German President Joachim Gauck talks with students after his speech at Tongji University in Shanghai on March 23, 2016
Johannes Eisele—AFP/Getty Images
March 23, 2016 11:34 PM EDT

These days, most Western statesmen who visit China are careful not offend their hosts, fearing that upsetting the ruling Communist Party could damage trade ties with the world’s second largest economy.

Not so for German President Joachim Gauck. The 76-year-old former Lutheran pastor, who lived most of his life in the Soviet-aligned state of East Germany, on Wednesday gave students of a prestigious Shanghai university a history lesson with contemporary resonance, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports.

“Most people were neither happy nor liberated,” he said of the German Democratic Republic, which fell shortly after the Peaceful Revolution of 1989, in which Gauck played a leading role. “And the entire system lacked proper legitimacy.

“Free, equal and secret public elections were not held. The result was a lack of credibility, which went hand in hand with a culture of distrust between the rulers and those they ruled,” he said during his speech at Tongji University, also taking the opportunity to express concern over the recent developments for Chinese civil society.

Despite liberalization in the economic sphere, China remains a one-party state where dissent against the Chinese Communist Party is not tolerated. Hundreds of civil society activists and lawyers have been jailed in a crackdown since President Xi Jinping assumed power.


Write to Simon Lewis at

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