News: Chinese Tourists Arrested in Germany after Making Hitler Salutes in Front of Reichstag

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Photo Credit: Bloomberg

Breaking News from Haaretz: “German police on Saturday arrested two Chinese tourists for making illegal “Heil Hitler” salutes in front of the historic Reichstag building that houses the German parliament.” Read more.

There are times when I am truly ashamed of the ignorance of some of my own people. They idealize and even idolize everything that has ever happened in Europe/Germany. Don’t they have any ideas of the sordidness embedded in history and culture of this continent/country? Here they are obsequiously emulating whatever the West did and do. Yes, I agree these people deserve punishments and further education.

Feel free to read my 2015 tour into Berlin’s past: “Berlin, a City That Looks Back at the Past to Reinvent Itself in the Present”

News: Some More Thoughts on the “Save a Dog, Eat a Chinese” T-Shirt

 

 

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Picture Credit: Heute Österreich

First a big “WOW” to the Austrian lawyer Georg Zanger, who has filed a lawsuit against the Spreadshirt company on account for the “Save a dog, eat a Chinese” T-shirt. VIENNA.AT – Vienna Online published this news on 23 March 2017. He is of Jewish descent and not a Chinese, but is willing to fight for what he thinks is correct. I wish to be like him to fight for what I think is correct, with the benefits of other peoples and not just my own in mind.

So many people know how to speak out their own perspectives in a constructive way. I should also learn to voice my own opinions in a way that improves mutual understanding. Here are my further thoughts on this incident. First, I think the T-shirt “Save a dog, eat a Chinese,” from a Chinese perspective, is suggestive of a certain form of servitude. Accidentally bumped into this 7-minute long video, where a Chinese professor (王洪涌) from Central China Normal University explains the interesting historical evolution of the Chinese characters “犬” (big dog) and “狗” (small dog). As you may know, the shape of a Chinese character and its cognate forms often suggest the words’ meanings. As she explains, the cognate forms of the characters “犬” and “狗” are related to hunting activities (e.g., 突,伏,etc.), and it can be deduced that dogs were primarily conceived as humans’ helpers to hunt other animals. There is no discussion of dog meat as a Chinese cuisine, but she does highlight how the Chinese proverbs reflect the Chinese attitudes towards dogs. On the one hand, the Chinese proverb 犬有湿草之恩, which is baed on a legend where a loyal dog saved its master from the burning fire, praises the dog’s ability to repay human kindness. On the other hand, a dog’s submission to its master can also symbolize an extreme form of servitude. So the Chinese, to my knowledge, will never dare to compare a human being to a dog unless they want to highlight a person’s despicable subjection to another person (e.g., 狗奴才,狗腿子,猪狗不如,etc.). In this light, I can understand why the Chinese (including I) are especially offended by the comparison between a dog and a human being. Such a suggestion of servitude coming from the non-Chinese with a history of imperialism can cause the Chinese deep suspicions and misunderstandings.

 

Second, the T-shirt “Save a dog, eat a Chinese commits the fault of over-generalizations and can be slanderous. The T-shirt’s statement seems to be based on a false premise that every single Chinese must have eaten a dog. The research of Frederick J. Simoons’ monograph “Food in China: A Cultural and Historical Inquiry” shows that “many ethnic groups in China rejected dog flesh…as food, some of them, such as Moslems, because they consider dogs unclean; some, such as Buddhists, because they viewed the dog as a friend and protector of the family and opposed killing dogs and eating them; and some, non-Han minorities, because they considered dogs to be their relatives. In Kwantung, the Yao, like other Yao groups in South China and Vietnam (the Man), believe they are descended from a dog ancestor and reject dogs as food for that reason, though dogs may be sacrificed and eaten by priests and the afflicted in efforts at curing illness…Among the Chinese, there has been a decline in the acceptability of dog flesh since ancient times, especially in North China” (p. 310). The book goes on to state that “in North China dog flesh is eaten as food only among the poorest sorts of people, and in South China only in certain regions” (p. 310). The article in Huffington Post suggests that “nearly 70 percent [of the people in China] have never eaten dog meat.” Moreover, it is slanderous, if not blasphemous, to accuse the Chinese Buddhists/Moslems and many other Chinese vegetarians of dog-eating.

Third, the T-shirt “Save a dog, eat a Chinese” is discriminatory in nature and is thus guilty of inciting racial hatred. According to Simoons’ monograph again, dog-eating has persisted in certain places in Europe and other parts of the world. Early in the twentieth century, “J.S. Thomson…wrote of dog eating in Germany, where, he said, roughly 8000 dogs were ‘slaughtered for food purposes’ in the previous year [1908], 1400 of them in the cities of Kassel (Cassel) and Chemnitz. Schwabe…also writes of dog eating in parts of modern Europe, and not merely in times of famine. He provides details of how the Swiss prepare ‘Dried Dog Meat,’ and presents a defense of dog eating in nutritional and other terms” (p. 309). Wikipedia contains further information about dog eating in all parts of the world. Yet the T-shirt company/designer has singled out the Chinese as the only national/ethnic group practising dog-eating. The public display of such a T-shirt on the website encourages the dissemination of national/racial/ethnic stereotypes, which can unjustly render the Chinese living in Europe the target of school, university, and workplace ridicules and bullying. The mockery can in turn escalate into more social problems in Europe. In my encounters with some non-Chinese, I have been asked the same question “Do you eat dogs” several times. My experience shows how deeply entrenched the stereotypes are. The problem is I have never eaten dog meat. And I have seldom bumped into the Asians who eat the dog meat. In fact, I have only learned about dog meat through the Western reports. I don’t deny that their reports can be true, and some do perhaps eat dog meat in certain regions. But does this jsutify the stereotypical image of ALL Chinese as dog-eaters?

Lastly, you may want to say this is all a joke/a sarcasm. Why can’t the Europeans have some fun? I can say very clearly that I have zero tolerance of people having fun (not even a little bit) on hurting human dignity, especially when it is related to my family and friends. I bet the Hutus had a lot of fun calling the Tutsis “cockcroaches” during the genocide in Rwanda (a former German and Belgian colony). I am biased. I do not endorse the abuse of animals, but honestly I am not a vegetarian. I do not assign the same value to both human life and animal life. I think the German constitution is also biased when its first article gives such a prominent place to human dignity. The first article states:

(1) Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar. Sie zu achten und zu schützen ist Verpflichtung aller staatlichen Gewalt. (Human dignity is inviolable. To respect and protect it is an obligation of every state power.)

(2) “Das Deutsche Volk bekennt sich darum zu unverletzlichen und unveräußerlichen Menschenrechten als Grundlage jeder menschlichen Gemeinschaft, des Friedens und der Gerechtigkeit in der Welt. (The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the foundation of every human community, of peace and justice in the world.)

I like the fact that it not only stipulates that every state power should give proper dignity to human beings, but it also suggests that the German people should take their own initiatives to respect and protect human rights. I have grave doubts that the T-shirt “Save a dog, eat a Chinese” advertised and sold by the Spreadshirt company based in Germany coheres with the emphasis on human dignity enshrined in the German constitution. But maybe we are living in an ever-changing world, where cannibalism can indeed overcome humanism one day. In that case, I can do nothing but see the T-shirts hanged all around the world to proclaim our transition into another epoch of barbarism.

P/S: I really don’t want to get into such an elaborate argument against the stupid T-shirt, if I haven’t felt that this incident is a tip of the iceberg of the ongoing racial tensions in Europe. I want to share my opinions honestly with you because I believe continuous communication can help alleviate more and more misunderstandings/racial profilings. You have perhaps read my embittered encounters with some of the Europeans/Americans in Göttingen. History can repeat itself in such a short time, can’t it? Barbaric stereotypical remarks can also come out of the mouths of the so-called “social-elites.” On 26 October 2016, Günther Oettinger, a European commissioner from Germany, for whatever conflict of interests in his mind, gave a public speech in Hamburg and described all the Chinese people as “Schlitzohren und Schlitzaugen” (sly-dogs and slit-eyes). Part of Oettinger’s speech is available on Youtube (attached below). For the Spiegel‘s report of this incident, please click here. After several days of pressure from his opponents, Oettinger did apologize for his offensive remarks. His supporters said that “his remarks merely reflected the colourful language typical of his home state.” See the Welt‘s report here. Does that mean that we should all be so engrossed in our own cultural quagmire that we should never jump out of it and critically reflect on it? In light of this, I especially admire people such as the German publisher Sebastian Marquadt who could stand out of his own cultural comfort zone and expose Oettinger’s racial slurs on Youtube. There is always a mixture of good and bad eggs in one country, right? 😉

 

 

News: Spreadshirt’s Controversial “Save a Dog, Eat a Chinese” T-Shirts

A couple of days ago, I saw this Huffington Post’s article shared by a FB friend. It offers an illuminating critique of Spreadshirts, “a German (Leipzig-based) online retail company,” which (has) advertised T-shirts with these offensive sentences: “Save a dog, eat a Chinese,” “Save a whale, eat a Japanese,” “Save a shark, eat a Chinese,” etc.

Yesterday I saw this news on a Chinese website. Due to the passionate protests of some Chinese, Spreadshirt’s branch offices in Australia, Canada, and the US have taken the T-shirts off their retail websites. However, other European (German, French, British, etc.) branch offices continue selling these T-shirts online.

This morning I was browsing the German website of Spreadshirts and have found this intriguing phenomenon. I just find it so interesting that I will post some of my observations here. Feel free to say what you think of them. When I typed the word “German” in the website’s search engine, out of the website came these T-shirts with the following words: “Proud to be German,” “Support our troops,” “Don’t play games with us, we are the German Army,” etc. There are also a lot of pictures of the German Shepherds. Luckily nothing too offensive came out when I typed “Africa,” “Britain,” or other Middle Eastern country names in the search box.

 

Below were some interesting pictures on the German website for the search word “America.” An hour or so later I could no longer find these T-shirts on the German website, and I can only guess that this European company is quite afraid to offend the US consumers by badly representing them? But, you can still find these T-shirts on the Spreadshirt website if you switch your selected region to United States. The designers of these T-shirts are registered in the US. If these US designers/customers love to express their points of view about their own country in this simplistically brutal manner (that does not explain a lot to me), it is none of my business and I can only respect (but not agree with) their chosen ways of expression.

 

I typed “Chinese,” then “Japanese,” and finally “Korean” in the search engine of the German website, and I found the following pictures. The designer who has made the T-shirts “Save a dog, eat a Chinese” and “Save a whale, eat a Japanese” is Quentin 1984 registered in Germany. Other T-shirts come from other European users. Now I have more questions than answers. 1. Hey Quentin 1984, I can understand that in the Western culture you regard dogs as your close friends, but do you really have to resort to CANNIBALISM to promote your dog-loving/whale-loving attitude? 2. Hey models, how could you put on these man-eating T-shirts with a smile on your faces? 3. Hey Spreadshirt company, what motivates you to accept and post these T-shirts online for sale? What sort of humanistic values are you trying to promote through your T-shirts in the European continent? Or do you only care about making money?

 

I am a Chinese, and I have never eaten a dog, shark, or whale. I have very seldom met other Chinese/Asian people who eat these animals. Even if some do eat these animals, I certainly don’t think of killing these people over this. Anyway, I think this Spreadshirt company has unjustly (or perhaps subconciously) helped to promote stereotypical images of other groups of fellow human beings that can lead to (un)intended harm to those fellow human beings. I am especially confused when I read the company’s statement of responsibility, claming that “there are natural limits to our freedom of expression. We do not print things that are bound to offend people, e.g. pornographic material and content designed to insult and discriminate against genders or religious and ethnic groups.” Thinking of my Chinese husband and friends living in Germany, I just hope that this company will practise what it has preached.

 

 

Speech: A Comparative Approach to My First Impressions of South Africa

Disclaimer: This drafted speech remains my personal opinion and does not represent the perspectives of NWU and its international office. Coloured sections and endnotes signify later additions, which serve to clarify and justify the original speech delivered on the International Welcome, Orientation and Multicultural Day (15.04.2016).

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Processed with MOLDIV

Photos courtesy of my dad

Hello, everyone. My name is Lydia Lee, a post-doctoral fellow in biblical studies at the North-West University since January 2016. A comparative approach is one of the methods I deploy in my research of the Bible. According to a biblical scholar, Brent Strawn, “comparative methodology sets at least two (sometimes more) subjects alongside each other so as to look at them together in order to … reveal aspects of the subjects that may not have been as readily seen if each was looked at in isolation” [1]. Today, I would like to use the comparative methodology, setting my overseas experiences alongside each other in order to illuminate my first impressions of South Africa in general, and Potchefstroom in particular.

Let us first compare my experiences at Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport. In 2012, I was given a chance to present a paper at the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) annual meeting in Chicago [2]. I was really excited about this opportunity. Yet, for reasons that have remained unbeknown to me until today, I was detained with other strangers at the Chicago airport border control upon my entry to the USA. Without any explanations or concrete evidence of guilt, the airport personnel treated me impudently. Having found out my Australian passport and intention of travelling, they released me on the same day of my entry [3]. Later I filed a formal complaint to the authority and received an apology [4]. I did enjoy the academic conference later on, and I appreciate what SBL has done in fostering biblical scholarship worldwide [5]. Still, I can never forget that inhumanity I experienced and witnessed at a place of a country that speaks so loudly about human rights and international justice. When I was coming to South Africa, I was extremely nervous that the aforementioned experience in the USA would be repeated. To my surprise, the border control at the O.R. Tambo International Airport let me pass through without any difficulties. I had two huge suitcases with me, each was 32 kg. I was struggling to get them onto the trolley. One airport personnel quickly came and helped me place the suitcases onto the trolley. Before I could even thank him properly, he turned and disappeared into the crowd. I was touched by this random act of kindness by a stranger.

Now, let us compare my initial encounters of the people at Georg-August-Universität Göttingen in Germany and the North-West University in South Africa. To be sure, I have respect for the present German government, which bravely embraces its horrendous past [6], which has been rational and compassionate in its handling of refugees [7], and which generously granted me a visa as well as a fellowship to study at one of its universities. However, a good government does not and cannot guarantee that every single individual living in the country shares the same set of values. Between 2010 and 2015, I stayed at the University of Göttingen. In one of the welcome gatherings in 2010, I met a PhD candidate from Eastern Europe. She approached me and asked for my name. Without even knowing my country of origin, she interrogated me contemptuously: “What do you think of China’s treatment of Tibet?” I thought: “Wow, this is indeed the ‘perfect’ ice-breaker for a Malaysian-born Chinese!” For your information, I had not been to China until after the defense of my doctoral dissertation in 2014 [8]. I had no idea with what expertise she and I could discuss and comment on the issue she raised [9]. Another time, at a dinner table, a German professor derogatorily referred to me as someone from the British colony. I am not sure, with Germany’s troubling history, what kind of moral high ground he can claim to look down on someone whose ancestors and family have stayed in countries colonized by the Brits [10]. Still another time, I bumped into another German professor in the corridor. He greeted me with a smug smile: “You don’t have to learn German, because it is too difficult for you to understand.” I thought: “Does not this highly educated person believe in the power of education for  personal developments? What makes him think that I should give up learning a new language from the very beginning of my study without even trying?” Surrounded by these puzzlements, I did not bother to inform him that I had just enrolled in a German language course at the university. Of course, I did not tell him that if there were ever a reason for me not learning German, it would not be the difficulty of the German language, but the cacophony produced by this language [11]. There were many more awkward moments during my stay in Germany and I did behave in a foolishly recalcitrant manner under those circumstances, but today our focus is on Potchefstroom and South Africa [12].

When I was coming to Potchefstroom, I thought that I would have to overcome the same kind of prejudice all over again. To my surprise, nobody I have encountered so far is too obsessed with my countries of origin. The people in Potchefstroom are warm and friendly enough to include me as part of their members. On my first day of arrival in South Africa, my supervisor, Prof. Herrie van Rooy, and his wife Jacoba drove two hours from Potchefstroom to Johannesburg just to pick me up at the airport. I stayed at their place for one night. The next morning, Prof. Herrie accompanied me to the International Office to sort out all the administrative matters. Jacoba made sure that I had everything I needed for my accommodation. Working at his own home, Prof. Herrie has generously let me occupy his office for my research. During the first month in Potchefstroom, I received multiple invitations to braais from my South African colleagues and friends. My friends at the Bult International Church and Bible Study Group always give me a warm hug and a big smile whenever we meet together. One evening, two of my friends were waiting outside of the theological faculty to pick me up so that we could all go home together. Our acting rector, Prof. Fika Janse van Renburg, was talking to two of his colleagues outside of the theological faculty. When he saw my friends, he just dropped his conversation with his colleagues and came to greet my friends. I arrived in time to witness this scene. You see, my friends and I are all international students. We are not high-ranking personnel but merely students. Prof. Fika did not even know us at that time, but he shocked us with his willingness to take the initiative to talk to us – some unknown strangers.

From my experience in South Africa, I realize that what makes a person great does not depend on the person’s country of origin. It does not depend on how high the person can reach or how much the person can earn. Rather, it depends on how low the person is willing to bend down or how much the person is willing to give and serve. I think the humaneness of a person is more important than all the material wealth in the world. I don’t want to over-generalize or over-emphasize my positive encounters in Potchefstroom. I understand that circumstances may vary depending on individuals. There may be other areas at the university and in the country awaiting further improvements. But, just from my perspective, what makes Potchefstroom in particular and South Africa in general so attractive is the friendliness and warmth of the people here. You have made such excellent first impressions on me, that I am willing to stand with you and face all the challenges ahead during my stay in Potchefstroom. I sincerely wish Potchefstroom all the best. God bless South Africa.

Endnotes:

[1] Brent A. Strawn, “Comparative Approaches: History, Theory, and the Image of God,” in Method Matters: Essays on the Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Honor of David L. Petersen (ed. Joel M. LeMon and Kent H. Richards; SBLRBS 56; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009), 117.

[2] See the advertisement of my presentation at the SBL annual conference in Chicago here.

[3] For a more detailed description of this traumatic event, see my Facebook post written in the morning after my release from detention (14.11.2012). Written in much haste and anger, the post is full of grammar mistakes. I sent a more polished complaint to the authority later on. This airport has remained the only one which treated me so rudely.

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[4] I still keep my email correspondences with the authority. Please feel free to email me at qtcoconut@hotmail.com, and I can forward them to you privately.

[5] For instance, I do appreciate the Society of Biblical Literature’s effort in providing free e-books to countries with substantially low GDP. For further information, see its International Cooperation Initiative (ICI) website.

[6] For a brief summary of the government’s solemn remembrance of Berlin’s history, see my previous blog articles entitled “Berlin: A City That Looks Back at the Past to Reinvent Itself in the Present.” and “Die großartige Antwort von Angela Merkel auf die Islam-Angst eines besorgten Bürgers.”

[7] For my encounters with and the other reports about the refugees in Germany, see the content and appendix in my previous blog article entitled “Refugees and I.”

[8] When I met the lady, I had no idea that one day I would be going to China for my engagement party 🙂

[9] Later I learned that the lady had stayed in Hong Kong for a while, without travelling to  mainland China.I seriously doubt if she has ever met a real person from Tibet. However, I can understand that we all like to be “Klugscheißer” (smart aleck) sometimes. For instance, we can write a very long critical article about another country, without really recognizing the names of the premier and president of that country.

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Source: Badische Zeitung (06.03.2015). Photo courtesy of 新欧洲战法

 

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Li Keqiang and 习近平 are two different people. Source: Badische Zeitung (06.03.2015). Photo Courtesy of 新欧洲战法

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To be fair, the newspaper was quick to correct the aforementioned mistake. Source: Badische Zeitung (07.03.2015).

[10] Criticisms about the countries I have lived in are acceptable to me as long as the remarks are at least built on good intentions and not personal insults. For my critical reflections on life in Malaysia, see my blog articles entitled Malaysia: A Multi-Ethnic Society, Malayisa: A Divided Society, Malaysia: A Meritocratic Society, and Malaysia: The Dislocation.

[11] Just to justify my first impression of the German language, please watch the following video:

[12] I do not want to demonize all the people in Germany. In fact, I have a really good German friend, who has always remembered my birthday ever since we knew each other. I do not set facebook birthday reminder, so it is very precious that this true friend outside of my family circle will punctually remind me that I am getting older each year. All said, I don’t hate all Germans/people living in Germany, but I do find South Africans much friendlier 😉