Book review: Heinz-Uwe Haus on Culture and Politics

In this book, Heinz-Uwe Haus charts the development of the unification and democratization processes, providing a unique narrative of the context before German unification, unification itself, and the aftermath of unification across the decades since. Furthermore, he widens the context from post-unification Germany to encompass issues of broader current relevance, such as Europe, America and Islam.  Theater provides the conceptual framework for this wide-ranging debate, and the selected texts document the interference of a theater maker with questions of politics and society.  In selecting the texts, he recalls how shortly before the decisive events of the peaceful revolution in autumn 1989, intellectual impulses from the West enriched the discussions and visions. Actually, Haus, as director, was professionally in the advantageous position of having to address the most conflicting opinions and interests of the spectators of a production.  This demands reflection in order to find the use value of representation for here and today. Haus’ wise and keen observation of the political scenarios and cultural development in recent decades would arouse great passion and the interests of a global readership.

All educated persons have gone through a process of education which has included a certain amount of historical thinking. But this does not qualify them to give an opinion about the nature, object, method, and value of historical thinking. So, we need a wise gray-haired thinker to guide the readers to grasp a better understanding of the historical thinking. In fact, German unification is also the basis of the peculiar importance of history. Whether something is successful or not not only determines the significance of a single event and is responsible for its producing a lasting effect or passing unnoticed, but success or failure causes a whole series of actions and events to be meaningful or meaningless.  The ontological structure of history itself, then, is teleological, although without a telos.  The concept of the event that is truly part of world history is defined by this. It is such if it ‘makes history,’ i.e. if it has an effect that lends it a continuing historical importance. German unification, for all thinkers, is a history making as well as a milestone in world history for generations to come.

Actually, if the thinkers engage in a temporal reflection of German unification, they can figure out “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens: …A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;…A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 ) The German unification will certainly make an everlasting and substantial contribution to world history, which has been predestined and arranged under the Absolute Supreme Spirit, Who controls the world situation. The rise and fall of a nation, in a teleological perspective, used to be vanity, though. Vanity of life is also a cyclical repetition.  Instead of being meaningful and progressive, the repetitious movement of human beings and phenomena across the face of the world is entirely without purpose—an endless striving without any goal.  As the order of things is always the same, neither humanity’s nor nature’s efforts accomplish anything. Without agape (divine brotherly love), the rise and fall of a nation means nothing.

Furthermore, the complete surrender to the contemplation of things, the epic attitude of a man who is seeking to tell ‘the tale of world history’ may in fact be called poetic, in that for the historian God is present in all things, not as a concept but as an ‘outward objectification.’ As W.B. Yeats said in “The Coming of Wisdom with Time” “Though leaves are many, the root is one;/Through all the lying days of my youth/I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun;/Now I may wither into the truth.” Time may wither into the truth, and compassion and love is actually the truth, for love is everlasting and love conquers all.  And love heals the historical wounds. Also, as Du Fu (杜甫), a well-known poet in the Tang dynasty in China said in “A Spring View,” (春望) “As ever are hills and rills while my country crumbles;/When springtime comes over the Capital the grass scrambles./Blossoms invite my tears as in wild times they bloom;/the flitting birds stir my heart as I’m parted from home.”  (國破山河在/城春草木深/感時花濺淚/恨別鳥驚心)

From the standpoint of a Taiwanese professor, I would like to share the story of this area. A win by Taiwan’s pro-independence DPP will alter China relationship. After the 2016 presidential election, the China-friendly Kuomintang party lost power to the pro-independence opposition amid concerns that the island’s economy is under threat from China and broad opposition to Beijing’s demands for political unification. And a win for the DPP will introduce new uncertainty in the complicated relationship between Taiwan and mainland China, which claims the island as its own territory and threatens to use force if it declares formal independence. Tsia Ing-wen, the new president, has pledged to maintain the status quo of de-facto independence for the island of 23 million, although she has refused to endorse the principle that Taiwan and China are parts of a single nation to be unified eventually. Beijing has made that its baseline for continuing negotiations that have produced a series of pacts on trade, transport and exchanges. Observers say China is likely to adopt a wait-and-see approach to Tsai’s presidency, but might use diplomatic and economy pressure if she is seen as straying too far from its unification agenda.

In addition, in observing Taiwan’s political situation, February 28 Massacre, also known as 228 Incident should be understood. It was an anti-government uprising in Taiwan. Taking its name from the date of the incident, it began on February 27, 1947, and was violently suppressed by the Kumintang-led Republic of China government, which killed thousands of civilians beginning on February 28. Estimates of the number of deaths vary from 10,000 to 30,000 or more. The massacre marked the beginning of the Kuomintang’s White Terror period in Taiwan, in which thousands more inhabitants vanished, died, or were imprisoned. This incident is one of the most important events in Taiwan’s modern history, and is a critical impetus for the Taiwan independence movement. Like the changing situation of Germany, the struggle between China and Taiwan needs a spring, which is near when winter comes.

Actually, life is a walking shadow. It is full of sound and fury. However, the changing world situation deserves our prayers and understanding. Finally,  I am glad and honored to sincerely recommend this book to the whole globe, especially the Asian readers, who have been concerned about regional peace and the recent tension across the Taiwan Strait.

Reviewed by Paul Tseng, Adjunct Assistant Professor at Taipei University of Nursing and Healthy Sciences and Taipei University of Technology

Heinz-Uwe Haus on Culture and Politics can be purchased directly from Cambridge Scholars by clicking here.

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