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March 27, 2014 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Scan the shelves in any bookstore in China and you are likely to find best-selling self-help books based on Jewish knowledge. Most focus on how to make cash. Titles range from 101 Money Earning Secrets From Jews’ Notebooks to Learn To Make Money With the Jews. The Chinese Believe That the Jews Control America. Is That a Good Thing?
posted by timshel (87 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
Betteridge's law applies.
posted by chavenet at 10:16 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Previously: the last Asian superpower also believed in the same thing.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:17 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Clickbaity headlines (and pullquoting) nonwithstanding, this is actually an interesting article mostly about why some Chinese scholars believe that understanding the history of Judaism and Jewish thought may be useful in China and is worth a read.
Liu comes from a family of farmers. They are also Christians. In China, where religion is perceived as a threat to the ruling Communist Party, Christians are routinely persecuted and worship is allowed only in officially sanctioned churches. “Any ideas or philosophy or cultures are controlled. In the past it was controlled by the imperial emperors and now by the party,” said Liu. “But Jewish people don’t have such a strong political power. So, [Judaism] has more pluralism.”

It is this space and allowance—even encouragement—for debate that has helped Jews make cultural and scientific strides in the world, Liu said he believed: “In the Talmud, for one question they have different answers. But in China we have [either] correct or incorrect. If someone has different opinions, it is difficult to live.”
posted by jessamyn at 10:20 AM on March 27 [20 favorites]


I guess if you live under "one billion people, one opinion" it'd be odd to contemplate a culture of "two people, three opinions".
posted by benito.strauss at 10:26 AM on March 27 [40 favorites]


I guess it's the Chinese equivalent to books like these?
posted by ymgve at 10:33 AM on March 27 [16 favorites]


“Stereotypes are overemphasized. But in China this is positive,” he said calmly. After all, he added: “Had the Jews achieved nothing, no Chinese would be interested in them.”

...huh.
posted by clockzero at 10:33 AM on March 27


Well, Americans believe the Chinese are the Ideal Minority - so there!

Also - I wish that there was a way to separate Enthicity from Nationality - cause I am Chinese, but I don't believe they control America. But I love them! Half my high school was Chinese, the other half was Jewish. A parent could not have wished for a more self censoring, scholastically competitive, socially conforming group of teenagers.

Hava Nagila!
posted by helmutdog at 10:34 AM on March 27 [12 favorites]


timshel: "The Chinese Believe That the Jews Control America."

Well, Jews certainly have the power to keep Chinese restaurants open during Christmas.
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:40 AM on March 27 [41 favorites]


"Ancient Chinese Jewish secret, eh?"
posted by octobersurprise at 10:41 AM on March 27 [6 favorites]


I was uncomfortable at the headline, but I read the article anyway.

I am still uncomfortable.
posted by blurker at 10:41 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


There are two strands in this article: 1) that some Chinese scholars see positive lessons in Jewish history and society, and 2) many more Chinese people hold beliefs about Jewish "control of banking/media/politics and so on". The first sounds good, the second not so much, and so it's unfortunate that the first is founded on the second. You don't get a pass on antisemitic conspiracy theories just because you reckon they make a good training handbook.
posted by Thing at 10:44 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


As someone who was raised Jewish, I do feel somewhat of a commonality with my Asian American friends. Essentially, we share a cultural stereotype, one generation removed. My dad's generation (Baby Boomer) of American Jews were raised with many of the same expectations as the present generation of Asian American kids. There are differences, though. I'd like to see more Asian Americans represented in the entertainment industry, for example.
posted by evil otto at 10:47 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


Ancient Jewish secret, huh?

Dammit, octobersurprise! Calgon, take my comment away.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:48 AM on March 27


So in New York, you'll often see in public schools (where everyone segregates by race just because) that Chinese kids and Russian Jewish kids hang out together a lot more than any other racial combination of the sort. You'll even see that Russian (usually Russian Jewish) immigrant communities and Chinese immigrant communities often end up being either adjacent to one another, or completely mixed.

I can't speak to immigrant Chinese parenting (I mean I can but I won't) but Russian/Russian Jewish people of my parents' generation are racist as hell, and yet there's a (begrudging?) respect for Chinese society, often because of what are perceived to be positive stereotypes: Chinese parents are strict and value education and so on. You'll even hear things like "they're crafty and know how to work the angles" because, well, as a Russian Jew being crafty and working the angles, while playing to whatever stereotype, is how you counteract institutional anti-Semitism.

So from that perspective, from growing up in those sorts of neighborhoods, I have literally no idea how to react to this, but part of me can't help but feel at least a little, I don't know, relieved maybe? On the one hand, we don't own the banks and the media. I mean there's Jews in a lot of the upper echelons of finance and so on, but that's a complicated matter than just doesn't add up to "own" or "control" when you get to the nitty-gritty. There's no big fist with a Magen David ring clutching the world for good or ill.

On the other hand, there's apparently a lot of genuine respect and desire to learn about Jewish culture that you don't see a lot outside of actual Jewish communities. I certainly didn't take an Jewish history or culture classes in college, neither did most of my Jewish friends. It's sort of nice to know that there's a bunch of educated people in China perpetuating Jewish culture and history and in some way making up for us assholes. I have to admit it's sort of a relief to read an article about what some Jew-light society thinks of The Jews where the sadly inevitable "Jews control the banks and the media" part is offset by something other than the conspicuous absence of that same thing.

I guess it's the Chinese equivalent to books like these?

I was thinking the same thing.
posted by griphus at 10:49 AM on March 27 [29 favorites]


the last Asian superpower also believed in the same thing.

And in fact, settled a lot of Jewish refugees from its nominal ally in Shangai, which it then controlled.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:53 AM on March 27


Uh, yeah, that reads a lot like someone trying to defend white supremacist comparisons of black people to monkeys by pointing out that a) people and monkeys have a lot in common biologically speaking, and b) who doesn't adore videos of cute little monkeys playing with things, or a picture of a monkey dressed like a person with a caption that makes it sound like the monkey is saying something really funny. So it's, like, a compliment, right?

positive racist stereotypes are still racist stereotypes
posted by Naberius at 10:54 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Yeah just to be clear: positive stereotypes aren't a good thing. But they way they impact culture is very different from negative stereotypes, and often can lead to a desire for actual understanding as you're seeing in all these people in Chinese colleges taking courses on Jewish culture and so on.
posted by griphus at 10:55 AM on March 27 [4 favorites]


I wonder to what extent some of this is an equivalent to the Western assumption that if something is based on ancient "Eastern" philosophy, it must be good?

I mean, yeah, also anti-semitism. Of course.
posted by Sara C. at 10:56 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


"The" Chinese Believe that "the" Jews Control America.

“Stereotypes are overemphasized. But in China this is positive,” he said,

...without even a tiny trace of ironic self-awareness. Sigh.

But Thing, is this article about a strain of anti-Semitism in China or confirmation of anti-Sinotic beliefs held by some Jews?
posted by xigxag at 10:56 AM on March 27 [5 favorites]


According to Philip Morrison (in a review of a book for Scientific American I no longer remember the title of) Marco Polo encountered a flourishing community of Jews in Cathay, but they were later dispersed into the general Chinese population because men who might have become Rabbis enjoyed such great success in the Chinese civil service exams, and were lost to their local societies.
posted by jamjam at 10:57 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Russians, Jews and Chinese have a long history together.
posted by stbalbach at 10:58 AM on March 27


What did black people and monkeys have to do with anything?
posted by deathmaven at 10:59 AM on March 27 [7 favorites]


positive racist stereotypes are still racist stereotypes

Not disagreeing at all and I think the article and what it's outlining are still problematic in a bunch of ways. But maybe it's the shruggy Jew in me saying "Eh, I'll take it..." after so much worse and more harmful stereotyping. At some level it's pretty difficult to affect how people view "your people" besides trying to be a good example and all that other annoying bullshit. At the same time it's useful to know how other people are viewing your people so you can understand some larger things about culture.

I'm not saying that I'm stoked that this guy is doing this, necessarily, just that it's a lot more interesting than standard "Jews run the banks" sort of racist nonsense (or "Jews killed Jesus" for one that shows up more often and with more vitriol) and appears to not only be coming from a position of trying to educate/understand, but also has a handle on some aspects of Jewish culture that are usually overlooked entirely by non-Jews.
posted by jessamyn at 11:03 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


It's interesting that the Chinese have sometimes been called "the Jews of Asia" or "the Jews of the East".
posted by gyc at 11:05 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I am glad that this is being used to encourage research into Jews that is based in fact, but there is cause for discomfort. Positive Jewish stereotypes are easily converted into negative Jewish stereotypes, and much of the history of the Jewish experience for the past two thousand years involves nations inviting Jews in due to a perceived good that will result and later turning against the Jews for a nearly identical perceived threat. And it was often linked to this idea that Jews were good with money, although I am Jewish and I know a lot of Jews, and we are all terrible with money. We could, however, lend against interest at a time when Christians were forbidden from doing so, and so bringing in some Jewish merchants had a way of jump starting a moribund industry, but, then, once the economy was rolling, Jews were converted into caricatures of avarice, and very frequently murdered and had their worldly good stolen.

As an example, the Jews of Poland, who came there with the trade routes and were encouraged to settle by Bolesław III explicitly to encourage the country's commercial interests. They began in Poland with great freedom, which gradually eroded, and then things like outbreaks of the Black Death would incite riots against Jews. And so it continued,with ups and downs, for a millennium, with Poland encouraging the Jews to immigrate after they were expelled from Spain, and then, a hundred and fifty years later, there comes a Cossack uprising leading to rioting and the massacre of tens of thousands of Jews. And, of course, then we begin the slow march to the gas chambers and the utter destruction of Polish Jewry.

Maybe positive stereotypes can benefit Jews for a while, but history is long, and we have long memories, and we remember how often the things we were once praised for become the things we are murdered for.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:07 AM on March 27 [20 favorites]


I can understand the "Eh, I'll take it" attitude, considering how much worse this could have been played out, but it still rubs me the wrong way. Just because we're not being chased with pitchforks because we killed Jesus doesn't mean that the idea that we run the media and hold America in our pockets is acceptable.

I'm still ruminating, though, so I may circle back and figure out why it is so irritating to me.
posted by blurker at 11:08 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


For me the big issue is that, as much as I would like to, I don't get to choose that people not be racist to me. I mean I don't maybe "look Jewish" so there's that, but ultimately a lot of this is out of my hands and it's just important to be aware of what's up. And I think it's worth thinking about what a non-racist approach to this would even look like.

One that said Jews were the same as everyone else? One that did real research and found that they were about as good with money as everyone else? It's really hard, for obvious reasons, to do any research that has, at its core, "Is one race better/worse at a thing than other people?" Besides the fact that this is usually a racist approach at its core and has historically been used in terribly racist ways, there is also the issue that race is socially constructed and saying anything, really, about black people, begs the question of what exactly you mean by "black people" and people start to talk about how there is more diversity within races than among all races, etc.

Judaism is interesting because it's a long-extant faith tradition that has a lot of of overlap with what we've come to understand as race. In America we think of faith traditions as more able to be chosen than I think people think about religion in other countries. And this is interesting in China where to choose to follow a religion is a really fraught path (similar to how Judaism as a faith tradition has been) and so I think they are seeing some sympatico elements between Judaism and Chinese culture in ways that seem a lot like "Oh great some giant hegemonic monoculture (which isn't even accurate or fair about China, tbh) deciding to scrutinize The Jews!" to me.

So yes, I too am very uncomfortable with it. I'm just finding it interesting to watch from afar maybe feeling overly secure in the feeling that it's pretty abstract and harmless at this level.
posted by jessamyn at 11:21 AM on March 27 [7 favorites]


Wait, I thought rich old Protestant white men had all the money and power.

I am sooooo confused.
posted by briank at 11:21 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I guess it's the Chinese equivalent to books like these?

Not to mention this.
posted by TedW at 11:31 AM on March 27


Well, Jews certainly have the power to keep Chinese restaurants open during Christmas.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:40 PM on March 27


With the corollary that Chinese restaurants have the power to make pork kosher.

(Of course, I was raised in a household that once served ham as the main course of a Seder dinner, so what do I know?)
posted by McCoy Pauley at 11:32 AM on March 27 [11 favorites]


I feel like this example of (American) Chinese-Jewish interaction belongs here.
posted by cman at 11:34 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Interesting post, I wasn't aware that philo-semitism was a thing in China, I too thought the main connection was xmas dining.

My own thoughts on the commentary here (not just this thread): if one recognizes negative stereotypes about a group, that's obviously bad. If one recognizes positive stereotypes about a group, well, that's also bad (or "problematic" in the parlance). If one chooses not to recognize any common attributes about a group ("I'm colorblind"), well that'll also be problematic to some. As far as I've been able to determine, in this discussion space there is no correct path (or path not taken) without inevitable gripeage. And the gripers rarely if ever offer what they would consider the correctly constructed non-criticizeable path. To wit, the gripers will always be with us, bless their hearts.
posted by amorphatist at 11:42 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


...Jews were converted into caricatures of avarice, and very frequently murdered and had their worldly good stolen.

Yeah, I mean, stereotypes are founded on ignorance, and as long as that ignorance remains, things aren't destined to be good for the people being stereotyped. Ignorance means, in many ways, a blank slate on which to paint preconceptions and those can turn on a dime because someone in charge woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

That being said, I don't remember the last time I've actually seen a contemporary article on a surge in interest in academic Jewish history and culture. Which is something of a win for Jewish history and culture; god knows one common thread through all of it is the constant threat of extermination and erasure. I'm not the "Jews must only marry Jews or we're all doomed!" sort of Jew, but I'm also not going to pretend like we didn't effectively face extinction as recently as a handful of decades ago.

If a culture is to outlast its people someone outside of it has to take an interest. Maybe that someone is what that culture turns into, sure. But, shit, I'd be delighted to know that in a thousand years, Jewish history and culture is being taught in universities the way we teach the classics now. Because, right now, having attended a college with a Judaic studies major, the equivalent would be a classics department where most of the students are Greek or Italian.

That being said, I don't think anyone would make the argument that "Jews control the banks and the media" can itself be spun into something wholly positive for the Jews, or anyone, really. The idea that opinion can be a positive one is a hopefully discarded stepping stone into acknowledging in a legitimate way a culture and a people.
posted by griphus at 11:43 AM on March 27 [5 favorites]


If your academic viewpoints can be supported by a random sampling of /pol/tard anti-semitic rants on 4chan you might want to check your thesis.
posted by vuron at 11:44 AM on March 27


...antisemitic conspiracy theories

Could they be "semitic conspiracy theories" in this instance?
posted by anonymisc at 11:47 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


And the gripers rarely if ever offer what they would consider the correctly constructed non-criticizeable path. To wit, the gripers will always be with us, bless their hearts.

That's probably the least charitable reading of this discussion possible, and I can't imagine what you thought it would contribute.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:49 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Along with cman's post, we also need this.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:53 AM on March 27


jessamyn: "Clickbaity headlines (and pullquoting) nonwithstanding, this is actually an interesting article mostly about why some Chinese scholars believe that understanding the history of Judaism and Jewish thought may be useful in China and is worth a read. "

The problem is, an article that praises "the Jews" for "achievements" that are straight out of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion isn't really praise. And perpetuating false stereotypes about Jews that have traditionally gotten us rounded up and/or killed in all sorts of exciting ways isn't exactly a step forward.

Interesting article, yes. The underlying assumptions made my skin crawl. Although sadly, they're par for the course.
posted by zarq at 11:57 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


griphus: I'm not the "Jews must only marry Jews or we're all doomed!" sort of Jew, but I'm also not going to pretend like we didn't effectively face extinction as recently as a handful of decades ago.

Thanks to conservation and breeding programmes, the number of Jews spotted in the wild has grown significantly in the past twenty years.

The only downside is that my radio tracking collar gives me a rash sometimes.
posted by dr_dank at 11:57 AM on March 27 [7 favorites]


jessamyn: " So yes, I too am very uncomfortable with it. I'm just finding it interesting to watch from afar maybe feeling overly secure in the feeling that it's pretty abstract and harmless at this level."

This is an article from 2009: Few Chinese, Japanese, Malaysians, or Filipinos have ever seen a Jew – and yet antisemitism persists

Having experienced casual antisemitism from South Korean and Chinese friends growing up, I think it's really not so harmless.
posted by zarq at 12:03 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]


It's interesting that the Chinese have sometimes been called "the Jews of Asia" or "the Jews of the East".

The Chinese Diaspora has been occupying the same socioeconomic niche as the Jews in many corners of the world. And experiencing the same kind of oppression as a result. Just to rattle off a few cases:

- The high proportion of Viet Chinese among the boat people.
- The Indonesian riots in 1998.
- Forcible assimilation in Thailand.

They really should study Jewish history instead of these fantasy books.
posted by ocschwar at 12:09 PM on March 27 [12 favorites]


In a similar vein, Amy Chua (of Tiger Mom fame) and her husband Jed Rubenfeld co-published a book recently The Triple Package:
Here is the book’s thesis: Some groups (Cubans, Nigerians, Mormons, Jews, some Asian groups, south Asian Indians, and Iranians) have experienced upward mobility in the U.S. at higher rates because they possess three cultural qualities: impulse control, feelings of superiority, and feelings of inferiority. By impulse control, they mean the ability to resist temptation (to quit, for example); superiority and inferiority appear to be a simultaneous belief in your group’s specialness (e.g., God’s chosen people) and deep-seated anxiety about inadequacy, the kind that a Chinese mother might instill in her daughter by calling her garbage.
So basically they fold in some of these positive stereotypes that are attributed to Jews, Chinese, and others as something Americans need to study and emulate to be as 'successful' as these groups.
posted by rosswald at 12:12 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


It would also be useful for Jews to study the Chinese diaspora. Or, at least, it has been for me. When America snapped its borders shut on the Chinese, they did so on the Jews as well, and anti-Chinese and anti-Jewish sentiments dovetail in a lot of surprising ways.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:14 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


There are a billion individual people in China. The Chinese people do not believe anything.

This logic is obvious to 15 year-olds.
posted by bukvich at 12:16 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]


rosswald: "superiority and inferiority appear to be a simultaneous belief in your group’s specialness (e.g., God’s chosen people) "

What a shame that she doesn't understand what that phrase means, and worse, is disseminating her ignorance to the masses.

From a religious perspective, Jews do not believe they are superior to any other group. Nor does being the "Chosen People" mean that we are somehow better than anyone. Judaism 101 has more info.
posted by zarq at 12:19 PM on March 27 [5 favorites]


bukvich: "There are a billion individual people in China. The Chinese people do not believe anything."

Ah, so they're nihilists.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:20 PM on March 27 [25 favorites]


When I was teaching English and linguistics at a Taiwan college in the '70s, I realized at some point (it probably came up in the context of the assigned reading) that everyone in the class believed all that "Jews control the banks" stuff; they had somehow absorbed the entire litany of Protocols-style bigotry without ever having met a Jew (as far as they knew). I was astounded, and spent the rest of the class trying to do a little reverse brainwashing, pointing out how much they resented prejudice against Chinese and Asians and making them see it was the same damn thing. I don't know how much good it did. Granted, this was decades ago, but somehow I doubt things have changed all that much. I still wonder how it became so widespread on that side of the Pacific.
posted by languagehat at 12:21 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Wait, I thought rich old Protestant white men had all the money and power.

No, they are just the people we vote into office to represent us in the name of pretending we're actually a free country. Even in a fake democracy, people need to feel like they have a say some of the time.
posted by ReeMonster at 12:23 PM on March 27


Ah, so they're nihilists.

Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of anti/philo-semitism, at least it's an ethos.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:27 PM on March 27 [8 favorites]


There are a billion individual people in China. The Chinese people do not believe anything.

This logic is obvious to 15 year-olds.


It's poorly phrased, but I don't think the author believes every single Chinese person holds these views, nor expects us to believe that/ He is pointing out something that has reached enough of a critical mass to be identified as a trend in China.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:32 PM on March 27


I'm just going to link to this: Kaifeng Jews

Because there's probably never going to be another time more appropriate to share it. And it shows the world was definitely more globalized than people now give credit for.
posted by FJT at 12:49 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]


Normally I would get all self-righteous about how this is all racist, but I'm going to surprise you this time, I feel.

Growing up in a desperately assimilationist Chinese American extended family I can only say that some of the most racist people I've ever met are Chinese people, many of whom are related to me in some way. And there's a kind of stubbornness that's sort of a nationalist/jingoist pride that resists all attempts to logic them to being less racist. It's different from privilege and entitlement effects seen in other groups that prevent logic from working but no less frustrating.

I say good on folks for turning the Chinese racism/cultural expectations here against them and leveraging the fortune-seeking impulse to twist the knife.

Almost as hilarious to me as when I can do the same thing to other kinds of racists. In my mind if you're racist and someone takes advantage of that impulse to your detriment, then maybe that can turn into a learning moment for you.
posted by kalessin at 12:49 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Not wholly related to Jewish stereotypes, but my (personal) theory as an immigrant from SE Asia is that a lot of our stereotypes of foreign cultures come from being saturated by popular Western media and entertainment over the decades. And in the past it was almost always material of the lowest common denominator that got imported, usually rife with the worst kinds of archetypes.

I haven't been back in a while but hopefully the advent of the cyberwebs is unlocking new horizons and perspectives; I know they did for me.

Of course, sadly most of it is just plain old xenophobia as well.
posted by kyp at 12:54 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


The author does some pretty fancy dancing around the issue of the disparity between Nobel prizes awarded to Jews and to Chinese people when she manages to allude to the disparity without naming any numbers on the Jewish side:
“Do you know how many Chinese Nobel Prize winners there are?” asked Liu, not waiting for an answer. He didn’t have to. The Chinese have long articulated ambitions to win more Nobel prizes. (No Chinese-born scientist, for example, has ever been awarded a Nobel Prize for work in the mainland.) “The Jewish population is very small but the Chinese is big,” Liu said. “Compare that, if you will. When we know that the Jewish people are so successful in both science and human studies, we feel that maybe we can learn from them.”
Those numbers are somewhat striking:
Announcement of the 2013 Nobel winners continues and enlarges the extraordinary record of Jewish recipients. According to Wikipedia, Nobel Laureates totaled 855 up to this year, of whom 125 were Jews, with another 60 counted as half of three-quarter Jews. In the sciences, the record was even more remarkable, with Jews taking 26 percent of the prizes in Physics, 27 percent in Physiology/Medicine, and 37 percent in Economic Science.

Since Jews make up only 0.2 percent of the world’s population, these are astonishing statistics and have led to considerable speculation about the existence of a “Jewish gene.” However, since Jews are not considered a distinct genetic group, the Israeli daily Haaretz looked elsewhere. It credited cultural aspects, such as the value Jews put on education, or that Jews had to be smart just to survive, whether amidst the tribal warfare of the ancient Middle East or later in exile.
posted by jamjam at 1:04 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]


Isn't there some Biblical scripture explaining why God chooses to distribute Nobel Prizes the way that He does? Not sure why these Holy awards, as divinely administered by the Father and Christ himself, are always held up as some great universal conundrum for mankind.
posted by deathmaven at 1:17 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]


Though I do wonder why there's nothing written to explain why Bollywood, the world's biggest film industry, is nonexistent at the world's most prestigious film awards ceremony. It remains a mystery.
posted by deathmaven at 1:21 PM on March 27 [6 favorites]


When I want to learn to stuff I do the traditional North American thing and go ask street monsters. However, it only works if someone gives me directions.
posted by srboisvert at 1:37 PM on March 27


It's poorly phrased, but I don't think the author believes every single Chinese person holds these views, nor expects us to believe that/ He is pointing out something that has reached enough of a critical mass to be identified as a trend in China.

Yeah well anti-Semites aren't saying every single Jewish person is a media mogul or a banking tycoon. Just pointing out that it has reached enough of a critical mass to be identified as a trend.

More seriously, I think to the extent that there is an issue, it's not about antisemitism per se. It's that the contemporary American idea of "political correctness" has not taken root to the same extent in Asia. So many types of stereotypes in the West that are widespread but people no longer utter in polite company are more likely to be uncritically disseminated in China. We may ashamedly whisper that blacks are criminals and Jews are evil masterminds and Romani are dirty and high-weight people are slobs, but our whispers have carried throughout the world, and can be spoken freely in parts of Asia. Much in the same way that we've successfully exported homophobia through many parts of Africa even as it has lost a bit of steam back home.
posted by xigxag at 2:05 PM on March 27


Isn't there some Biblical scripture explaining why God chooses to distribute Nobel Prizes the way that He does? Not sure why these Holy awards, as divinely administered by the Father and Christ himself, are always held up as some great universal conundrum for mankind.

Yes, although it was originally about academic slavery ("research assistantships for graduate school"), and got mis-translated as Nobel Prizes in later editions.
posted by one_bean at 2:13 PM on March 27


Americans also believe Jews run our country, if the comments on Matt Taibbi articles are any indication.
posted by gorbweaver at 2:33 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


these are astonishing statistics and have led to considerable speculation about the existence of a “Jewish gene.”

Is that the one that causes Tay-Sachs disease?
posted by Sys Rq at 2:54 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]


The Nobel Prize statistic is interesting, but once you realize that most of the awards have gone to people from the Western, urban, middle class--those who have had longer and greater opportunity to take part in academic life and research--the presence of many Jewish people seems less standout. What percentage of the Western, urban, middle class is Jewish or of at least partly Jewish descent? Maybe only 0.2% of the world population is Jewish, but Nobel Prize winners mostly haven't come from such a broad pool. In a similar but opposite way, half the world's population is female but their overall lack of prizes doesn't mean that women are stupid.
posted by Thing at 2:58 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


but once you realize that most of the awards have gone to people from the Western, urban, middle class

Is there data to back this up? Though most Nobel-prize awardees are wealthy by the time they receive the award (and obviously wealthier afterwards), many of these people did their 'award-winning-work' years or even decades before being recognized by the Nobel committee. Perhaps before their ground-breaking work most of these people were not that wealthy?

I also was curious about the percent of Jews who could be classified as 'middle-class' or greater, and this Wikipedia page on American-Jews is interesting (though obviously this is only a part of the larger picture). Still, I think even if we keep whittling down our 'N' of possible Nobel prize awardees in the ways you suggest the percentages would still show a disproportionately high number of Jewish awardees.
posted by rosswald at 4:20 PM on March 27


What are you asking? No one said most Nobel-prize winners come from wealthy backgrounds. Western, urban, middle class. And that link says "Forty-six percent (55% of Reform Jews) report family incomes of over $100,000 compared to 19% of all Americans, with the next highest group being Hindus at 43%". Are you asking for data that the (mere) hundred years of laureates, who nearly by definition hold doctorates, were at least middle class?
posted by deathmaven at 4:36 PM on March 27


I was just trying to dig in to the Nobel Prize statistic from jamjam's comment and Thing's follow-up
posted by rosswald at 4:45 PM on March 27


Compared to what a lot of other countries have done to the Jews over the centuries, China is actually a country with one of the more philo-Semitic histories. The low number of Jews in China today has less to do with anti-Jewish pogroms (as would have been the case in many other countries) than with relentless assimilation. Call it the Borg theory of Chinese philo-Semitism.
posted by jonp72 at 4:56 PM on March 27


No one asks why Americans are politically correct. Instead we ask why the Chinese are not. This is ethnocentrism.
posted by sieve a bull at 4:59 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


That's very true. Many of the viewpoints common to the Western world and the Anglosphere aren't really shared in the rest of the world. Certainly we can talk about how ignorance and stereotyping are bad, but to be shocked at this seems rather ignorant of its own.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:34 PM on March 27


No one asks why Americans are politically correct.

I don't really see this as a "political correctness" issue. Are you suggesting that Jews actually do run international finance, the media, etc, and Americans are engaging in carefully calculated doublethink when we say this isn't so?

Frankly, as a former anthropology student, I find it fascinating that Asian* cultures tend to accept the broad strokes of European anti-semitism without having their own specific stereotypes or simply not being aware/having any particular associations.

Because the issue here doesn't seem to be one of "xenophobia", per se. The issue isn't that Jews are settling in China and Chinese people are becoming more anti-semitic. The issue is that Chinese people are exoticizing Jewish culture, and doing so in a way that almost mirrors Orientalism, where broad stereotypes form an axiomatic framework for a bunch of generally positive but still problematic stuff.

It's like a game of cultural telephone.

*I ran into a lot of "Jews own the banks" stuff backpacking through India, as well.
posted by Sara C. at 5:43 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]


The Jews control the world and are secretly evil idea is spread actively by churches and mosques in Asia. There have always been Jewish traders from the Middle East and every major Asian city has an old synagogue, but the idea of antisemitism is being actively spread by churches and mosques. The antisemitic people I know in RL (the Jews are so smart! That's how they control us) are very religious and do not know any Jewish people personally. I know other very religious people who aren't antisemitic, but I don't know any non religious people who are antisemitic with the same fervor and ridiculous Elders of Zion quackery.

Does anyone know if there's a good non-crazy book or article on ursury laws and Jewish banking? It's fascinating how a prohibition now almost entirely forgotten from the Christian church today was so important once.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:01 PM on March 27



Does anyone know if there's a good non-crazy book or article on ursury laws and Jewish banking? It's fascinating how a prohibition now almost entirely forgotten from the Christian church today was so important once.


Yes, and I just read it last week! Check out Capitalism and the Jews by Jerry Z. Muller.
The unique historical relationship between capitalism and the Jews is crucial to understanding modern European and Jewish history. But the subject has been addressed less often by mainstream historians than by anti-Semites or apologists. In this book Jerry Muller, a leading historian of capitalism, separates myth from reality to explain why the Jewish experience with capitalism has been so important and complex--and so ambivalent.

Drawing on economic, social, political, and intellectual history from medieval Europe through contemporary America and Israel, Capitalism and the Jews examines the ways in which thinking about capitalism and thinking about the Jews have gone hand in hand in European thought, and why anticapitalism and anti-Semitism have frequently been linked. The book explains why Jews have tended to be disproportionately successful in capitalist societies, but also why Jews have numbered among the fiercest anticapitalists and Communists. The book shows how the ancient idea that money was unproductive led from the stigmatization of usury and the Jews to the stigmatization of finance and, ultimately, in Marxism, the stigmatization of capitalism itself. Finally, the book traces how the traditional status of the Jews as a diasporic merchant minority both encouraged their economic success and made them particularly vulnerable to the ethnic nationalism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Providing a fresh look at an important but frequently misunderstood subject, Capitalism and the Jews will interest anyone who wants to understand the Jewish role in the development of capitalism, the role of capitalism in the modern fate of the Jews, or the ways in which the story of capitalism and the Jews has affected the history of Europe and beyond, from the medieval period to our own.
Highly, highly recommended.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:16 PM on March 27 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure "this is propaganda spread by churches and mosques" is really apropos, at least in China and India.

Christianity and Islam are officially frowned upon in China, and per the article Chinese Christians are among the people most likely to gravitate to all this Judaic Studies stuff.

Christians are a tiny minority in India, and while there are a lot of Muslims, Islam is not culturally dominant there in the way it is in the Middle East and some Southeast Asian countries. (Also, proselytizing religion/converting people in general is highly frowned upon in India and potentially against the law.) When I encountered stereotypical antisemitism in India, it didn't seem to be coming from Muslim fundamentalists. It was just accepted without critical thinking, like the way Americans think people in Sub-Saharan Africa are all starving from famines.
posted by Sara C. at 6:40 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Banking is less powerful than intellectual orthodoxy. If I was purely evil, I would update The Protocols to say that modern intellectual purity .. no I can't even sit here and write this. It's too flip.
posted by sieve a bull at 7:13 PM on March 27


What is revealed in both Chinese and Jewish history is that all the best capitalists are actually socialists. And vice versa.
posted by spitbull at 7:35 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]


I'd be a lot more concerned about this if there was a non-negligible number of Jews in China.

Regarding the number of Jewish Nobel Prize winners, I suspect it has a lot to do with European anti-Semitism. Jews were a middle class at a time when most Eastern Europeans were peasants or the nobility. Jews were neither of those, and they didn't have the traditional routes of advancement through the church, army, or government. Their choice was basically trade or a profession: you had many, many families where the father was a peddler and the kids were doctors or lawyers. This advancement was unheard of among their non-Jewish neighbours, where most people did the same thing their parents had.

There was a sort of technological revolution in the late 1800s with many new developments in electricity, chemistry, and metallurgy. The vast bulk of peasants were unable to enter higher studies; the upper classes didn't need to enter higher studies; this left the middle class, which was predominantly Jewish. So all of a sudden you had lots of Jewish scientists, even though the universities did their best to restrict their entry. Anti-Semitism turned many of them into migrants or refugees even before WW2: imagine the stereotypical comic scientist, with a European accent, a beard, and an old-fashioned suit. It's a Jewish refugee!

Immersion in academia is practically hereditary: people with scholarly parents often become scholars themselves. The second generation of Jewish migrants were more likely to seek advancement through education, but my casual observation through genealogical records indicates that this tendency weakens every generation. I would think that we've seen the first- and second-generation wave of Jewish prize winners, and the third generation will be much less strongly represented.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:45 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure it's a conspiracy theory if you think that the Jews are in charge because a) a lot of Jews are in charge of things, and b) you think that Jewish people have just figured out culturally how to be more competent at things. I think it ignores a lot of the fact that how particular ethnic groups have done seems to be a function of chance and timing as much as anything else, of course. But, really, ignore the woo-woo stuff--American media has a definite propensity to come out every now and then with a rush of stories about how Asians are better at everything than we are, in terms of academics and work ethic and whatever else. Breathless talk about the South Korean economy without mention of, say, the South Korean suicide rate. Look at these Chinese young people who work long hours to get ahead, look at your kids loafing around in their pajamas until noon! So... why wouldn't other countries do the same thing?
posted by Sequence at 10:06 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I'm just going to link to this: Kaifeng Jews

China’s Kaifeng Jews Rediscover Their Heritage
posted by homunculus at 10:45 PM on March 27


Sequence: "I'm not sure it's a conspiracy theory if you think that the Jews are in charge because a) a lot of Jews are in charge of things, and b) you think that Jewish people have just figured out culturally how to be more competent at things."

Yeah, this. You don't have to believe in any hateful conspiracy theories to notice that there's a huge number of Jews working in American media, and perhaps in particular in the movie industry. You just need to know how to count.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:57 AM on March 28


"There's a lot of Jews working in X" and "The Jews are in control of X" are two vastly different statements. The bankers run the banks, the media executives run the media. The Jews as a people very certainly do not, regardless of their numbers.

Jewish thought (a seriously problematic concept on its own) and action is not driving financial and media policy, which is what "the Jews are in charge of the bans and the media" is implying.
posted by griphus at 2:59 AM on March 28 [4 favorites]


In my personal direct experience, antisemitism of the Jewish Conspiracy type as separate from the broad positive+negative racial stereotypes based on some commonly perceived cultural traits (Jews have big noses, Koreans get drunk a lot, Indians beat their wives) has been pretty specific with the whole secretly controlling the world thing, and that this when I have asked politely where they heard it from, given that they do not know any Jewish people, has been church, mosque or family (who in turn - church, mosque). I don't know anyone Hindu or Taoist who is - oh wait, yes, I have a Buddhist friend who believes this idiocy too. So throw in temples. I don't think this is coming from western media so much as religious traditions that fester and grow. But again, my personal experience and maybe I just know super weird people.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:14 AM on March 28


In a similar vein, Amy Chua (of Tiger Mom fame) and her husband Jed Rubenfeld co-published a book recently The Triple Package:

Much more relevantly, they also wrote World on Fire which is (among other things) about the Chinese diaspora in Asia and how for historical reasons they've come to dominate certain sectors of the economies and large parts of academia of South East Asian countries where they are a small minority.
posted by atrazine at 6:07 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]


Everyone knows it's the 1% who run things, not the 2%.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:53 AM on March 28


Nor does being the "Chosen People" mean that we are somehow better than anyone. Judaism 101 has more info.

Thanks for sharing that link to Judaism 101. It was a few years ago -- possibly here on Metafilter -- that I first read an account of how G-d offered the Torah to all of the other nations/peoples of the Earth first and the Jews were the ones who said "Cool" to it, and my reaction to that was "Man, maybe a more apt phrase is 'The Choosing People' or 'The People Who Chose' since that sounds more like what really happened."

Anti-Semitism and even positive-stereotype-anti-Semitism to me serve as stark reminders that when you are an Other, anything you say or do can and will be used against you. Stuck at the bottom of a society because of systematic oppression? That's held against you. Succeed despite the barriers and play a vital role in that same society? That's wielded against you too, though a seemingly "admiring" smile might hide the nastiness at that point. It's like Mos Def said, "You start keeping pace, they start changing up the tempo."
posted by lord_wolf at 8:32 AM on March 28 [3 favorites]


It's just a dumb stereotype caused by selectively considering specific phenomenon and having an overgeneralized view of the world. It's no different from westerners thinking that, say, all of Africa is controlled by tinpoint dictators oppressing starving populaces.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:23 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]


There are a billion individual people in China. The Chinese people do not believe anything.

This logic is obvious to 15 year-olds.


Well, the Chinese 15-year-olds who I teach spout off these stereotypes in the same practiced, memorized way they reply "finethankyouandyou" when I greet them. All of the students use the same phrases and cite the same example people. They all tell me that Jewish and Chinese people are the most clever. This leads me to believe* that my racist kids don't just happen to have racist parents or grandparents but that these ideas are directly taught. If that is the case, it's important to note that the students use a national curriculum for all subjects. I have been told that every kid in every school uses the same textbooks.** For example, I have had multiple people of different ages in different provinces tell me the percentage of things Chairman Mao got wrong (30, if I remember correctly).

Yes, Chinese people are not a homogeneous mass who actually only have one opinion, but most of them are products of an educational system that not only prioritizes rote memorization of right answers over critical thought, it doesn't leave kids with any spare time to think or process what they've learned. My kids are not at all practiced taking pieces of evidence and coming to their own conclusions. It has taken months to get them to a point where someone will offer a second, differing opinion in literature class.

Additionally, most people in this country live in very, very racially homogenous communities. I would be surprised if many of my students had knowingly met even one Jewish person. There's not really any impetus to call this set of beliefs into question.***

*I haven't done a lot of investigation into the matter because it makes my skin crawl when my kids say these things and it is important for my work and my sanity that I don't encourage repetition of non-investigated, rote-memorized hooey.

**and is expected to work through them at the same pace to match national testing dates. This was part of a conversation about the ranked middle and high schools, not about content per se.

*** My kids are planning to go to university in America, so we're really working on teaching about life in a multicultural society and focusing a lot on race in American History class--doing activities where they play the role of an African-American sharecropper and asking them to come to conclusions about how the roles people were historically forced into affect life in America today. I want to undermine the racism without wasting a lot of time arguing directly against an idea they haven't actually given any thought to. About half of my kids recently inexplicably blamed the Japanese for the Chinese Exclusion Act, so...I have some work to do.

posted by MsDaniB at 8:05 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]


I've heard that when people try to nail down Asian American political demographics, they're often summarized as 'conservative jews'. However, in the age of Obama, they tend to be more liberal leaning as a demographic.

Just sayin.
posted by tenlives at 11:53 PM on March 28


From a religious perspective, Jews do not believe they are superior to any other group. Nor does being the "Chosen People" mean that we are somehow better than anyone. Judaism 101 has more info.

I think this oversimplifies things a bit. Over thousands of years of Jewish history and great diversity of thought (and greater than some would like to admit to diversity of practice), it is actually not that hard to find very problematic Jewish texts about how the Jewish people are superior or more beloved, or whatever.

I would say that these views are not mainstream today, by any means, but they are not defunct either, especially among the ultra orthodox and other more culturally isolated groups.

My impression is that this view sort of comes in and out of fashion depending mostly on the surrounding cultural context. I think that it tends to be more popular the more that Jews feel belittled, oppressed, vulnerable, etc. That's not so hard to sympathize with. If you are constantly receiving the message that you are 'less than', less of a man, less of a human being, that your life doesn't matter (subject to violence you have no means to defend yourself and your family against and few means of escape), I think that a narrative where actually, *you* are the superior - at least in some otherwordly spiritual sense - , and the people with the power over you, despite their apparent success, power, ability to hurt you, are actually found wanting, can be an unfortunate but understandable way to sort of maintain a sense of collective self-esteem.

Anyway I'm not a scholar in this area but I think it's important not to give the easily falsifiable impression that no Jews ever have actually believed (or at least desperately told themselves, and then written down), that they were superior. And founded that belief in their interpretation of their religion and viewed it as part of their religious life. The meaning of being "chosen" has not been static in Jewish history - pretty much nothing has. We also don't have a Vatican or any sort of official purveyor of official Jewish religious beliefs, which I think is a good thing but means that I am far from proud of everything that can be called (at least from a historical, scholarly perspective) 'authentic' to Jewish history.

I would say that every movement, and really, every individual, comes with their own 'hashkafa' that sort of delineates their particular chosen historical/cultural/religious narrative for why their version of Judaism is authentic, and again, from my relatively secular vantage point, they are kind of all correct, because there is just so much material in Jewish history and texts to draw from, and it's by choosing one and living it that we can make something less problematic more mainstream.

Sorry if this is a derail. In the main, I think Zarq is correct that very few American Jews believe in 'chosen-ness' as a mark of superiority or being more beloved of God. On the other hand, many (generally Reconstructionist communities) have abandoned, even liturgically, the language of chosenness altogether, which could be seen as either an internalization of external antisemitism that has pounded so hard on that OR an acknowledgment that there's something, in their view, irredeemably problematic about it.

Generally, I'm pretty wary of any of definitive statements that start, "from a religious perspective, Jews do/do not believe" because we may be a small people but we've had time to accumulate an enormous wealth of opinions! I think it's more fair to say that the mainstream position in American Judaism, including most of mainstream Orthodoxy, is described by Zarq's Judaism 101 link.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:20 AM on March 29 [3 favorites]


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