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Ethnic Chinese fraternity man sparks racial row
Kai Ming Au. Photo: DPA

Ethnic Chinese fraternity man sparks racial row

Published: 24 Jun 2011 14:50 GMT+02:00

The Burschenschaften, one of Germany’s oldest student associations, unites members under the values of ‘Honour, Freedom, Fatherland’ in Germany and Austria.

The fraternity members adhere to old-fashioned traditions including dressing up in cadet-style uniforms, carrying fencing rapiers and taking part in torch-lit parades. Some even take part in arcane rituals such as receiving a fencing scar on the cheek.

Some chapters even attract the attention of German authorities for being so right wing as to be anti-democratic and welcoming homes for neo-Nazis.

This year’s annual meeting of the Deutsche Burschenschaften (DB), one of the largest umbrella associations, was faced with a proposal to expel an entire fraternity because it had accepted a German citizen with Chinese parents as a member.

The Alte Breslauer Burschenschaft der Raczeks zu Bonn had applied for the Burschenschaft Hansea zu Mannheim to be kicked out of the DB because Kai Ming Au, spokesman for the Mannheim fraternity, was ethnically Chinese even though he was born in Mannheim and considers himself fully German.

Stereotypes brought to the fore

The row brought to the surface all the stereotypes surrounding the conservative, nationalist pro-German groups and revealed what many see as a power struggle within the association between its ultra-traditionalist rump with racist tendencies and its more liberal majority.

After 90 minutes of what left-wing daily Tageszeitung reported last week had been an emotional debate, the submission was withdrawn and new rules adopted which allow members to be either from German parents or in possession of German citizenship – although they still cannot be female.

A statement on the DB site stressed that the initial submission had been dropped on the Wednesday before the weekend conference. “It is and it always was possible for any German citizen to become a member of an association of the Deutsche Burschenschaft. The rumoured allegation that this was only possible for applicants with so-called German roots, is wrong,” DB spokesman Stefan Dobner said in the statement.

Now the 26-year-old at the centre of the controversy has told The Local he is determined to stand for election to the group's ruling body after the incident.

Au said he wanted to show that the student group, long criticised for being nationalistic, reactionary and even racist, was not what people thought.

“Of course there is a minority who are like that, some of the member groups are not liberal in their thinking, but the vast majority of those I have had contact with are of liberal opinions,” he said.

The association encourages members to become members for life with part of its mission being to foster exchange of ideas, friendships and contacts between current student members and graduates. They are often well-financed, owning large well-situated buildings in the centre of cities kitted out like American fraternity houses where student members can live for minimal rent.

That is how Au first encountered the Burschenschaft Hansea zu Mannheim. He was looking for a place to stay while studying business administration in nearby Ludwigshafen and was offered a place in the Burschenschaft house.

Joining up

“At first I didn’t know what to think about it,” he said. “I knew nothing about who they were. I could just as easily have landed up in a Corps (student association). I was a bit sceptical, and looked it up on Google when I got home. There are about a hundred pages and they nearly all say the Burschenschaften are racist and anti-women, so I was really unsure.

But he said his opinion quickly changed after a visit to the fraternity.

“The house was really nice and the people who had shown me around seemed to be serious. I had a four- to six-week try-out period before I would have to become a member. It was only a week and I was at an event and people came up to me and asked me about myself. I was not being treated differently or looked at in a funny way. It was a good community.

“I was asking people during this time also, and my [now] Burschenschaft brothers told me about the association. Some told me there were some groups where it would be better I didn’t visit. In Germany it is normal that we visit each others’ groups when we are in a different town – if I was in Heidelberg or Munich I would go to visit the group there and have a beer or something; that is something we do.”

Au did not name the Alte Breslauer Burschenschaft der Raczeks zu Bonn as one of the groups he was warned away from, and said that even if he were in Bonn, he would be confident of receiving a warm Burschenschaft welcome – from another Bonn group.

“I got to know the other Bonn group this weekend at the national meeting. An older member had sent us a letter to support us,” he said.

Au seems convinced that the vast majority of his Burschenschaften brethren have a modern mindset and than the tradition-soaked association will be able to catch up with the rest of society where it perhaps still lags behind.

Move with the times

“Such a varied association has to move with the times, otherwise it will not survive,” he said, accepting the idea that his might be one of the new faces of Germany that could have a natural home in associations like the Burschenshaften.

He said his particular group in Mannheim was focused on personal and professional success and using that to play an important part in German society. Members are expected to do well in their studies and finish them quickly and then to go on to use their academic and other talents in their careers.

Au said he was ambitious within the organisation and that after two-and-a-half years as a member, including two stints as spokesman for the Mannheim group, he had intended to stand for election to the Deutsche Burschenschaften organising committee this year. But he postponed the idea when the row broke out.

“If this had not happened people would still think we were racists. I now have the chance to make it clear that it is not like that," he said. "I have now said a hundred times that the absolute majority are liberal and that not more than 10 or 15 percent are not liberal.”

Hannah Cleaver (hannah.cleaver@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

16:45 June 24, 2011 by TRJ
Very interesting subject. Most Americans know very little of Germany's Burschenschaften.
17:28 June 24, 2011 by pwestde
What did he actually say he could just as easily have landed up in? A "Chor" or a "Corp"?

Me wonders if this is a case of false friend translation.
18:28 June 24, 2011 by Jack Kerouac
There are typos in the article. Like, "where student members can life for minimal rent". I want to "life" it up in one of those fraternities.

Anyway, I think this guy is doing the Burschenschaft a favor by dispelling the myths that everyone there is a racist. They should embrace him as a member and stop acting this way. Most of them are not like that anywasy - only a small portion, right? This is important for them then. I wish I were a member!
00:42 June 25, 2011 by wood artist
I'm ashamed to admit that I know little about these organizations beyond what I saw in The Student Prince movie. However, that aside, it seems to me that if they are sometimes viewed as being right-wing, neo-Nazi, or racially intolerant groups nothing could be better to dispel that view than this young man.

He's seems to feel welcome amongst his chosen group, and that should speak volumes to the others who fear such integration. Just as there were many who saw themselves as Germans who happened to be Jewish, this man can be both German and ethnically Chinese, and it makes him no less of either. Pride and arrogance don't need to march hand in hand. Be proud of your own heritage, and allow others the same right.

wa
04:17 June 25, 2011 by starsh3ro
im always proud to read that we have such important problems in germany.
18:02 June 25, 2011 by Jerr-Berlin
..heritage and ethnicity are nothing to be proud of...try personal accomplishments...
21:22 June 25, 2011 by JAMessersmith
Is this the same thing as the academic fencing clubs?

I have an old picture from the late 1800s of my great (x4 or 5) grandfather hanging on my wall. He was a low-ranking Prussian military officer and is dressed in full uniform in the picture (which is probably why the picture was made. It's by far the oldest picture in our family). But what really catches your eye is the massive scar running across his left cheek. I always assumed it was a war wound, but several years ago my great aunt told me it was a "mensur" scar from fencing. Apparently, such scars were actually quite fashionable back in the day (believe it or not), and were worn like marks of bravery, or whatever. He and his brothers had gone to the University of Tubingen, and had apparently belonged to some kind of club like this.

Before she told me about that, I had never heard of these German student/academic associations before. Frat houses here in America aren't quite as serious. Less archaic tradition, more partying & depravity.
21:34 June 25, 2011 by vonSchwerin
Alte Breslauer Burschenschaft der Raczeks zu Bonn has some nerve in insisting on purely "Aryan" members. The Raczeks' most famous alumnus was a Jew: Ferdinand Lassalle.
01:15 June 26, 2011 by wood artist
@jerr-Berlin

Sorry, but I have to respectfully disagree. When I put on a kilt, I'm proud that my ancestors came from Scotland, and there's no reason I shouldn't be. That's true of everyone, which doesn't mean you have to be proud of everyone in your family tree.

wa
09:39 June 28, 2011 by brnskin2010
Germany is headed in the way of the USA...he may have been born here but he is still chinese by ancestory and no amount of laws can change that....u can not make society accept him as being german...All immigrants that migrate to other countries b/c they want a better life for themselves as well as their offspring....start making demands for laws to be changed to better suit them....and BEFORE U KNOW IT THE GERMANS WILL BE STRANGERS IN THEIR OWN LAND....DISRESPECTED AND TOLD THAT THEY HAVE JUST AS MUCH RIGHTS TO JOBS,EDUCATION, HOUSING AS THEY HAVE...GERMANS WILL FIND THEMSELVES ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN......just sayn from witnessing the dimise of the USA b/c of feelin sorry for immigrants that refuse to stay and fight for equality, democracy in THEIR OWN COUNTRY.....
10:38 June 28, 2011 by IchBinEinAuslander
@brnskin2010

Oh sorry, that would be the Third Reich you'd be wanting...Just take your Time Machine back to 1940 and look for the burning Jews, you can't miss it.

Or perhaps you would be happier if you kept going to til you hit the Neanderthal...
17:22 June 28, 2011 by freechoice
Well nobody screams when an ethnic Vietnamese became the chief of FDP. It must be the name!!
05:04 June 29, 2011 by wenddiver
Wow, that whole story was creepy. Elitist Frat Boys, tied in with extremist German Nationilsm like under the Kaiser and Third Reich, led by an Ethnic Chinese. I think I'm going to have to stop and have a Maker's Mark and Coke on that one. So many disturbing elements in one story.
12:26 June 29, 2011 by Woden's Day
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
12:12 June 30, 2011 by LecteurX
Brnskin2010 - Yes, you're absolutely right. All Native Americans are now strangers in their own land, after they were dispossessed by the European invaders. That's quite true. So he can't be German because of his Chinese ancestry, right? Well, please elaborate on your views of who can or cannot be German, and also who can and cannot be American. That would be interesting I guess. I'm sure you're not very much standing for Native Americans, but never mind that.

Wotan's Day. You can accuse immigrants of very many things, but blaming them for "ridiculing" the Christian religion is somehow over the top, don't you think? Do you mean that it's the so-called "immigrant multicultural lobby" which is responsible for all the laws of separation of church and state passed in most countries all along the 20th century? for all the advances of secularisation and rights that were hard-won against an almighty Church that put all its weight to prevent all manner of scientific progress and social evolutions like women's rights in the last centuries? Are immigrants responsible for Germans, Danes and Austrians leaving the Catholic church in droves because of the Church's attitude always trying to cover up any scandal (especially paedophilia) in its midst? and I'm speaking as a Catholic btw...

Plus this particular case at hand is actually the "ideal" immigrant, the one that is so well integrated, he probably feels very German, and why not, he was born here and grew up in his country. What do you prefer? Immigrant families that remain apart and never integrate? This is real multiculturalism. I'm sure you're among the first ones who denounce that sort of immigrants. This guy is blending so well with Germany, if all immigrants were like him there wouldn't be any multiculturalism to speak of. But it seems to me immigrants and their descendant can never have it right with people like you. If they integrate and feel German - Wrong: that makes them "ridiculous", for whatever reason. If they don't integrate and remain strongly identified with their parent's culture - Wrong again: they're bloody "immigrants who don't integrate and despise the local culture". You don't even see you mix it all up in your shoddy post.

It's excellent to acknowledge all the ancient European cultures (which I think nobody overlooks), you're free to worship "Wicca", Jupiter or the Lady of the Lake if you want, but it's also time to start calling white supremacists out on their stupidity.
20:20 June 30, 2011 by MJMH
The difference between immigrants to America and Germany is this. America (including some Indians who moved there during the late 19th century from Mexico and Canada ) is a land of immigration and always has been. Immigrants left something behind to live in The USA. Anyone can be an American. Germans are native to Germany. No one can be German but Germans or Danish but Danes, the same with Italy or The Netherlands or Thailand or Egypt. No matter what people think there will never be a Turkish German or a German Turk. Africans born in England aren't ethnically English. People should try to become like whatever country they go to (that includes respecting Muslim laws in the Middle East) and follow the established rules of culture and ideas. And if you don't like the established rules like sharing a swimming pool with the opposite sex or eating pork go back to your country or move somewhere else. Ethnic cultures-no matter if it is Kikuyu identity in East Africa or Swiss-German culture in Switzerland have a right to their own rules and identity and once again if you don't like it leave. If Germans have specific Burschenschaften rules they should be respected.
21:30 June 30, 2011 by LecteurX
MJMH, please not that again. America is a land of immigration and, even better, "has always been"? That has been decided by whom? By the Sioux and the Apaches? Or by the white English, Dutch and French colonists who subjugated them, stole their land and decimated them, and of course needded to bring in lots of people to put the vasts amounts of land to use? Anybody can acquire US citizenship, but not become ethically Navajo or Sioux (and nobody would want to). And anybody can acquire German citizenship as well, and of course that does not mean becoming "ethnically" German, indeed, I know the difference. But then, where do you draw the line? First, let me see, Germany has never been an immigration country? That's not my feeling when I read the history of Berlin, with the thousands of religious refugees or skilled tradesmen who arrived here under the Prussian kings, the French Huguenots, the protestants from Bohemia, the Dutch merchants, etc. Their descendants are all German by now, aren't they? Unless you really want to go along the lines that a De Maizière is not German, etc... well, then let's bring back the "aryanhood" certificates (or whatever) of the olden days and see what happens... Germans are "native to Germany", well mostly, but how about the hundreds of thousands of Poles and Balts who gradually assimilated into the German culture in Prussia and along the Baltic coast over the course of centuries, because German was the language of the economic, political and cultural elite for many generations? They were ethnic Slavs who became culturally German, and many of them left Poland, Ostpreußen, Schlesien, etc, in 1945, because they felt German, the Poles identified them as Germans, even if all their ancestors for 10 generations where ethnically Polish. Same goes for the Danes living in Schleswig, etc... Defining an "ethnic German" a little bit more complicated than "German are native to Germany"...

So even the talk of "ethnic Germans" is not a very straightforward one. Then, where do you draw the line with Germans of a (known) foreign origin? Do we want to create categories again? Mischling der 1. Klasse, und der 2. Klasse, etc. That does not bode well to me.

Even your sacro-sanct Burschenschaften rules did not seem to be very clear on this. This young guy was accepted into the Mannheim fraternity without problem, he didn't throw a tantrum to get in: he was taken and made a spokesman. Would it have been different if he was only "half-Chinese"? Or 25% Chinese? Obviously, it wasn't straightforward, and the Mannheim Burschenschaft did not agree with your narrow interpretation of the "rule". Now it has become very clear: you have to be German, holding the citizenship. Full stop, end of the story. Of course I guess you disagree with that but your reasoning is quite simplistic my dear.
03:01 July 1, 2011 by MJMH
Lets be honest here dear. There are some simple differences between then and now. The first is or was those peoples you so proudly point as non-Germans became German. The Danish/German wars were because Slesvig-Holsten had become German and wanted to become a part of Germany. Their numbers-even of Polish Germans were relativity small (look at Germans DNA history) compared to the bigger picture and the Huguenots never made up 20 percent of Berlin and that was for only a single generation. They adopted the language, for the most part the religion (at least of the Area) and by a generation were German.

If you want to go back to the Indians...sure they didn't invite foreigners to come stay but the point is they lost the lands to the White man. Will the same thing happen in Europe. The bottom line is people are tribal-people in Europe are no exception- and many of these new immigrants are simply not wanted.
18:17 July 2, 2011 by LecteurX
Well I see a young guy of Chinese parents who became German, adopted the language, about the religion I don't know but regarding the "Leitkultur", he seems to tick many boxes... I don't see any difference with the examples we discussed, except that this young fellow's parents came from a more remote country than China, Poland, Denmark or Bohemia... This is what will happen to most immigrants here, eventually, unless they're constantly rejected with shrill cries of "you'll never be German". If 20,000 Huguenots in Berlin can become German "within a generation", then you have to explain why the son of Chinese immigrants can't become German even if he wants it so badly. Apart from the fact that he looks non-European, I don't get it. So yes, let's be honest. I'm all ears.

Yes, the Indians lost the lands to the White man. And we have to accept that nothing is here to last forever. Empires come and go, so do civilisations, so do cultures, languages, nations, etc. The Germany of today has much to do with that of 1932, but many things have changed too. In turn, the Germany of 1932 has not so much to do with that of 1815 or that of 1648 or that of AD 814...

All those immigrants that you say are "simply not wanted" (mostly by you it seems) were indeed invited by the German authorities and employers and recruited en masse, even though they fooled themselves into believing that the Gastarbeiter would not stay in the country where they had a chance to make a living. The Apaches did not travel to Bristol or Amsterdam to recruit the English and Dutch colonists... And as far as I can see, the Burschenschaften took a sensible approache and decided they won't look at "DNA" to determine who they take in now, luckily.
19:36 July 2, 2011 by MJMH
Just wait. With the Nationalistic parties coming to power soon Germany will be for the Germans and France for the French. And with the EU blowing up in front of us it will probably be really soon cause what you say is right. Nothing is here to last forever including open immigration and the EU. Empires that can't control their borders come and go.
11:49 July 7, 2011 by LecteurX
Wishful thinking my dear. Well, keep dreaming. With the current demography in Germany, there won't be that many Germans left around in a century anyway. But maybe the trend will change by then. We won't be there to see.

You didn't explain why this guy can't be German if the sons of French Huguenots were Germans after one generation. But well, what you wrote afterwards allows me to get the idea (actually I had got it before already): he's not white.

What I like with racists is their pathetic attempts to justify their views with facts. Sooner or later, the supply of facts all dries up and they're left with flailing their arms around with abuse (at worse) or pitiful wishful thinking.
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