Beijing Censors News on Fall of Berlin Wall Anniversary

September 7, 2009 4:47 am Last Updated: October 1, 2015 9:26 pm
Murals decorate a surviving portion of the Berlin Wall. Germany will mark 20 years since the fall of the Wall with an international commemoration in November. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Murals decorate a surviving portion of the Berlin Wall. Germany will mark 20 years since the fall of the Wall with an international commemoration in November. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

As the 60th anniversary of the communist takeover of China approaches, not only has Beijing strengthened Internet blockage and control, but the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has also restrained mainland media from reporting on “sensitive” international events.

The participation of well-known Chinese artists in the “Mauersteine (Wall of Bricks)” event commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is one of them.

Earlier, Germany sent reproductions of segments of the Berlin Wall to artists around the world in hopes of them bringing unique creative reproductions of the symbolic wall pieces to commemorate the historic moment. China received four of the 1,000 polystyrene reproductions of these Berlin Wall segments, which were passed on to internationally famous artists Huang Rui, Wang Guangyi, Xu Bing and Zhang Xiaogang by the Goethe Institute in Beijing which participated in the artwork re-creation.

The final sections were exhibited at the German Embassy in China on August 13 and then sent to Germany on August 21. They will be exhibited along with all the pieces created out of the “wall of bricks” from other countries on November 9, along the one-time location of the Berlin Wall, and then symbolically toppled like dominoes.

Ms. Zhu, public relations officer from Beijing’s Goethe Institute told a Radio Free Asia (RFA) overseas reporter, after learning his identity, that she “has to be careful. The propaganda department of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party has issued a written [censorship] notice, [which] really cares about this [identifying process]. So I had to ask [your identity]. The [BerlinWall] event is co-hosted by the Goethe Institute and the German Embassy. Four pretty famous artists worked together on this in China. [They] completed this artwork with their own styles. The opening ceremony was held on August 13. Germany’s Ambassador Michael Schaefer made a speech, as did the artists invited by the Director of the Goethe Institute. Many news media were at the ceremony. Then each of the four artists introduced their work.”

1989: The Berlin Wall fell and democracy was crushed at Tiananmen Square

The RFA reporter asked Ms. Zhu to respond to reports that the CCP’s propaganda department does not allow the commemoration of the event to be reported. Ms. Zhu confirmed this with her reply that, “Many news media came to the German Embassy to get interviews on the August 13 opening day. We were all excited, and we had a very good environment at the time. The ambassador spoke about the origin and course of the event for a long time. However, due to the propaganda department’s prohibition of mentioning the year of 1989, reporters had a hard time reporting [the Berlin Wall event].”

The reason is clear: The Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Two of the Chinese artists participating in the commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall displayed images of the year ‘1989’ in their “wall of bricks” art pieces. All-German Dispatch Correspondent’s news reported on August 24 that the fall of the Berlin Wall represented the fall of Eastern Europe’s communist parties, so in mainland China, [the authority] has ordered a ban on reporting any related commemoration activities.

A former reporter from China Youth Daily, Li Datong, believes that even without any reference to 1989 appearing in the artists’ works, the CCP still would strictly restrain the media from reporting on events related to memorializing the fall of the Berlin Wall. He said, “[They] are afraid of causing people to associate anything in their minds. The fall of the Berlin Wall associates with the collapse of the regime.”

Gao Yu, a senior media person said, “If so, it is easy for people to connect [the fall of the Berlin Wall] to the June 4, 1989 incident. Right now, the regime finds something suspicious everywhere it looks. They don’t dare to memorialize anything related to a regime change. They are afraid of discussing any related content, as [people will] easily link them to China’s acute social conflicts.”

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