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On China, the Economic Crisis and the Jews

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on February 24, 2009

The New Yorker’s China blogger, Evan Osnos, has a post asking the age-old question, “Is China Good for the Jews?” Mainland China has just a tiny number of Jews (most of them expats from the U.S., Israel, Russia or other countries) and, other than a handful of Chabad Houses and other places in large cities catering to Westerners, no active synagogues. Judaism isn’t one of China’s accepted religions and Chinese aren’t allowed to convert. But the absence of Jews doesn’t stop many Chinese from believing some of the oldest stereotypes about us. I’ve given up counting how many times I’ve heard from people in China that Jews are “clever and good at business.”

The thing is, when Chinese say this to you, they say it with a smile, not a sneer: Yes, Jews are clever and good at business, and what’s wrong with that? Osnos, too, is struck by the strange philo-Semitism of Chinese. He describes seeing a headline in a Chinese magazine asking “Do the Jews Really Control America?” The article points out the prominent positions Jews hold in “American commerce, finance, oil, construction, media, film etc. [Jews] hold important positions. Some people sigh, ‘America controls the world, and the Jews control America.’ So, is this true after all?”

Writes Osnos: “But that’s where the piece takes a distinctly Chinese turn: the author answers his titular question with a hopeful yes, noting that the Jewish people—known to be ‘permeated with wisdom, full of wit and talent’—the people who gave us Einstein, Freud, Marx, Spielberg—occupy a healthy position of influence in America.”

So yes, Osnos says, China is certainly good for the Jews. Let’s hope so. Still, at a time when the world is suffering through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and the Chinese economy is suddenly no longer the eighth wonder of the world, a philo-Semitism based on anti-Semitic ideas may not be the most secure basis for a relationship. More on that another time.

Reader Comments

Kin Hung

February 24, 2009 6:05 AM

Bruce, I think most Chinese have a very favorable impression of Jewish people in general not just because Jews have more than a fair share of highly successful individuals. Chinese culture actually share a lot of common traits with Jewish culture - namely hard work, family values, respect for education, money-minded, business-minded etc. Well, under some other nations that had invaded and exploited China before, at least the Jews have never done anything really bad to China. So there is really no good reason for anti-Semitism in China.

Kin Hung

February 24, 2009 6:26 AM

Bruce, have you learnt about the history that some Jews have actually migrated to Kaifeng in Henan province back in the 12th Century China during the Song Dynasty? The Chinese treated them as brothers and the Jews faced no discrimination so that in a few hundred years, the Jews have all been assimulated into Chinese.


February 24, 2009 11:15 AM

1. Several thousand Jews moved from war-torn Europe to Shanghai during WW2 and lived there ever since.

2. When the Chinese say Jews are "clever and good at business", they mean "we're alike". The Chinese in neighboring countries, especially in Southeast Asia, were very much like the Jews in Europe. They were the richest, far richer than locals, and they faithfully kept their tradition and identity. They were persecuted and even massacred.

3. I think anti-Semitic has something to do with religions. Buddhism and East Asian culture have nothing against the Jews.

4. It’s not difficult to find stereotypes and “racist comments” in China, according to American standards. Chinese people should be more aware of and more sensitive to these issues, but honestly, I don’t think they’re racists. When people are mocking minorities, your instinct can tell you whether there is hatred behind it.

UCON ncaa Champ

February 25, 2009 5:05 PM

People are just jelous of Jews. I have many friends who are Jewish and they're working hard to be successful. Haters will just keep on hating.


February 25, 2009 7:19 PM

I am half Chinese/ half Jewish... Chinese people always say I have the best of both worlds -- the money-making ability of the Jews and the industriousness and hard working ability of the Chinese. Yes, China is very welcome for Jewish folks.

S. Rein

Kin Hung

February 25, 2009 8:15 PM

Correction: My previous post should be read: Well, UNLIKE some other nations that had invaded and exploited the Chinese people before, at least the Jews have never done anything really bad to China. So there is really no good reason for anti-Semitism in China


February 25, 2009 9:20 PM

Tens of thousands of Jewish refugees escaping from the 1917 Russian Revolution and the Holocaust in Europe had found sanctuary in China before. That included the parents of Ehud Olmert, prime minister of Israel, who found sanctuary in Harbin, China after fleeing persecution in Ukraine and Russia.


February 25, 2009 10:15 PM

Bruce, I just don't understand why you tie China, the economic crisis and anti-Semitism together in your last paragraph? How do all they relate to one another? Do you fear that sooner or later, the Chinese will start scapegoating Jews for the financial crisis? But why would the Chinese do that? In fact, the Chinese just want Americans to stop scapegoating China on all things going wrong in America including this financial crisis that is largely the result of American overconsumption and mismanagement.


February 26, 2009 6:08 AM

Stupid always does what stupids do. Coming from a country with deep racist history and a Christian culture with hatred against Jews, the writer cannot help tying everything to antisemitism. By the way, antisemitism is not anti-jews. A lot of people do understand that.


February 26, 2009 12:21 PM

I have nothing against Jews except that they have a lot of money and enjoy the finer things in life. I wish I were like that. As for the Chinese, they worship wealth as a mandate from heaven. I wish I were like that, too.

if you want an answer.

March 8, 2010 7:59 AM

Jews just happen to have a innate advantage in business, something which I find is unfortuante given their position in managing the more important tools of the globe which is influential and critical to the different global powers, making them an easy scapegoat when something fails.

It requires a lot of self awareness to be able to deal with this kind of situation - acknowledge oneself that their powers are REALLY pretty big and should learn to exercise them properly to a socially acceptable standard.

There is nothing wrong to be rich or have the talent to become rich, but there is definitely something wrong if you don't know how to use your money morally.

In fact, in the older chiense dynasties, citizens were classed as 4 grades based on how they made their living.

Top ranked were the educated, learned academics (ie. gov't officials because only those who could read and write could serve the emporer) then came the citizens who practiced agriculture (ranked fairly high because they produced food to feed the population), then the citizens who practised arts and crafts for a living (for providing some form of entertainment to the public); Lowest ranked were citizens who made a living from commerce.

Reason? The old dynasties thought of commerce as a living which had no cost base, all they did was to change hands with their goods to earn the margin in between.

Mike Powell

April 17, 2010 11:22 AM

It's deja vu all over again. It's the same thing that happens when economy collapse, Jews are the one who's responsible. Which is, similar to present China's foreign and economy affair. When somethings not right and involving China even a little, well you know what they'll say.

By the way, you may just made Hitler and his henchmen cheering in hell.

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