Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara, and Israeli Ambassador to China Matan Vilnai cut the ribbon at an opening ceremony for a coffeehouse at the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum..
(photo credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)
I think I understand Christian Europe. I understand the mentality and motivations and I’m familiar with the beliefs, well-founded and otherwise. I also understand the Arabs. I may not always be thrilled with them, but I understand them.
The analogy that comes to mind is that we and the Arabs and the Europeans all belong to the same class, like mammals. It’s a very large grouping that includes everything from whales to weasels, but they’re all related. China is something else entirely. In this analogy, the Chinese dragon belongs to a different class.
The Chinese have no feelings toward us, either good or bad. They’re devoid of the anti-Semitism the other members of our class have been imbibing with their mother’s milk for generations.
They have no historical bones to pick with us. We didn’t crucify any of them and we didn’t defeat them in battle. Their attitude to us is businesslike, just like their attitude to everything else: how can they benefit from us? To the outsider, this might sound overly cold and self-serving, something like a python (or maybe a dragon) that eats anything it can get its hands on – herbivores and carnivores, birds and reptiles – any form of protein available. It’s the same with the Chinese. Iran and the Arabs are good for oil, Africa is good for farming, fishing and construction projects, Europe and the United States are good for investment and technology, and we’re good for R&D in hi-tech and agriculture. But while their attitude may be so pragmatic that it verges on the cynical, it’s better than the self-righteous cynicism of Europe, which recently decided, for example, that Hamas isn’t a terror organization.
The size and the bright lights of China can be disorienting. Beijing is an improbable mix of modern skyscrapers displaying sparks of architectural genius and hutong areas that look a lot like refugee camps. The amazing Forbidden City, over 600 years old, has been a museum for decades, but most of it is still closed to the public. The gap between the site’s potential – its history, beauty and treasures – and what the visitor is allowed to see is as mind-boggling as the gap within the second largest economy in the world (or is it already the first?), a country capable of launching spacecraft but in which old women continue to unwind cocoons by hand to make silk, as they did in Marco Polo’s time. The ancient culture of China has given us writing paper, the compass and gunpowder, among a wealth of other inventions, and yet the country is still a dictatorship with a single party, and it’s a Communist party to boot. Somehow, it all makes sense in China. Just like a room dressed in purple velvet drapery, floral wallpaper and a crystal chandelier would look revoltingly kitschy in Tel Aviv but works perfectly in Paris, so the unlikely pieces of the Chinese puzzle fit together there, but only there.
Historically speaking, the Chinese do not attack their neighbors. They fight among themselves and mind their own business.
It’s been that way for centuries. (Tibet would undoubtedly take issue with this statement, however.) The Chinese have no desire to fix the world. They are a nation of hard workers and shrewd merchants who simply want to make money, and the more the better.
In a cynical world where the other nations want exactly the same thing but choose to put up a self-righteous front, the blunt, undisguised dragon might be preferable.
El Al pilots say that each time they land in Shanghai they hardly recognize the place because of the dizzying pace at which new buildings are going up. Apparently, the city has more skyscrapers than anywhere else in the world. Although the principles of democracy and human rights are profoundly rooted in me, when I see how bureaucracy hobbles construction in our country, I wonder if Israeli officials wouldn’t benefit from a dose of Chinese medicine.
The writer is the author of Sharon: The Life of a Leader. This article was translated by Sarah Kitai.