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6th World Conference of Chinese studies

Thomas Weyrauch: Duisburg and Wuhan - A Partnership since 40 Years.
Vortrag vom 12.08.2022 an der Universität Witten

Since 40 years the German Duisburg and the Chinese Wuhan are sister cities and look back on a successful history. When the first German cities entered into partnerships with cities abroad after the Second World War, nobody thought of China. Towns and cities from Great Britain and France were initially in the foreground for German contacts. Individual citizens and their representatives cautiously felt their way into more distant territory, so that municipalities in other European countries also took part.

The German harbour and industrial city of Duisburg became twinned with British Portsmouth in 1950, with French Calais in 1964 and with Togo's capital Lomé in 1973, which were also port and industrial cities. In this respect, it made sense for Duisburg, which has the world's largest inland port, to establish contacts with the city of Wuhan, where China's largest inland harbour was located.

In the context of China's open-door policy from 1978 onwards, Wuhan offered three Duisburg companies a project to set up a modern steel mill. As a result, more than two hundred Duisburg engineers and technicians, where they set up a cold rolling mill in a consortium in the Wuchang district.

In the fall of 1982, Lord Mayor Josef Krings and delegates from the city administration and business community of Duisburg flew to Wuhan to meet with Wuhan's Mayor Li Zhichen on October 8th to conclude an Agreement on the Establishment of the Friendly Partnership between the City of Duisburg and the City of Wuhan. With this contract, the first German-Chinese town twinning was created.

In 1988 the Duisburg Zoo received a special gift from Wuhan, namely a Chinese Garden.

In 1989 the law expert Dr. Thomas Weyrauch was sent to Wuhan as the first representative of the city of Duisburg. After the death of the politician Hu Yaobang in April 1989, Weyrauch's activities for cooperations between the universities, the zoos and industrial companies were overshadowed by unrest and violence.

Lin Yunzhong, employed in the Wuhan office for foreign affairs, worked from 1992 to 1993, his colleague Tian Keqing from 1993 to 1997 as Wuhan's representatives in Duisburg and were organizationally involved in the Duisburg Economic Development Corporation.

In 1994, journalist Johnny Erling took over the Duisburg representation in Wuhan for three years. In the same year, the University of Duisburg founded the Institute for East Asian Studies (IN-EAST).

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Duisburg in 2014 and was received by Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, North Rhine-Westphalia Prime Minister Hannelore Kraft and Erich Staake, CEO of Duisburger Hafen AG.

In the meantime, Duisburg's relations with China have grown far beyond the town twinning. The occasion was the arrival of the first train from the Chinese city of Chongqing. As the end point of the New Silk Road, Duisburg is an important location for logistics, the westernmost destination of China train connections and a sought-after investment location for Chinese companies. More than 30 Chinese companies have already settled in Duisburg.

Hard to believe, but actually 60 freight trains per week were rolling from Chongqing to Duisburg during the years 2020 to 2022.

In the field of science and education, the University of Duisburg-Essen - the university's new name after a merger - offers one of the few chairs on China's economy in Germany. With the Institute for East Asian Studies, it has the largest German university institute that conducts contemporary research on China. In addition, there is the Confucius Institute Metropolis Ruhr, which provides information about China for the region.

However, the oldest German-Chinese relations have undoubtedly led to a wider range of contacts. Recently, Duisburg has also been well positioned with two China-related functional areas. The city was initially able to appoint a China representative. With the lawyer Markus Teuber, who worked for Duisburger Hafen AG until 2019, representative tasks are carried out and the strategic exchange with the other players in the China area is promoted.

The second functional area is the China department of the city administration under Johannes Grünhage, which takes care of all China-related matters within the administration and coordinates all these topics for the city administration and city leaders. The tasks also include accelerating and developing official procedures for Chinese applicants. The new department sees itself as a contact for administration and politics, as well as a contact point for all China actors and institutions from politics and business.

Of course, the close town twinning should not be seen as an isolated case. A number of German and Chinese municipalities have now established partnerships in which not only administrations and business, but also civil society actors are involved.

Around 1,300 Chinese currently live in Duisburg and over 10,000 on the Lower Rhine region. They participate directly or indirectly in the founding of the Duisburg-Wuhan town twinning of October 8, 1982. They will certainly join the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the city twinning.