What can China learn from the Jews

Via 鲍昆 an interview with Lydia Liu1 Liu’s work has to to with the difficulties of cultural contact and translation in the 19th century, so it is nice to see a fairly mass-market magazine interviewing here about intercultural contact in this second age of globalization. Liu throws cold water on the idea that the “foreigner problem” (i.e. the fact that foreign media often publish things about China that sound like they did not come from Xinhua) is caused by foreigners having not been to China and not knowing Chinese. Liu doubts that a trip to China will make foreigners see the danger of “hurting the feelings of the Chinese people” 伤害中国人民感情 the way ‘China’ does.

I suspect as a scholar she found it rather difficult to fit her ideas into the interview, but I did find it odd that when she was asked how China could respond to accounts in Western media she suggesting taking a page from the Jews.

Apparently since WWII the Jews have set up a lot of non-government organizations aimed at combating antisemitism in the media. As the West has long had a problem with racism, people are particularly sensitive to being accused of it. If China could establish groups to push the idea that criticism of China is a fault on par with racism things would be better. i.e. China needs to translate its grievances into terms that make sense in the West.

I find this a bit questionable as practical advice, since it is not mere kvetching that has made even a hint of antisemitism unacceptable in polite society in the West, but rather the legacy of certain historical events. “China” may try to convince people that asking about the age of Chinese gymnasts is the equivalent of the Holocaust, but I doubt they will have much luck with that. I also think it would like to see more on why she thinks understanding 理解 is impossible between Jews2 and Gentiles (and, one assumes, between Chinese and non-Chinese.) Still, I think Liu is trying to bridge the gap in understanding between China and the West,3 so the interview makes a nice follow-up to Charles post below.


刘禾:我们可以学习犹太人。犹太人从二战以来得到了很多教训,在全世界各地设 立了很多民间的监督站,监督针对犹太人的各种种族主义的言论和媒体报道。只要发现某媒体对犹太人进行直接或暗含的攻击,他们都有办法让对方负责任。几年 前,英国有个非常重要的报纸的主编最后就是因为这个在各种压力下被解职了。西方因为历史上种族歧视问题很严重,所以最怕被别人说种族歧视。





  1. originally from Oriental Outlook 

  2. Also not really sure if she means ‘Jews’ or ‘Israelis’ I know lots of Jews who understand Americans pretty well because they are Americans 

  3. while also demonstrating it 


  1. The “Jewish Model” is pretty popular these days — Indian groups have borrowed from it as well — but I think you’re underestimating the ambition of the Chinese version. They want to turn 19c Imperialism into a Holocaust. It’s worked, to some extent, with the Japanese (though the backlash is pretty strong, complete with denialists, etc.), but it’s going to be extremely hard to get Americans to see their involvement in China as similarly problematic — “Special Relationship” and all.

  2. [I]t is not mere kvetching that has made even a hint of antisemitism unacceptable in polite society in the West, but rather the legacy of certain historical events.

    This statement seems to suggest that the legacy of historical events alone “has made even a hint of antisemitism unacceptable in polite society in the West,” which in turn suggests that the this legacy acts with equal force on all societies within the West.

    Accepting at face value the statement that kvetching is a non-factor, are you suggesting either that (1) anti-semitism is uniformly unacceptable throughout the West (but how then to explain differing degrees of tolerance for “anti-semitic” practices between, e.g., the U.S. and France?
    ); OR (2) Western societies differ in the degrees to which they tolerate anti-semitism?

    And, where (a) the legacy of certain historical events acts with equal force on all societies within the West and (b) kvetching is a non-factor, IF (2), THEN how?

    Full disclosure: I am not a Jew.

  3. I’m also surprised by some of the views that Liu expresses here. Particularly the view of Tibet.

    “While I was outside China, I discovered that most intellectuals, even left wing intellectuals, have the same views of Tibet as the mainstream media. They ask me what I think, and I say that the Tibet issue has never just been an issue between China and Tibet. Rather you have to see it within the context of the history of [Euro-American] imperialism and globalisation.”

    True enough, but what surprises me, is that despite being well connected with those non-PRC China scholarship, Liu still doesn’t see the Chinese (Qing) Empire as something that could have actively participated in Empire building (in Tibet), in the same ways as the Britih, French and Russian empires that she mentions.

    If even people like Liu don’t see the Qing as an Empire, will the Chinese Empire every be written back into the PRC narrative of history?

  4. “绝对是种族主义”

    Yeah, not some idiot shooting his mouth off, and later clarifying what he said.

    As for attempting to copy organisations like the Anti-Defamation League, well, I don’t see it working. As long as Tiananmen remains in the public memory nobody is going to interpret criticism of the Chinese government as ‘racism’, nor do the vast majority of people shy off criticism of Israel’s policies in the Palestinian areas and Lebanon through fear of being accused of anti-semitism, even if a certain fringe of the Jewish policy interprets all criticism of Israel as such.

  5. I’m jewish, and I personally think the anti-semitism card has been played much too much to defend israel. Israel is not the same as the jewish people; neither is the chinese government the same as the chinese people. Criticizing israel is commendable if israel has actually done something wrong, and is completely different from making generalizations about jewish people, which is what antisemitism is.

    Westerners generally don’t understand how much the chinese people support their government, or identify their government, their country, and their people as being three aspects of the same thing. They are baffled when chinese people take criticism of the chinese government as a personal attack. And they are generally uninformed about europe’s destruction of china under colonialism.

  6. @Ben – The problem is that those who are informed realise that much of the narrative of “europe’s destruction of china under colonialism” is exaggerated to serve the CCP’s goals. The damage caused by the Opium Wars and the relief of the legations (by a force including the US and Japanese troops – not just ‘europeans’) in 1899-1900 is vanishingly small when compared to that caused by the various civil wars that broke out between 1850 and 1976, or the Japanese invasion. This is not to make light of events like the burning of the Yuanmingyuan, but they hardly compare to Bergen-Belsen, nor do modern ‘europeans’ bear any responsibility for them, nor is there any real reason that the average ‘european’ should be any more aware of them than, say, the fate of the native Americans, or the Zulu wars.

  7. Italy is planning to pay retribution to Libya. The West prospered on the ebony
    trade and the looting of other parts of the world. Before the West pays back – Italy being a good start –
    they will never have the moral high ground. It’s a widely shared view among non-westerners (the majority of the world) that
    after robbing the world, westerners used the spoil to buy fancy clothes and build beautiful houses
    and started to teach the world “Hey you should be civilized like us.”

  8. If Chinese people angered by Western criticism wants to combat it, following the so-called “Jewish Model” could prove VERY counterproductive. Some Israeli groups tendency to use anti-semitism as a “great silencer” have annoyed many Europeans, and might even lead to actual anti-semitism beeing overlooked.

    There is a tendency among Chinese to do the same – any critism of the Chinese government is based on a “lack of understanding of China”, and often also a supposed anti-Chinese attitude that many Chinese think is widespread i Western countries. Instead of answering to critisism in a proper way, Chinese all to often hurl these accusations on anyone who dares to critise their “Zuguo”.

    Instead of using this tactic, Chinese who wants to answer to Western critisism should try doing to avoid getting hotheaded, and save accusations of rasicm for cases where racism is indeed involved.

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