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.