Archive | 9:14 pm

Today’s China Photo

20 Jan
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, originally uploaded by 2817riggs.

Is Bird Flu Back?

20 Jan

How many deaths from bird flu have to occur before we start talking about epidemics crossing borders across the Eurasian landmass?

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The Silly With the Profound

20 Jan

Susan Fishman Orlins (via Chris Blattman’s “Jews Through Chinese Eyes“) remarks on the complicated portraits of Jewish people and Judaism which exist together in PTC.

After five days in Beijing, I board an overnight train bound for Shanghai. In my sleeping compartment, I open River Town, Peter Hessler’s memoir about teaching in China from 1996 to 1998. I reach a passage in which Hessler is also on a train, engrossed in a book. A woman approaches and comments on how diligently he is working. “She peered at me,” he writes, “and it was clear that she was thinking hard about something. ‘Are you Jewish?’ she finally asked. ‘No,’ I said, and something in her expression made me want to apologize…. I sensed her disappointment as she returned to her berth.”

How, then, to reconcile this reverence for Jews with the appreciation for Adolf Hitler that Hessler mentions elsewhere in his book? Hessler writes that alongside “a deep respect for the Jewish people,” Chinese appreciate the icon of Hitler mainly because of Charlie Chaplain’s portrayal in The Great Dictator, which many have seen multiple times. How are they able to overlook that small matter of the Holocaust? For one thing, until recently, it simply hadn’t been taught. For another, the politically controlled Chinese educational system valued rote learning and discouraged much independent thought. It similarly trained Chinese to revere the revolutionary Chinese leader Mao Zedong: At least a dozen educated Chinese I ask for their view of Mao, give an identical answer, that Mao was “70 percent good and 30 percent bad.” Even though Mao had a major hand in substantially more deaths than Hitler in the excesses of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, this has been the Communist Party line since 1981.

But this is changing: Fewer Chinese are ignorant of the dark fate of many Jews of the last century. In Shanghai, the port city to which many Jewish refugees fled the Nazis, I meet Yang Peiming, an avid historian and the proprietor of the Propaganda Poster Art Centre. He shows me his private collection of 70-year-old passports that he acquired at a local flea market. Each is stamped with swastikas and a large red “J,” indicating it had belonged to a European Jew who had made it to Shanghai, one of the few shores open to these refugees. “Shanghai’s history cannot be complete without Jewish history,” he tells me. “We learn from Jewish people.”

There’s much more in the article than holocaust and the get-rich-quick and parenting guides Blattman highlights. In no way even a minority group in the billions of ethnic groups comprising the mainland population, awareness of Jewish history and religion follows close contact or higher education. It’s not a wholly negative portrait.

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