May 03, 2012|
Chinese premier Wen Jiabao has surprised commentators by visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp on his recent trip to Poland. It must have been some kind of calculated political digression. Chinese leaders, while visiting the west, are normally interested in car manufacturing plants or computer factories, where they are invited to test drive the latest Mercedes-Benz model before being lured into signing a billion-euro contract or amused with a remote-controlled robot offering Chinese tea whilst muttering “Hello” in Chinese. They will then visit overseas Chinese communities, presumably because they’ve grown tired of steaks and caviar at state banquets and would prefer a Chinese reunion at the embassy. This has remained a routine for more than thirty years.
Wen’s trip oddly took place at the same time as the defection of Chen Guangcheng, a blind dissident lawyer, to the US embassy in Beijing last week. It further coincided with the screening of the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” on CCTV, an Oscar-winning American film about two prisoners making their escape to freedom—perhaps a coded celebration of the news sensation. People may be wondering who is really in charge as the defection sparks a round of embarrassing questions including: “How on earth could a blind man achieve the mission impossible of making it to the land of freedom from a remote dark village in Shandong?” “Why was there not a troop of police cars surrounding the US embassy like in Chongqing last time?” “Would you recommend an expansion of US consulates and embassies in China to add a few dozen guest-rooms to accommodate uninvited Chinese guests, including heads of police, blind dissidents and children of corrupt officials?” If the Chinese premier’s trip turns out to be a loss-of-face flop show, his rivals at home, now embroiled in a new round of power struggles, will benefit. This may help to explain why, while any traffic route in China carries a high risk of fatality—ask the first 24 drivers of Porsches and Ferraris from Hong Kong who made their first expeditions across the border with a ceremony as spectacular as the Japanese Kamikaze aviators bidding farewell—Chen’s path to the US embassy was miraculously safe and smooth.
Since Wen is reputed to be the only closeted humanitarian in the Chinese top leadership, his speech in Auschwitz won some applause as he mentioned the importance of “remembering history,” a coded reminder not forget the lessons of the Cultural Revolution. But the Poland tourism board might have reason to worry as the Premier predicted that “I hope more Chinese tourists will come here.” I am not sure the souls of those who died there would like more Chanel and LV shops and noisy fish ball stalls to be opened outside the “Arbeit macht frei” gate. As far as Chinese visiting Auschwitz, please, for the sake of civilization, Wen is enough—no big crowds.
Chip Tsao is a best-selling author, columnist and a former producer for the BBC. His columns have also appeared in Apple Daily, Next Magazine and CUP Magazine, among others.