners’ laws to their best advantage. Two, the muslims’ use of violence to intimidate the westerners is effective until they are fearful of them. The safety of the western media is not even guaranteed in their own country. The West have surrendered even their precious little human right (freedom of speech) as can be seen from the prophet cartoons and the recent Wilders fitna video. Yet these Europeans continue to go around interfering and condemning other countries for not upholding human rights.

    Maybe the Chinese got to learn from the muslims before the western media are willing to cease their PR smear and bashing campaigns against China. Maybe only then will the Germans have qualms before they show their condescending attitude towards the Chinese.

  • Adrian

    It certainly is depressing and already on Metafilter people are talking about the chaos that is planned for when the torch hits San Francisco (note – a city with a large ethnic Chinese population). The comments on the RConversation blog though are something else – she is regularly trolled by “Charles Liu” (a white American apparently) and “mahathir_fan” who sometimes says he is Chinese and other times says he Malaysian.

    But you are absolutely right – this is turning into a massive trainwreck. I’m not even going to bother wading into the rights and wrongs of China and the West – to me it doesn’t seem like anyone is really interested in a conversation anymore.

  • nanheyangrouchuan

    “The Chinese are often seen to be submissive and peaceful when they are residing outside China. ”

    And they are so quick to put 30 on 1 against any foreigner even suspected of looking down on Chinese people, irregardless of whether the foreigner is being robbed or what not.

    As for the many spies China has sent around the world, it is true. In China it is called the “grains of sand” strategy. Instead of using a few James Bonds to go after the secret decoder ring, countless people are sent abroad to gather anything and everything that may be of value and are richly rewarded when returning home with booty. Those are caught are on their own.

    This strategy has actually worked very well (so has bribing and coercing MNCs in China) but now Taiwanese, Koreans, Japanese and anti-CCP Chinese are helping the FBI round up these scoundrels in the US.

    bad, bad China.

  • davesgonechina

    @Sebastian: the anti-CNN thread I link to is all about the “Lord of the Rings” article. It’s got them pissed.

    @Nano: I think you’ve been reading too much of that “Eurabia” nonsense. There’s plenty of people associating “Islam” with “terrorism” in the West, and they’re mostly idiots. You might want to begin using the word “some”, since not all Muslims or Chinese are alike. It’s a very useful word. Try it some time.

    @Adrian: TFS, dude, TFS (a term I am now internationally recognized as coining!

    @Teh ‘Chuan: Dude, I think we’ve argued over the grain of sand thing before. Just because of a line in the Art of War, we should be considering all Chinese people as suspicious? Should China be profiling Westerners based on quotes from Machiavelli? Even if you think thats the case, shouldn’t you be trying to turn people, in which case maybe you shouldn’t talk trash about them so much? Enough of the sanctimonious righteousness. There’s far too much already. You spend far too much time gloating about how right you think you are and too little considering that you’re screwing your own agenda.

  • Nano

    “There’s plenty of people associating “Islam” with “terrorism” in the West, and they’re mostly idiots.”

    There are actually plenty who dare not outwardly associate “Islam” with “terrorism” out of fear from litigations or violence. Look at the western media and their governments. These are the idiots. And the jihadist way has made them idiots. And this is a strategy the Chinese got to learn.


    U mean to say there are no spies from USA, Europe, etc? Why are the spies from China that made u so pissed off? Are they are more often caught because they are not as skillful as the western counterparts?

  • contretemps

    “That is why the foreigners dare to bully and humiliate the Chinese worldwide.”

    I am in China and obviously you are too. I am sick of Chinese calling non-Chinese “foreigners”, and you have done it even more stupidly by calling non-Chinese “foreigners” when they aren’t even in China. Let me remind you that “non-Chinese” does not equal “foreigner” all the time. Only when those “non-Chinese” are actually in China can they be called “foreigners”.

  • ChunZhu

    Yeah, I read that article and it was painful. It’s like both sides just look at each other and see ‘German anti-Chinese Racist’ and ‘Brainwashed Nationalistic Chinese’ banners plastered over their faces.

    And I don’t understand this whole German anti-Chinese thing. I mean whenever I was traveling around China and living in hostels, there were so many German students there and they all seemed to like China. I always assumed the anti-China hatred came from the States…

  • Richard

    Dave – take heart. It’s bad, and I dread the worst just like you do, but is it inevitable? When I read this blog (the girl’s) I thought that this jealous and resentful (older) woman was just the sort of office cow you get in miserable jobs all over the world picking fights. Can she be made to speak for the whole German nation? The girl herself seems a little naive, a state which when challenged often turns to extreme positions (“true descendants of Nazis” indeed). But then she’s only 20.
    When I was younger I used to get really annoyed when ignorant foreigners told me what they thought about Northern Ireland. But it all ended (reasonably) happily, partly thanks to foreigners. It’d be nice if people took note.
    Office politics isn’t the worst that can happen. I imagine in Britain now and in lots of other places there are Chinese and foreigners simply agreeing not to talk about these things.
    I may be wrong, but let’s hope not.

  • Charles Liu

    I don’t blame the Chinese girl for standing up for what she believes.

    Is it still “schizophrenia” when our media at large:

    – focus on Tibet protesters while ignoring the Olympic supporters?

    – Prominently feature NED/EC funded RSF and their “black Olympics” flag?

    – While silent on the victims of Tibet riot, and Paralympian in wheel chair attacked by protesters twice her size?

    All this for what? Cranking up anti-chinese hysteria as far as I can tell. If our media is state-sponsored I don’t think it would report any differently, honestly.

  • Marc

    The claim in the full text of the transcript/story by the young chinese woman (?) cited above that chinese websites are blocked in germany is downright absurd. no institution would have this kind of power barring a court order ordering all ISPs to do so. The black and white painting of the whole story vis a vis the german attitude towards china smacks of propaganda. opinions are much more varied over here. I mean, seriously: “They are the descendants of the Nazis. Nazi blood will flow through their bodies forever.” sad, really.

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  • Adrian

    @davesgonechina – Tibet Fatigue Syndrome? I guess so – maybe it’s IFS – Ignorance Fatigue Syndrome and frankly I think everyone’s guilty of it to greater or lesser extents. I just spent 10 minutes of my life listening to two Australian media columnists (one conservative, one liberal) talk such horribly ignorant bullshit about China, Tibet, the Olympics, AND Australia and it’s completely disheartening. Because IMO what’s going on is there are a lot of people seizing on whatever they think will prove their already long-held position. At this point I kind of wish there were traveling roadshows in China and the West that would gently explain a few points about life, people and culture in each hemisphere in a non-judgemental and factual way. Ah anyway, I don’t have the energy for the shitfight – probably we all deserve each other.