At first sight, it is difficult to imagine two nations more different to each other than China and Israel. China is four hundred times Israel’s size and two hundred times its population. One is the heart of Asia; the other a bridge between West and East. However, China and Israel have many characteristics in common. Here follow seven similarities.
The principal trait is their long history. Both nations span at least four millennia, being the only nations on earth who claim such continuous national identity.
Secondly, these long national identities were recently redefined, almost simultaneously: modern Israel in 1948, modern China in 1949. In both countries national minorities constitute roughly 10% of the population.
Thirdly, their national religions (Confucianism and Judaism) are more based upon deed than dogma, much more evolved around behaviour than belief. The maxim “Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you“ is essential to both civilizations, Jewish and Chinese, as well as the principle that human nature is basically good. In neither civilization does theology play a major role. One century ago, Wu Ting Fang, a Chinese stateman, stated: “There is a resemblance between Confucius and Moses –in their doctrines and in their way of teaching and of moulding the character of their two respective peoples. The most striking agreement is the importance of honoring one’s parents.” Moreover both religions are strictly non-missionary and tolerant towards the outside world. They do not have as a practical aim to convert the world to Confucianism or Judaism.
In the fourth place, in a world that favors Western languages, both China and Israel are proudly loyal to their respective ancient tongues and their unique alphabets. The renovation of biblical Hebrew in modern times has a parallel in China’s simplification of ancient Mandarin.
The fifth similarity: both Jews and Chinese have a long history of suffering and persecution. Their losses during the Second World War brought their tragedy to a nadir, and both the Holocaust and the Rape of Nanjing remain as a blemish in mankind’s consciousness. During the war, Liu Shih-Shun, a Chinese academician and Minister of Foreign Affairs, stated: “Like the Jews, the Chinese have a cultural heritage of thousands of years. Like the children of Israel, my countrymen are scattered over the four corners of earth. Like your people, my people know the meaning of hardship and, for this reason, they are able to carry on a prolonged war of resistance without the material things that are considered essential in other parts of the world.”
It should be noted that China is frequently mentioned as the only country in the world where there was never any expression of Judeophobia, that was so characteristic of European history. In March 2001 there was a ceremony at Yad Vashem, to honor Feng Shan Ho, the Chinese Consul in Vienna between 1938 and 1940, who distributed hundreds of Chinese visas to save Jews from the Nazi regime.
In the sixth place, they both had a major influence in human civilization, in its culture, literature, and sciences. World history is unimaginable without either the Chinese or the Jews.
There is a further common trait that is more modern. Both China and Israel started a process of modernization of their economy. The models upon which Mao Zedong and Ben-Gurion conceived the economy was state-oriented, while the more recent leaders of both countries launched a campaign to open their economies to the free market.
Having all these in mind, one can conclude that bridges between China and Israel are natural and desirable, and should be built for their mutual benefit. While they do not share a regional group, they belong to the tiny group of Ancient Civilizations recently revived, of hard-working creative peoples who have made major contributions to mankind.
As Wu Ting Fang put it: “The Chinese and the Jews have always been friends and not enemies. Both have been persecuted and despised… The Jews and Chinese are despised not on account of their vices… but on account of their virtues, on account of their industry, economy, perseverance, thrift”.
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