From China, with love, or something more insidious?
For weeks, Chinese have been debating the meaning of a superhero-sized statue of Karl Marx headed to Trier, the German town where the political philosopher was born.
Is it an attempt to spread communist revolution back to democratic Germany? A joke?
The 5.5m work by sculptor Wu Weishan (吳為山) is a gift from the Chinese government and is to be unveiled in May next year as part of wider commemorations for the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth.
Marx is officially revered in China, the last major communist state after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
This noble-looking Marx gazing into the future expresses “the confidence of today’s China in its own theories, path, system and culture,” Wu wrote in January in the state-owned People’s Daily, describing a visit he made to Trier last year to conceptualize the work.
Wu’s vision prompted controversy in Germany after a model was unveiled in Trier in March.
Historians and politicians asked whether it was appropriate to honor so uncritically a man whose ideas led to dictatorship, including in the former East Germany.
The Trier City Council last month gave final approval to the gift, but whittled down its size by more than 0.6m.
In China, “there are two completely different voices in the debate” over the statue, said Zhu Dake (朱大可), a cultural commentator and professor at Tongji University in Shanghai.
“One is that Germany is now a wholly capitalist state that has abandoned Marxism. Sending the statue is tantamount to sending his ideas back to try to reignite the spark of revolution,” he said in an interview.
“The other is that Marx’s theory of class struggle had a very negative effect on China,” he said. “Sending the statue is symbolically returning defective goods.”
Much of the discussion in China is taking place in private, given the sensitivity of commenting publicly on a project overseen by the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Propaganda Department, but Zhihu.com, a question-and-answer service, provides glimpses of those views.
“The International will certainly succeed!” wrote a user identified as Wang Dongyang, referring to the Communist International, founded in 1919 to advance world communism.
“Am I the only one who thinks this looks like Mao in ‘Chairman Mao Goes to Anyuan?’” another netizen asked, referring to a famous propaganda painting from the Cultural Revolution.
“At midnight on day two a South China Sword team [a special forces unit of the People’s Liberation Army] will leap out of the statue,” a person with the handle Ning Andong wrote, comparing it to a Trojan horse.
“What China means is: We’re sending it back to you. We don’t believe in it,” user Wu Jia said.
To Chang Ping (長平), a Chinese journalist who has lived in exile in Germany since 2011, the Marx statue represents a challenge most Germans fail to understand.
“This is not just a question of commemorating a historical figure. It’s also a question of how to deal with the Chinese government’s ambition to shine on the world stage,” Chang said by e-mail.
“I think that I can see better than ordinary Germans the hideous grin behind the statue that is to be erected in Trier, and the threat it represents to the civilized political cultures of the world,” he said.
Trier Mayor Wolfram Leibe finds such concerns overblown.
“It was a gesture of friendship and has nothing to do with ideology,” Leibe said last month in a telephone interview shortly after returning from China, where he met with Wu.
“Maybe a certain naivete is not always bad if it prevents over interpretation, so you don’t always dissect things in detail and suspect everything,” he said.
Wu declined three requests for an interview, saying that the statue was a state affair and that he did not want to interrupt his creative flow.
Well-known in China for his monuments to historical and cultural figures, as well as his flowing mane of hair and cravats, Wu, 55, is the director of the National Museum of China and holds a seat in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
He has produced other sculptures of Marx, notably one that shows him with his collaborator Friedrich Engels, at the CCP’s Central Compilation and Translation Bureau in Beijing.
In 2011, an enormous statue of Confucius he created briefly stood near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, before being removed under circumstances that have never been fully explained.
He is also known internationally, having won the 2003 Pangolin Prize of the Royal British Society of Sculptors, sculpted a bust of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and presented a sculpture to the International Olympic Committee.
Wu’s grandiose vision for the statue in Trier overturned a more approachable concept proposed by residents who wanted Marx depicted as a child, seated on a bench in a small square, where people could sit beside him.
“Mr Wu came to Trier and said: ‘This square is too small and cramped. Karl Marx was a great man and we can’t put him in a small square,’” Leibe said.
To Geremie Barme, a founder of the Wairarapa Academy for New Sinology in New Zealand, the sculpture is an expression of party power.
“The Germans’ suggestion was for an early, humane, humanist Marx, a source for change in China — not the heroic, sclerotic, formalized Marx used for party purposes that Wu offered,” Barme said by telephone.
China’s message is: “Since we’re the only one that’s been successful and adapted Marxism to state leadership, we’ll tell you what it’s about,” he said.
Hospitals are overwhelmed, ventilators are difficult to find and there is no longer enough space at the main cemetery for COVID-19 victims in Mauritius. Barely three weeks before it fully opens its doors to international travelers at the start of the peak tourist season, the island nation is struggling with an alarming explosion in COVID-19 infections and deaths. In just two months, cases have jumped more than fivefold to more than 12,600 as of Friday, by far the largest increase across Africa during this period, data compiled by Agence France-Presse showed. Since the pandemic started, Mauritius has recorded 1,005 cases of COVID-19 per
Taliban fighters have taken over the glitzy Kabul mansion of one of their fiercest enemies — former Afghan vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum, a warlord and now fugitive. In the hands of rank-and-file Taliban fighters, the opulent villa has given the austere Islamists a peek into the lives of Afghanistan’s former rulers, and they say the luxury is the proceeds of years of endemic corruption. Along an endless corridor with a thick apple-green carpet, a young fighter sleeps slumped on a sofa, his Kalashnikov rifle resting against him, as exotic fish glide above him in one of seven giant tanks. The fighter is
FREE-FOR-ALL CONTEST: Taro Kono’s popular support means that he ‘probably has the edge, but if he has a lead, it’s a very vulnerable one,’ an Asia expert said The campaign to become Japan’s next prime minister began yesterday, with four candidates vying for leadership of the ruling party in an unusually close race. In televised speeches, the candidates set out their priorities, from boosting Japan’s digital prowess to addressing the falling birthrate. Among them are two women hoping to lead a nation that has never had a female prime minister, although both are considered long shots. The race follows Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s shock announcement that he would not run for head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Whoever the party picks in a Sept. 29 vote is to contest
PLANNING TO REOPEN: Amid 1,607 new COVID-19 cases, the country is making a shift away from lockdowns, acknowledging that outbreaks will happen Australia reported 1,607 new coronavirus cases yesterday as states and territories gradually shift from trying to eliminate outbreaks to living with the virus. Victoria, home to about a quarter of Australia’s 25 million people, recorded 507 cases as Premier Daniel Andrews said a weeks-long lockdown will end once 70 percent of those 16 and older are fully vaccinated, whether or not there are new cases. Andrews said the state might reach that vaccination threshold around Oct. 26. About 43 percent of Victorians have been fully vaccinated, 46 percent nationwide. “We will do so cautiously, but make no mistake, we are opening this place