As she perused the shelves of a Beijing bookstore, Susan Fishman Orlins was surprised by the titles of certain books. In the business section she noticed The Wisdom of Judaic Trader and the Jewish People’s Bible for Business and Managing the World. In the parenting section she saw a man reading The Jewish Way of Raising Children.
Apparently, Fishman Orlins reports in an article for Moment, there’s a recent rise in Chinese appreciation for Judaism, evident in part through an increase in “Jewish how-to literature.” These books are filled with stereotypes, caricatures, and even made-up information about Jews, but the main message is admiration and a desire to achieve what the authors see as the financial, moral, and intellectual success of the Jewish people.
“While few Chinese can articulate quite what a Jew is, many believe that if they could emulate, among other things, how Jewish parents raise their children—as though there were a prescription—it would boost their offspring’s chances of growing up to own a bank or win Nobel Prizes,” Fishman Orlins writes. Perceptions like these have seen an uptick in the past few decades, especially in China’s economically booming cities.
But what do the Chinese and the Jews have in common? I have a hard time understanding what draws Chinese people to my religion. Xu Xin, the founder of Nanjing University’s Institute for Jewish Studies, tells Fishman Orlins that he admires the high numbers of Jewish Nobel Prize winners and scholars. He also noted that both the Chinese and Jewish cultures are very old but have managed to hold on to their traditions. His oddest assessment was that Jews have stronger morals than the Chinese, and that Jews abide by set laws rather than personal beliefs. “Jewish culture has many lessons Chinese people could learn on their way to becoming a responsible part of the international society,” Xu said.
Though I still find this Chinese fascination with Judaism puzzling, it doesn’t seem particularly troubling, as long as it steers clear of negative stereotypes. I wonder if the Chinese are aware of the stereotype that Jewish people love Chinese food. (It’s true, you know.)