Lihong Song is no stranger to the calamity-filled narrative of Jewish
It was while he was studying Josephus – the ancient Jewish
historian who wrote about the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in
70 CE – that the Chinese academic decided to devote his career to Jewish
Now the head of the Glazer Institute of Jewish Studies at
Nanjing University, Song visited Israel earlier this month to learn about the
biggest tragedy of the Jewish people in the modern era, the Holocaust. He was
part of a group of 20 compatriots who took part in the first seminar for Chinese
educators on the subject at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust
Studies that ended last Monday.
“Holocaust studies are important for
every culture,” said Song in an interview at Yad Vashem’s cafeteria, where he
and the Chinese delegation stood out even among the international crowd of
visitors at Jerusalem’s Holocaust memorial museum. “It’s a lesson we must all
learn. In China most people have heard about the Holocaust, but I think it would
be beneficial if they knew more. Personally, I’m interested in human perceptions
of God in light of the Holocaust, but that may not be debated in this
The two-week seminar was sponsored by the Adelson Family
It’s aim is to provide information to educators
from the Chinese mainland, and from the Chinese territories of Macau and Hong
Kong, about the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis during World War II, so
that they might pass it on to their students.
“We want to widen the
circle of knowledge about the Holocaust in the world,” said Dorit Novak,
Director of the International School for Holocaust Studies. “We started with
Europe but in recent years there’s been an interest from countries further away,
like China. Theirs was a very impressive group of intellectuals and their level
of interest in the subject was outstanding.”
China experienced its own
national trauma during World War II. In the 1930s and 1940s, millions of Chinese
were killed during the brutal occupation of large swaths of the country by
Japan, then an ally of Nazi Germany.
Beijing University’s Zhong Zhiqing,
who lived in Israel for a decade and has a PHD in Hebrew Literature, said
drawing parallels between the two wasn’t constructive. “Historically, the
traumas are different and unique,” she said.
“What I can compare is
national reactions, how this trauma was used in the context of
Ziqing, who translated Israeli author Amos Oz’s Tale of
Love and Darkness into Mandarin, said the decision to become an expert on Hebrew
was not her own.
When Israel and China established diplomatic ties in
1992, her country needed Hebrew speakers and she was chosen by authorities to
study the language. Asked whether she would pick Hebrew if she could choose
again, the translator was hesitant.
“From an academic point of view I am
happy with my choice, but if I had to choose, then maybe I would pick an easier
language,” she said.
During their stay in Israel, participants got to
know the country better by travelling to Tel Aviv, Masada and north.
love humus,” Martin Chung, a translator from Hong Kong who participated in the
program, said. “Before I came, I had an image of Jerusalem’s Old City, I thought
Israel would be like that. But it’s more modern.”
Novak said the seminar
was a great success and that she hoped a new one will open next year. “I feel
like what we’ve done with this seminar is cast a pebble into a pond, and that
the ripples of what we’ve taught, the lesson of the Holocaust, will spread
throughout China,” she said.