On July 29, the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) published a full-page advertisement celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The FAZ is an influential liberal-conservative newspaper of record, founded in West Germany in 1949.
The ad begins with a reference to Hans Müller, a German-born physician who travelled to China in 1939 and visited Yan’an, then-capital of the Communist-occupied areas. Müller met with Mao Zedong and became a fervent supporter of the CCP.
Müller “devoted himself to the task of building socialism in China,” the article states. In the 1950s he became a citizen of the newly-founded People’s Republic of China (PRC). He married a Japanese woman and had two children.
“Since its founding in 1921, the CCP has attracted many foreign friends like Müller during the various periods of revolution, construction and reform,” the piece reads. “Their encounters with Chinese Communists in the last century have opened a window through which the world can better understand the CCP.”
“Today the CCP is the largest political party in the world with more than 90 million members,” the ad continues. “Over the past century the CCP has led the Chinese people to national independence and transformed China from a poor country into the world’s second-largest economy.”
The article mentions one of the most famous “foreign friend” of the CCP, namely US journalist Edgar Snow, who in 1936 travelled to the CCP-occupied areas in Shaanxi and interviewed Mao Zedong as well as other Communist leaders. He was the first reporter to provide an eyewitness account of China’s Communists. His book Red Star Over China became an international bestseller and shaped Western views on Mao and the CCP for years to come.
The authors of the ad interviewed several foreign supporters of the CCP from different countries. One of them was British author Martin Jacques, who wrote the bestselling book When China Rules the World. He is quoted in the piece as saying that the CCP is “the world’s most successful party.”Jacques, who in the 1980s was the editor of the Communist magazine Marxism Today, has become a prominent apologist for the CCP in the West.
Among the people interviewed in the ad are foreigners who live in China for work or study. Corentin Delcroix, a French cook and enterpreneur who has lived in China for 15 years, said that the “Western stereotype of Communism has not developed since the Cold War.”
“Many people find Communism as such simply frightening, without understanding it,” he said. He argued that a political party must be judged from the results it delivers, and that under the CCP the standard of living of the Chinese people has improved.
Another foreigner, David Osborn, an Australian expert in sheep farming, stated: “The idea that the CCP has freed hundreds of millions of people from poverty is just extraordinary. It’s one of the greatest achievements in the world.”
Dehua Müller, the son of Hans Müller’s, claimed that the “Chinese Communist Party leads the people, and its members stand at the forefront.”
The CCP ad reflect Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s emphasis on propaganda and ideological work. Since taking power in 2013, Xi has tightened the regime’s grip on the media, silenced critics, and shut down avenues for dissent. He has stressed the importance of party leadership, of the united front and of improving the image of the party abroad. Recently, Chinese state media have opened an “Edgar Snow Newsroom” to recruit pro-CCP foreigners and give them a platform.
Thorsten Benner, co-founder and director of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, called the FAZ ad “shameful”.
“How desperate [and] unprincipled do you have to be to run a birthday ad for one of modern history’s greatest enemies of press freedom?”, he wrote.
China has been Germany’s largest trading partner for several years. In 2020 bilateral trade between the two countries totalled 212 billion euros, according to German government figures. Germany has a trade deficit with China. German exports were 95.9 billion, while imports were 116.3 billion.
“China benefits from the open markets of the EU and Germany,” wrote on its website Germany’s Ministry of Economy and Energy. “At the same time German companies are still subject to numerous restrictions and discrimination when compared with Chinese companies (joint venture requirements in individual business fields, no access to certain economic sectors, in areas such as the financial sector they can only hold minority stakes, etc.).”
Nevertheless, trade with China has redefined Germany’s political and economic landscape.
Andreas Fulda, senior fellow at the University of Nottingham Asia Research Institute and author of The Struggle for Democracy in Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, argued that successive German governments have prioritized trade over human rights.
In 1995 Chancellor Helmut Kohl visited the People’s Liberation Army 196 Infantry Division outside Tianjin, a signal to the CCP that the “atrocities of 1989 were no longer an obstacle to western business engagement with China.” Kohl helped to convince a generation of politicians and entrepreneurs that China held the keys to Germany’s long-term prosperity.
“Kohl’s successor Chancellor Gerhard Schröder went further,” Fulda wrote. “In 2005 he lobbied to lift the European arms embargo, which he saw as an obstacle to deepening Germany’s commercial ties with China.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel was initially critical of the Chinese government and even met the Dalai Lama in 2007. But she increasingly “prioritised the bottom line of German conglomerates over any other concerns” and pushed for the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI). “Under Merkel German China policy was effectively outsourced to the private sector. This opened the flood gates to corporate propaganda. In their blind pursuit of short-term profits economic elites distorted the German public discourse about China,” Fulda stated.
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