For a few days every year, the town of Dietfurt in Bavaria, Germany, turns Chinese. Hundreds of citizens wear traditional Chinese costumes to celebrate Carnival, a Chinese festival. What started with just the Bavarians celebrating is now an attraction that draws hundreds of visitors from China and other parts of the world.
Carnival is a Chinese festival celebrated in Dietfurt for over 90 years. Dietfurt is a partner city to Nanjing, with about 9 million people. Both cities have walls around them, and the wall in Dietfurt was instrumental in the incident that started the relationship between the town and China.
The Bishop of Eichstatt had sent his treasurer to collect taxes from the people of Dietfurt, who reacted by barricading themselves behind the walls to keep him out. He reported that the people had locked themselves behind a wall like the Chinese. The Chinese comparison is apt as Dietfurt later developed a relationship with China.
The official relationship between the two countries started after some Chinese tourists returned to China with news of the Bavarians celebrating Carnival. Chinese radio and television covered the festival in 1982, and there has been a cultural exchange between Bavaria and China ever since. They organize a culture exchange festival during the summer with activities like lectures, reading, and cooking classes.
The Chinese Carnival in Dietfurt is similar to the celebration in the Chinese town of Nanjing in China. The festival starts with the parade headed by the emperor, chosen by the townspeople. The emperor is the leader throughout the celebration period. During this period, the real mayor is relegated to the position of Imperial Mandarin.
The parade is exciting, with almost everyone dressed in Chinese costumes and many painting their faces. Some add other accessories that are associated with traditional Chinese looks. These include wigs, fake facial hair, and props.
The Bavarians get so much into the spirit of the Carnival that they put up signs and carry placards with different Chinese expressions. Phrases like “Hey Chinese” and “Kille Way” amuse Chinese speakers as they are not standard greetings. Notwithstanding, they enjoy the appreciation of Chinese culture and the attempt to imitate the original Carnival as much as possible.
Reactions to the Carnival have generally been positive. Hundreds of tourists troop to the town during the festival to enjoy the activities. Some come from China, while others are from diverse parts of the world.
The tourist office spokeswoman in Dietfurt answered in the negative when asked if the locals dressing up in Chinese costumes and painting their faces yellow is considered racist. She responded that the Chinese instead regard it as fun and appreciate that people in Dietfurt identify with Chinese culture.
Many Chinese visitors to Dietfurt during the Carnival have also expressed their fascination with the locals’ interpretation of Chinese culture and see nothing offensive about the face paint. This is interesting, considering how blackface in European festivals has been the subject of racial controversies for years.
Carnival in Dietfurt has gained so much attention recently that it has drawn global attention. People come from different parts of the world to watch Germans engage in Chinese revelry for a few days. Even the Chinese consul in Munich had visited the festival in the past.