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Merkel the German “Empress Dowager”? Reactions to the Syrian Refugee Crisis in China and other East Asian Countries

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license
Abstract

Taking a cue from a painting by Jiny Lan, a Chinese artist living in Germany, which captures Merkel’s refugee policy in 2015, the article examines both official and popular responses to the recent Syrian refugee crisis in China and other East Asian countries. In the painting, Merkel wears a Manchu-style headdress typical of women at the Qing court. Lan’s portrait of the German Chancellor resembles the Empress Dowager Cixi—one of the most powerful women in Chinese history, and a ruler with a contentious legacy. The article distills some of the major reasons for a positive or negative attitude toward accepting refugees among Chinese living in both China and Germany. In the coda, it briefly touches on reactions in Japan and South Korea to provide context and contrast.

Although popular opinion in China and within Germany’s Chinese communities is divided on the refugee question, there is little interest among Chinese in either country in building a Willkommenskultur. The massive influx of new immigrant groups led Chinese expatriates in Germany such as Jiny Lan to distance themselves from Merkel’s impactful refugee policy. Their political views tended to converge with those of Merkel’s critics both in the government and among the right-leaning populace. The apocalyptic equation of Merkel and the Empress Dowager Cixi taps into the fear that the end of Germany is near, evident in neologisms such as “Europastan,” “Deutschstan,” and “Francistan.” The refugee issue is an ongoing one. Merkel has by now modified her position, but the effects of her refugee policy in 2015 still remain to be seen.

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