Uwe KräuterHalf a century in China

He is considered to be the longest living German in China: when Heidelberg student Uwe Kräuter arrived in the country in 1974, there were hardly any Western foreigners living there. He had only planned to stay for two years, but he stayed, found the love of his life, started a family and became a film producer, author and cultural mediator between Germany and China – for example, he was the first to bring the German series “Derrick” to Chinese television. This year marks 50 years that Uwe Kräuter has been living in China – half a century.

Uwe Kräuter, who was born in 1945 and grew up near Heidelberg, began studying sociology, ethnology and psychology at Ruperto Carola in 1968 during the height of the student movement. He campaigned against the Vietnam War and also demonstrated in June 1970 against the former US Secretary of Defense and then head of the World Bank, Robert McNamara, who was attending an international conference in Heidelberg. Since Kräuter and others were subsequently accused of resistance to state authority and breach of the peace, a legal dispute lasting several years ensued, in which they were initially represented by the lawyer and later Federal Minister of the Interior Otto Schily and then by Heidelberg alumnus Eberhard Kempf. After suspended sentences in the first instance, the defendants appealed, but were sentenced to prison in June 1974, whereupon they appealed to the Federal Court of Justice – which ended in 1975 with legally binding prison sentences. While four of the five convicts served their sentences (including Joscha Schmierer, who 30 years later was a member of the planning staff of the two foreign ministers Joschka Fischer and Frank-Walter Steinmeier), the fifth defendant, Uwe Kräuter, was already in China at the time and thus avoided prison.


Porträt Uwe Kräuter

Uwe Kräuter emphasizes that he did not flee to China to avoid going to prison: “My intention to go to China had nothing to do with the trial. People sometimes say that, but it's not true,” he emphasized in an interview with the Sinology Heidelberg Alumni Network (SHAN) in 2011, when he was a guest at the Alumni Anniversary Days in Heidelberg. He had wanted to write a doctoral thesis on China and India and had therefore planned early on to travel to both countries for a few months to get to know them, he explained. He traveled to India in 1972, but attempts to obtain a visa for China failed: “The Chinese embassy told me directly that foreigners could not go to China now.” However, at the end of 1973 – before the prison sentences – he was surprisingly offered the opportunity to work for two years in China's publishing house for international propaganda, arranged through German-Swiss acquaintances who worked there and whose contract had expired. Uwe Kräuter accepted the offer, even though he didn't know what to expect and two years seemed like an eternity: "But I told myself not to be afraid. An unknown land opened its gates to me, how could I not want to enter?" He didn't want to sacrifice this adventure for the threat of a prison sentence, so he flew to China in July 1974 – and has remained there to this day.

In these 50 years, Uwe Kräuter has experienced a lot and met many people. When he arrived, the Cultural Revolution was in full swing. Since then, the country has experienced lasting upheavals over the decades and is now a global economic player with a claim to world power. Uwe Kräuter married a well-known Chinese actress, with whom he has two daughters, got caught between hostile Chinese interest groups after Mao's death, brought the 80-member ensemble of the Beijing Folk Art Theater to Germany and, conversely, the Mannheim National Theater to China and became a successful cultural mediator between the two countries. He describes his exciting life in the Far East not only in the SHAN interview (linked below), but also in his autobiography “That's the revolution, my friend: How I went from being a German Maoist to the darling of the Chinese” (GER), published in 2012. His latest book “Travels into the Unknown. Visiting the people of North Korea” (GER) offers rare insights into an isolated country that Uwe Kräuter has been visiting regularly for almost 20 years.