The Origins of Entanglement: Volkswagen and China's Early Reform Era, 1978-1991

Venue: Lecture Hall of the Institute of Eastern European History, Hof 3, Campus of the University of Vienna

"VW's destiny will be shaped by the Chinese market," predicted Herbert Diess, Chairman of the Board of Management of Volkswagen Group, in early 2019 amidst escalating geopolitical tensions between China and the West. As the largest automobile company in Europe, VW has implemented a series of measures and initiatives to solidify its position in the Chinese market in recent years, despite frequent warnings from the German federal government to reduce German companies' dependence on China. The willingness of leading German enterprises, including VW, to engage in decoupling and risk mitigation from China underscores the deep economic ties between Germany's crucial industry and China.Understanding VW's intense focus on China requires delving into the history of its interactions with its largest global market. However, much remains unknown about the perspectives of decision-makers in Wolfsburg and Beijing regarding VW's entry into China. Additionally, insights into the establishment and evolution of VW's Joint Venture in Shanghai, often referred to as the "flagship project" of Chinese-German economic cooperation, are limited. This talk adopts a comprehensive approach to scrutinize various actors and events that contributed to VW's entanglement with China, elucidating the historical intricacies of this relationship.

Tao Chen is Associate Professor of German Studies at Tongji University, Shanghai. He received a PhD in history in 2014 and was visiting scholar at Woodrow Wilson International Centre for scholars, Institute für Zeitgeschichte Berlin, Potsdamer Zentrum für Forschung der Zeitgeschichte, Universität Göttingen, and National Chengchi University at Taipei. Chen has written extensively on Chinese-German relations since 1945 and is the author of two books. Chen’s research appeared in Journal of Contemporary History, Cold War History, European Review of History, Jahrbuch für Wirtschaftsgeschichte, and The China Review, etc. His current research focuses on Chinese and East Asian Business History as well as Sino-German/European relations since 1945.