Cursory Notes on Chinese Antisemitism

The book Chinese Perceptions of the Jews and Judaism: A History of the Youtai by Zhou Xun ( p.50), briefly discusses Kang Youwei, “the leading reformer of the ‘Hundred Days Reform’ in 1898,” and notes that this prominent figure in recent Chinese history had a critical view of Jews. The future Datong utopia, emancipated from superstition, would also be emancipated from Judaism and other backward faiths. Again, according to Zhou Xun (ibid.), Kang’s priorities of ‘the disciplining of individual sexual conduct and the regulation of the population’s reproduction’ led him to characterize Jewish people in a critical manner.

Although my ongoing PhD research involves Kang Youwei, I have not focused, in particular, on Kang Youwei’s antisemitism. Still, this snapshot of Chinese antisemitism in modern times highlights the importance of challenging political correctness, by recognizing racism (including antisemitism) as truly universal. It is important not only to recognize antisemitism in the Occident, or in the majority-Muslim world (two very obvious long-term historical hotspots of anti-Jewish hatred), but antisemitism everywhere in the world.

The fact that it is may not always be expedient to do so hardly makes the task any less pressing. I cannot say how widespread antisemitism is in China nowadays, but I do have some anecdotal experience (from my observations as a non-Jewish person) of positive stereotyping of Jews among Chinese people. I am not interested in the speculative glass bead game of whether degrading notion of Jews as ‘homo economicus’ is ‘worse,’ ‘less bad’ or ‘equivalent’ to more explicit forms of hatred. But this much I can say:

Political expediency has no place here.

I look forward to a serious engagement with the problem of antisemitism in every society and historical context; and I will hint, for now, that a serious account of antisemitism in China and among Chinese people may have implications for the revisionist ‘prejudice plus power’ thesis, which is so contrary to the common sense of people in the UK, if not elsewhere. If ‘mere’ racial prejudice is to be deemed less serious than racism with institutional power, then it must be asked whether privileging institutional racism over ‘mere’ racial prejudice can be tolerated much longer.

Clearly, racial prejudice is possible regardless of the power dynamics. I would be interested to see what light an investigation of antisemitism among the Chinese diaspora (or indeed anti-Chinese racism among the Jewish diaspora) would shed upon the relative strengths and weaknesses of the ‘prejudice plus power’ thesis.

It will also be interesting to see how Israel-China relations might be affected by such discussions. In the near future, I intend to write a little on the question of whether China has already hit ‘peak anti-Zionism.’

About the Author
Jonathan Ferguson is a Chinese graduate of the University of Leeds (BA, MA) and King's College London (PhD). He has written on a range of publications including Times of Israel, Being Libertarian and Secular World Magazine. He is a strong believer in individual liberty, individual justice and individual equality before the law. He stands with Israel, with the girls of Revolution Street and of course, with anyone who takes the courage to prefer the David Gilmour and Phil Collins eras to the pretentious artsy-fartsy dark ages of 80s rock... in the face of the all-too-predictable vitriol that is hurled at us!
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