The Nuremberg State Theater is currently performing Richard Wagner's "Ring des Nibelungen" in Beijing. The cultural event also has a business angle, as Nuremberg companies are shouldering half the costs.
Guarding German culture in China
Bringing the "Ring" to a Chinese stage for the first time ever, 240 artists and stage workers made the trip. Premiering with "Rheingold" on Oct. 23, the Bavarian guests "set off an earthquake in viewers' hearts," according the Beiji n g Times newspaper. "Siegfried" followed on Oct. 26. "Die Walküre" is scheduled for Saturday and "Götterdämmerung" will conclude the circle on Tuesday.
Staging the operas cost about one million euros ($1.2 million), but the Chinese only had to pay for half. Companies operating in the Nuremberg region agreed to take care of the rest -- clearly not without resulting economic benefits in mind.
The guest performance opens an economic door to China for us," said Hans-Peter Schmidt, who heads the supervisory board of Nürnberger insurance group and organized the search for sponsors. He added that Nuremberg's future depends on business ties with Asia -- ties that sponsors will be able to strengthen when talking to guests in the entry hall of Beijing's Poly Theater.
Admiri n g all thi n gs Germa n ic
German culture has long proven to be an excellent way to polish the country's already positive image in China.
No longer just interested in German cars
"The Chinese no longer just know German cars, soccer and punctuality," said Jari Grosse-Ruyken, who heads the Society for Chinese Studies in Bonn. "It's always also been recognized as a country of philosophers, thinkers and musicians."
Members of China's growing middle class are familiar with names such as Goethe, Schiller and Wagner, Grosse-Ruyken said, adding that it doesn't surprise him that tickets for the performances have long been sold out since many Chinese people have an uncritical admiration for all things "Germanic."
Wagner's hero epos "falls on fertile ground in China," he said.
Cultural gifts from Germa n y
But even those who haven't heard of Siegfried, Freia and Wotan before have been drawn to the German guest performance, which has gotten a lot of attention from the Chinese media.
Nuremberg's Rhinegold production in Beijing
"Chinese audiences are open to new things," said Ulrich Novak, director of the Goethe Institute in Beijing. "But they love major highlights and smaller events sometimes suffer because of this."
While calling the Ring performances a "courageous and interesting" project, Novak said that his institute preferred to develop events in cooperation with Chinese partners rather than "presenting gifts."
But he also said that an interest in culture from the business sector was a good thing in principle.
Bridges for busi n ess
Grosse-Ruyken went a step further, calling the marriage of business and culture a "future-oriented" strategy in China. He said that German companies had so far mainly focussed on economic exchanges while Chinese people were more and more interested in cultural ones.
The importance of cultural exchanges for economic cooperation can hardly be exaggerated, said Katja Hellkötter, who worked in the German industry's bureau in Shanghai for seven years before moving to Munich to work on Sino-German cultural cooperation.
Interest in German culture is growing among Chinese
"Culture and business cannot be separated," she said, adding that increasing the visibility of German culture in China also increased the attractiveness of Germany as a business location for Chinese companies.
"Cultural factors and an appreciation of a foreign culture play a role in deciding about investments," she said. As a result, Schiller, Goethe and Wagner can serve as "bridges for Sino-German relations."
Nuremberg's cultural sponsors seem to think the same: They're going to co-finance the state theater's performance of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" in Hong Kong next year.