-- Translation of advance text! --
Fellow Members of the German Bundestag,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I’m thrilled and delighted to be here today to launch with you the Year of Chinese Culture in Germany. The Chinese Year of the Dragon has just begun, so I’d like to offer you my heartfelt good wishes for an excellent New Year of the Dragon!
I speak, I think, for everyone in Germany interested in culture and the arts when I say that we’re very much looking forward to this Year and above all to the people – artists, dancers, poets, musicians and intellectuals – who over the months ahead will give us deeper insights into your extraordinarily diverse and fascinating country.
That President Hu Jintao and President Christan Wulff are joint patrons of this Year of Chinese Culture in Germany testifies to the importance both countries attach to this Year and, by the same token, to cultural exchange between us.
When Germany and China established diplomatic relations forty years ago, Walter Scheel, Germany’s foreign minister at the time, pointed out that “the establishment of diplomatic relations is for us no mere formality. We take this step also with the intention of working purposefully and patiently to make the most of the manifold opportunities for interaction and exchange between our two peoples. Through ongoing political dialogue, the strengthening of economic, scientific, technological and cultural ties as well as face-to-face contacts between Chinese and German citizens, we hope to foster enduring mutual understanding.”
Would Walter Scheel in 1972 ever have thought possible all that we’ve achieved since then – in the political, economic and cultural fields? Could he ever have imagined that in 2011 Germany and China would hold intergovernmental consultations? That in 2012 a Minister of State, once a citizen of the German Democratic Republic, would open a Year of Chinese Culture in a reunited Germany? Or that the Federal Chancellor almost routinely visits China every year – this week she’s there again – to set out in person German and European policies on a host of issues to our Chinese partners.
What Walter Scheel started with his Chinese opposite number Zhou Enlai in 1971 now enables some 23,000 Chinese students to study in Germany and allows half a million German tourists to travel to China each year. Maestro Long Yu, too, our conductor in the Konzerthaus this evening, studied at the Berlin University of the Arts. Could there be any better example of successful cultural exchange?
As far as cultural contacts are concerned, there have been many highlights in recent years. The festival “Germany and China – Moving Ahead Together” attracted 1.8 million visitors. China’s participation as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair has considerably boosted interest here in modern Chinese literature. At the end of March I myself will be travelling to Beijing to see the successful and much-discussed exhibition on “The Art of the Enlightenment” at the National Museum of China as it closes. The Year of Chinese Culture in Germany is yet another in this series of major events staged in cooperation with our partners abroad.
Such events give important and indispensable momentum, we believe, to cultural exchange. If cultural and artistic interaction is to have a long-term impact, however, it is essential to have people on the ground. So we greatly appreciate China’s long-term engagement in Germany, with eleven Confucius Institutes around the country plus a major cultural institute here in Berlin.
In 1988 Germany opened in Beijing its first and to date, alas, its only Goethe-Institut in China. We would therefore very much welcome the chance to open a second Goethe-Institut in Shanghai. Goethe-Instituts are the gateway to German culture for people around the world, and should be available to Chinese citizens in more than just one city.
I would be delighted if our Chinese friends would take note of our wishes in this regard.
Art and culture are not the right tools for conquering new markets or territories. They are not economic resources for which countries have to compete. Art and culture can entertain us, influence us and fascinate us. If we give culture professionals, artists and art enthusiasts from different countries the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas, our societies will be mutually enriched.
Making this possible and actively fostering such interaction is a core element of our cultural relations and education policy. Culture and cultural policy are not niche issues, but rather are indispensable to the development and cultivation of our understanding of one another.
The various lively discussions and debates held by Chinese and German artists and culture professionals on issues including controversial matters such as human rights are proof of the maturity and intensity of our cultural and intersocietal relations. Our friendship is strong enough to withstand these debates.
At the press conference to launch this Year of Chinese Culture, you, Mr Beck, as Superintendent of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, stressed how closely and well you had worked with the Chinese Ministry of Culture in selecting Chinese musicians for your festival.
Of course, balance and self-control are the key traits a state must exercise when promoting art and culture. If a state tries to steer culture in a direction of its own choosing, it rightly encounters resistance. As Friedrich Schiller once said, “Art is the daughter of freedom.” The freedom enjoyed by art and culture is always a measure of the degree of humanity reached by a society.
Wherever art and culture are found, be it in concert halls, in the public squares of Guangzhou or Leipzig, in the galleries in Beijing’s 798 art district or Berlin Mitte, they reflect the state of development of the society they are part of. They frequently even forge ahead and provide the stimulus for further development.
Art and culture are what convey the diversity of views in a society. This is true today for China as for almost no other country or society. Anyone who has the fortune to meet young filmmakers, writers, painters or net artists from your country soon realizes how fascinating, how diverse, how colourful and exciting the Chinese art scene is.
I am absolutely certain that the Year of Chinese Culture in Germany will broaden our horizons beyond the country’s magnificent cultural history, giving rise to a deeper understanding of and open-mindedness towards the China of today – a modern, often complex and always fascinating country. I am very much looking forward to the events of this Year and the insights they promise. Let me wish all those involved in organizing it every success. The signs are in our favour – the dragon, whose year we have just entered, is also a symbol for good luck.