In May 2005, at the invitation of Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) and the Chinese Association of Berne, I attended a symposium titled “The Cultural Revolution—Forced to Forget” at the Rhine Museum. My interpreter was a friendly, graceful young woman. She was Zhang Danhong, former director of the Department of Chinese Language Radio at Deutsche Welle who was suspended for saying strongly pro-China comments during the Olympic Games.
Ms. Zhang’s speech was a reflection of a greater trend happening at this time in the world. The pro-China “red wave” is infiltrating the West, causing members of Western society to ponder how they can defend the value of democracy on their own soil.
Zhang Danhong Changes Political Stance
Zhang Danhong was raised in Beijing and went to Germany to attend a university in 1980s. She began working for the Department of Chinese Language Radio at Deutsche Welle in the 1990s. In 2004, she was appointed deputy director of the department. When I met her a few years ago, she was working with Von Hein, director of the Department of Chinese Language Radio on programs addressing human rights and democracy in China.
Recently, a few Chinese democracy advocates in Germany, including Fei Liangyong and Peng Xiaoming, published an article criticizing Zhang’s comments. In the same article, they also acknowledged that Zhang “used to report on the development of Chinese human rights and democracy movements overseas, as well as experiences of political dissidents persecuted in China.”
Yet suddenly, this journalist, who cared about human rights and who is doing well in her career, switched gears and nearly became a spokesperson for the Chinese Communist Party.
What Is Wrong With Zhang Danhong’s Comments?
A few days before the Beijing Olympics, Zhang said in a radio interview that China has lifted 400 million people out of poverty in the last few decades. She further said, “The Communist Party of China has more than any political force in the world implemented Article 3 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.”
Zhang has qualified lifting hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty as a contribution of the CCP, but forgotten the tens of millions who starved to death under communist rule. She also neglected to mention the struggles of the Chinese people against the oppression and exploitation of the CCP. The number of people in poverty is growing in China. Even the Chinese government admits that there are 250 million unemployed Chinese people. Many are struggling to make ends meet in their old age.
When some criticized the Chinese government’s censorship of the Internet, Zhang Danhong said, “Some websites are blocked in Germany too, including pornographic sites that are harmful to children.” Anyone with common sense knows that such blockage is to protect children, while the Chinese government’s censorship is a violation of basic human rights.
During a discussion on Germany’s Channel 2 regarding the issue of Tibet, Zhang said that the Chinese government “has done many things to protect Tibetan culture.” Apparently Ms. Zhang is not aware that the core of Tibetan culture is Tibetan Buddhism, centered on the great lamas. Leaders of all four sects of Tibetan Buddhism, including the Dalai Lama, are all in exile. Was that a result of the CCP’s “protection” of Tibetan culture?
A Major Change Among Overseas Chinese
Regardless of Zhang Danhong’s intensions, her praise for a dictatorship that abuses human rights is a slap on the face to the victims of human rights abuses in China, and is a betrayal of human rights values of Western democratic countries.
In my opinion, the more serious problem lies in the fact that Zhang Danhong is not alone in her views. Her comments were identical to those of the Chinese government, and also represented a large number of overseas Chinese, as well as cultural elites and the middle class in China.
When I first came to Europe for political asylum in the early 1990s, I gave some speeches on Chinese human rights. At that time, overseas Chinese people were either sympathetic to the democratic movement or uninterested in politics. There was almost no market for the Chinese government’s propaganda. Over a dozen years have passed, and there has been a major change among overseas Chinese. As China’s economy grew, more overseas Chinese have aligned themselves with the CCP regime, which claims to represent China. A huge wave of blind patriotism has hit every Chinese community around the world.
Why do Chinese people living in Western democratic countries align themselves with a dictatorship? There are several reasons, including nostalgia, vanity, gravitation towards power, and self interest.
A more important reason is the composition of overseas Chinese has changed quite a bit since the early 1990s. In recent years, many middle class Chinese families sent their children outside of China for advanced studies. Most of these people benefited from the CCP rule. Some of them are also relatives of corrupt government officials. Regardless of how they came to the West, they share one thing in common: they only want to benefit from the wealth and pride resulting from China’s growth, but are unwilling to pay the price of living under a dictatorship.
CCP Becomes More Shrewd in Its Approach
I know a China expert from Sweden. For many years, he has spoken in favor of promoting human rights in China. Recently, though, he has been invited by the Chinese government to visit China several times, given more opportunities for research and cooperation, and received awards from the Chinese government. Perhaps as a result, when Swedish journalists reported on the Chinese government’s dismissal of migrant workers from Beijing during the Olympics, this China expert was on TV criticizing the journalists for reporting negatively on China, while he himself was praising China’s progress.
The CCP has become quite shrewd at courting its critics. Even the China expert from Sweden, one of the most democratic countries in the world, could not resist the temptation of the CCP, let alone Zhang Danhong, who grew up under the Communist regime.
How Should Western Countries Defend Democratic Values
A valid question was raised: The CCP has widely infiltrated Chinese-language media in the West; why was Germany the only country that took issue with pro-communist comments?
My personal view is that Germany has learned from its mistakes in history. Their democracy and freedom of speech were once abused and trampled upon during Hitler’s rise to power. That’s why, besides insisting on the freedom of speech, Germans are also careful to not let anyone control public opinion.
Zhang’s comments were investigated primarily due to Zhang’s post as a public sector employee who must abide by the German Constitution. As the deputy director of the Chinese Language Radio department at Deutsche Welle, Zhang must also follow the mission and principles of the station. Otherwise she would be in breach of her employment contract.
A lot of changes have happened in China this year. Under Zhang’s leadership, the Deutsche Welle has interviewed mostly pro-Communist China experts in Germany. Voices of criticism of the Communist regime were rarely heard. This is misleading, or even deceptive, to the Chinese-language audience. Actually, these China experts are not necessarily all fans of the CCP. Quite a few of them may have sung praises out of concern for their personal interests.
To Germany, Zhang Danhong’s actions are a true threat. It is not an economic threat, but a “red infiltration” that jeopardizes Western democratic values.
Today in Beijing, anyone holding a banner that says “Free Tibet” will be arrested within a few minutes. Yet the communist “red wave” is being spread in Western countries without raising an eyebrow.
A German said regarding the whole Zhang Danhong incident, “Although we don’t always articulate our democratic values, we cannot allow our home fronts to be infiltrated like this.” How should Western countries defend their democratic values on their own soil? This question deserves further discussion.
Mo Lihua, pen name Mo Li, a former teacher at the Hunan Zhaoyang Normal College, and was jailed for three years after publicly critisizing the June 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. She is currently living in exile in Sweden and works as a teacher and Chinese magazine writer.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.