Han Han, China's top blogger and a glamor-boy race car driver, failed to get his culture magazine past all the roadblocks
EYES INSIDE – CHINA
China's top blogger, Han Han, has pulled the plug on his brand new paper-based literary magazine, making the surprise announcement with his trademark cutting irony that has millions of Chinese and more than a few officials in Beijing tuning in closely. Han Han declared that the abrupt closure after the publication of just one issue was prompted by his desire not to waste paper or to "go against the call of the state to reduce energy consumption and pollution including that coming from the editorial team."
The magazine, which reveled in its Chinese name of "Party" or "Solo Band," didn't make it to its second issue. The staff have been sent home with full pay until June, and the operation is being closed down. Within hours, nearly half a million people logged in to read Han Han's explanation.
At 28 years old, Han Han, a highly successful novelist, winning rally car driver, and all-around glamour boy has a huge following for his acerbic blog posts where he wields his ironic wit against the incompetence and repeated failings of the Chinese state. He has so far been successful in walking the fine line between what is allowed and what would land him in court.
So how did he lose his balance on the latest venture? Well, officially, the magazine couldn't get its public registration, and printers tore up their contracts at the last minute, making various excuses for not going ahead. But was the real story that the Chinese government propaganda department had decided to take a hard line against the magazine? After all, as the Guardian reported, one Chinese newspaper estimated that the government had censored 70% of the content of the first issue. This came after officials delayed publication for over a year, finally permitting 128 pages of cutting-edge input from musicians, film makers and writers.
One and a half million Chinese bought the first issue. Because of registration difficulties, the first issue was officially a book and not a magazine. A Chinese media website, danwei.org, points out that in China written materials require seperate licences for publication, printing, and distribution, and that printed matter is far more tightly controlled than on-line material.
On his blog, Han Han was circumspect, warning his followers not to jump to hasty conclusions. "I don't know where I went wrong. I don't know who I've displeased. I'm standing in the light while you are in the dark. If we ever meet, I will not hold a grudge, but please could you tell me what happened?"
Han Han has not shied away from sensitive topics in the past. On the Shanghai Universal Exhibition he said "If I praise the Expo 2010 Shanghai, I'll have a bad conscience, and if I criticize it I'll have sleepless nights." He dared to offer an opinion of the conflict over the Senaku / Diaoyutai islands. But possibly he is being punished for writing in his blog of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiao Bo, by referring to him as " ", the three empty spaces being filled in by the imagination of his readers.
But Han Han seems to know that with more than 440 million hits on his site he can still speak out. Earlier this year he confided to The New York Times "The government wants China to become a great cultural nation, but our leaders are so uncultured. If things continue like this, China will only be known for tea and pandas."
It has to be said that one of the least endearing characteristics of modern China – that can't be pinned on government officials -- is the tendency to try to drag down anyone who manages to rise above their original station in life. This is particularly true in the world of art and literature. Han Han no doubt is a source of irritation to others who would gladly replace him: so the thesis that his only enemy is the government may be incomplete.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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