By Hilary Leila Krieger

Jews are rich, powerful, rich, shrewd and rich. They know the secret of success in banking, trade and industry. And they know the key to gaining influence in the US in general and in the White House in particular.

These common Chinese characterizations of Jews might sound like an anti-Semitic diatribe, but sociologist Shalom Salomon Wald swears they are not. It's actually a statement, he says, of the high regard in which China holds the Jewish people: These are the very traits that endear the Jews to the Chinese.

"The Chinese are nauseatingly obsessed with making it, with success," says Wald, who recently authored a strategy paper titled "China and the Jewish People" for the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, a think tank affiliated with the Jewish Agency and headed by former US diplomat Dennis Ross. For the Chinese, he explains, the Jews are the model of success.

It's not just a matter of accumulating material wealth and political clout. To the Chinese, the Jews have contributed to the progress of the world.

"They're the great doctors and the great scientists," Wald says, noting that Chinese people especially admire Albert Einstein and, in the past at least, Karl Marx. They wonder how so few could contribute so much.

According to Wald's study, the Chinese affinity with the Jews started in earnest following news of the 1903 Kishinev pogrom, when more than 50 Jews were murdered. Since that cataclysm, the Chinese discuss the Jews as the other race persecuted by the white man, Wald explains. They see a similarity between their fate and that of the Jews, including the Holocaust, which reminds them of their own treatment during World War II by Japan.

The Chinese, who value history and memory, also appreciate that Jewish civilization, much like theirs, goes back millennia. In fact, when Beijing formalized relations with Jerusalem, it promoted the decision under the slogan of the need to bring together the world's two oldest civilizations.

The Chinese also lack the complexes that arguably inspire other cultures' attitudes toward Israeli policies and Jewish travails. While Christianity and Islam each have a close and sometimes troubled relationship with Judaism, the Chinese, who as a nation have no particular relationship with the Bible, also have no need to delegitimize any aspect of the Jewish past.

In Chinese, the term Jew has no negative connotation of the sort one finds in various monotheistic languages. While Chinese contacts with the West intensify, anti-Semitic literature remains rare, though its importation has been on the rise.

So far, Wald says, there's no reason to fear the Chinese view of Jews as rich and powerful; in fact, the Jewish people should take advantage of the interest in Jews these perceived qualities invite, and use it to cultivate ties between the two cultures.

"The Chinese believe the Jews are a big people. It makes no sense to tell them we're not," he says. "It also doesn't help to tell them this is anti-Semitic."

Copyright 1995-2005 The Jerusalem Post

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