Professor Yu Zhang,
Mr Chen Ping,
Ladies and gentlemen,
What are we actually talking about when we discuss German-Chinese relations? What in particular do we focus on when we look at China? Admittedly, all too often the focus is on commerce and trade, products and investment. Doubtless rightly. After all, China is Germany’s most important economic partner in Asia, and Germany is China’s most important trading partner in Europe. Representatives of the political and business worlds have built up a dense network of contacts and encounters. There are more than 60 forums and dialogue formats between our Governments alone.
Happily, though, our bilateral relations long ago ceased to be the preserve merely of Ministers, MPs, entrepreneurs and business people. Rather, they are underpinned by a dense network of personal contacts and friendships between people in our two countries. School pupils, students, young academics and artists keep up this very valuable mutual exchange.
The young generation plays a particularly important role. That’s why we are doing a lot to bring young people from Germany and China together. As part of the “Schools: Partners for the Future” initiative launched by the Federal Foreign Office in 2008, more than 120 schools in China now offer German. And over 100 Chinese universities teach German studies. Some 30,000 Chinese students are currently studying at universities in Germany, and last year there were 8200 Germans at universities in China, with the number set to rise.
This year, together with our Chinese partners, we launched the “German-Chinese Year of School and Youth Exchange”. This initiative is fittingly entitled “Exchange, Friendship, Future”. The aim, not only in this one year, is to give school pupils, students, young academics and artists from China and Germany the chance to get to know each other better and to learn even more about the partner country.
For we all know that early exposure to other cultures and languages has a lifelong impact. These encounters between the young people evolve into close relationships and friendships based on mutual understanding and respect. And that gives me hope for the future. After all, these young people we are bringing together now are the ones who will shape relations between our two countries in the coming years and decades.
The projects show a high degree of diversity. As well as tried-and-tested formats such as school exchange programmes, stays with host families or the volunteer service, for instance, they also include a bilingual online magazine, documentary film projects in mixed German-Chinese teams and the music competition “Jugend musiziert”.
During the Year of School and Youth Exchange, however, we also intend to support new projects and initiatives. And if one of these is such a wonderful beacon project as the German-Chinese exchange project “Shaping art together”, then I am doubly happy.
I would like to thank the two initiators of the project, Professor Zhang and Dagmar Schmidt, who, with the help of many other partners, including the Federal Foreign Office, have made this fantastic project possible.
To my mind, the remarkable thing about this project is that it goes a good way beyond just enabling an initial encounter. Because if 16 young artists from Germany and China live together for a lengthy period, first in Berlin and later in Peking, inspiring each other and working together to create something, this cannot be without an impact.
It will leave an echo which will ring long after the project has officially ended, both among the public, but especially also in the consciousness and actions of you, the artists. And perhaps even – hopefully – in your art.
For what is special about art is, to quote Schiller, that it is a daughter of freedom and knows no bounds. On the contrary. Art speaks a universal language which everyone understands and which builds bridges.
In this German-Chinese exchange project, art becomes an instrument for dialogue which can lead to better comprehension and to understanding between our two societies and cultures. A stranger’s view gives us a new perspective on our own country, on people’s fears, hopes and dreams.
We need this sensitivity to and curiosity about art, particularly in these difficult times. After all, it is a matter of heightening our own perception, of understanding another’s perspective and then of arriving at a common view, so as to be able to constructively solve the problems of the 21st century.
Of course, art cannot resolve acute conflicts. But what it can do is to forge positions, alter perspectives, voice criticism and ask questions. And that is exactly what is needed, particularly at this time of global crises, not least because our countries still have very different views on many issues: understanding each other, not judging; enlightening each other, not blinding; building confidence and dismantling scepticism – that’s what I’m concerned with!
So I ask you, ladies and gentlemen, to use your time here in Berlin to talk to each other and to the people of the city. Be open, curious and courageous. Or, in the words of Confucius: “Whatever you do, do with all your heart.” Enjoy new experiences and make friendships. Not only you yourselves will benefit, but also German-Chinese relations as a whole.
On behalf of the Federal Foreign Office, I wish you drive in your work, pleasure in learning and enthusiasm for a super time here in Berlin and later in Peking!