The Dietfurt Chinese Festival: Appreciation or Appropriation?
Updated: Feb 19
Dear Asian Youth,
Appreciation versus appropriation.
It almost seems comedic how similar these words are and yet, how different their definitions are. Perhaps this is a reason why so many people get them mixed up, a particularly interesting example being the residents of Dietfurt, a town located in Bavaria alongside the Altmühl river in Germany.
Tourists flock in from China and around the globe to witness this town's unique and absurd festival which they prefer to call ‘Bavarian China’. The town is decorated with red lanterns, Japanese red sun bunting (yes, you read that right), and crowded with people who paint their faces yellow whilst shouting “ni hao” at each other (although nothing more is said due to their lack of Chinese linguistic skills). Many Chinese people who visit leave with mixed feelings towards the festival, although the people of Dietfurt have good intentions, the way they express these intentions is offensive and problematic because it seems to mock Chinese culture. The town's ‘Emperor Fu Gao Di’ of the yearly festival, Manfred Koller, claims that the carnival began when the Bishop sent his Treasurer to collect tax from the town of Eichstätt and was shut out by the gates. He then returned and claimed that “the Dietfurters hide behind their walls like the Chinese!”, making a reference towards the Great Wall of China. Although the town’s intentions are pure in appreciation, it seems that the lack of regard for the criticisms of their appropriation and mocking of the Chinese culture are improved upon due to their insistence that it is harmless.
According to Marvin Xin Ku from Vice, Manfred Koller also claims that the people of Dietfurt “think Chinese culture is very interesting,” and that there has “never been a real Chinese person who had a problem with it”. This statement from Koller begs the question of what constitutes a “real” Chinese person? Is it their nationality? Ethnicity? Personality? If his version of a true Chinese person is one from the country of China itself, then he is disregarding the millions of people such as myself who were not born in China. It seems that the true message of appreciating Chinese culture has quickly become a contest of mockery between the people of Dietfurt, as various videos give me the impression that the festival is an excuse to get drunk and be overtly racist.
There is some evidence though that this festival may be accepted by the people of China, or at least the people of Nanjing. The town of Dietfurt allegedly has a partnership with the Chinese city (although this hasn’t been verified or confirmed) due to the population differences being staggering. Since Nanjing has a population of 9 million, it may be implied that the majority of people in Nanjing are not aware and if they are, are not aware of the way the Dietfurt population ‘celebrates’ them. One of the most problematic actions that the people of Dietfurt take part in for the festival is yellowface, a practice which consists of wearing make-up to imitate the facial features of an East Asian person. Yellowface has a deep-rooted history in Hollywood, with eminent actors and actresses such as Marlon Brando and Katharine Hepburn participating in this through altering their appearances into comically exaggerated stereotypes of East Asian people. Yellowface is unfortunately normalised for the German town as it comes every Thursday before Ash Wednesday, with black eyeliner reportedly being applied to achieve eyes that “look like slits” and culturally inaccurate Chinese Hanfu’s and Qipao’s worn. Hell, even a sprinkle of Japanese Kimonos can be spotted in the crowd.
Overall, I believe that although the line between appreciation and appropriation is thin, the town of Dietfurt is on the latter side. What might have once been started as a joyous way of celebrating Chinese culture has now become an absurd demonstration of ridicule and overt racism. You can enjoy and express your love for a culture without mocking their appearances and behaviour, especially if a lot of it is culturally incorrect. Perhaps the people of Dietfurt could educate themselves on the harmful consequences of racist behaviours and celebrate in a way that is respectful and genuinely appreciative.
Cover Photo Source: DW