Chinese academics here to learn about Israeli innovation

Professors tout country’s integration, creativity and problem solving.

Ayalon hosts Chinese Prof. Yiyi Chen 311 (photo credit: Isaac Harari/Israel Sun)
Ayalon hosts Chinese Prof. Yiyi Chen 311
(photo credit: Isaac Harari/Israel Sun)
China can benefit greatly by following the Israeli model of innovation, a noted visiting Chinese academic told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
“The Israeli higher-education system focuses on integration, creativity and problem solving – especially when it comes to energy issues and issues dealing with global warming,” Prof. Yiyi Chen said. “These systems would be very helpful for Chinese scholars and scientists.”
Chen, who teaches at the Institute of Art and Humanities at Shanghai Jiaotong University, and is the director of the Institute of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Peking University, came here this week with nine other Chinese academics.
The trip is sponsored by a partnership between the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and Project Interchange/AJC, in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry.
The professors all hail from the humanities, and teach classes in international relations and Jewish and Middle Eastern studies, among others.
They have met with a wide range of Israeli academics, politicians, and community leaders, to gain an understanding of what makes the “Start-Up Nation” tick.
Chen, considered China’s leading biblical scholar, has a BA in Hebrew Language and Literature from Peking University, and is the author of Introduction to the Hebrew Bible and Textual and Archaeological Background of the Hebrew Bible.
He also translated A.B.
Yeshoshua’s novel Three Days and a Child into Chinese, for which he was awarded a prize by the Israel Institute of Translation of Hebrew Literature.
According to Chen, Israel- China ties are an extension of the country’s history of warm relations with the Jewish people – including China’s sheltering of thousands of European Jewish refugees during World War II.
The most important fields China can learn from Israel are agriculture, military, security- reated technology and hitech, he said.
Chen said that the Post columnist’s Saul Singer’s book, Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle (which Chen helped edit), has made waves in China since it was published there three months ago.
The book’s depiction of Israel as a haven for start-ups – and a breeding ground for creative young people – has encouraged many in his country to push for greater cooperation with the Jewish state.
“The book was received very well by Chinese readers, and many people feel that the government is looking closely at the Israeli model, which is one of an innovative economy with over 3,000 start-ups,” Chen said.
The lessons imparted by the Israeli model are important for China, which is “in the process of transitioning to an information and hi-tech economy, from what was more a manufacturing and export economy,” he said.
One of the goals of the Chinese government is to change the slogan “Made in China” to “Designed in China” or “Created in China.”
“[Israel] is a country that has a very high pressure for survival – finding ways to survive, always questioning the answers coming out,” Chen said.
He added that the dynamic nature of Israel’s economy and industry are to some extent “a modern extension of the Jews’ forward thinking.”
Forward thinking is an attribute the Israelis share with the Chinese, Chen said.
He then related a Chinese saying that “you don’t start to dig a well when you are thirsty, you dig before.”
On Wednesday, the group visited the Knesset plenum, which Chen said gave them a taste of Israel’s vibrant democracy, and painted a strong contrast to the political culture he and his colleagues saw during visits elsewhere in the Middle East.
“We were watching a live Knesset debate, and even though there were only a handful of Knesset members there, it seemed very active, efficient and open,” Chen said. “This is something that I’ve not seen elsewhere in the Middle East.”
During their visit to the Knesset, the academic delegation met with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon as part of their efforts to investigate new areas for expanding bilateral cooperation.
In the meeting, Ayalon told the delegates, “I hope that during your visit to Israel, you have felt the great friendship and admiration that Israel and the Israeli people feel towards China and the Chinese people.
It is very important for us to strengthen our relations with China across many fields.”
When asked if China’s economic and diplomatic ties with Iran might conflict with its efforts for stronger ties with Israel, Chen said that while the media often portrays a conflict, he did not see one.
“From the information I get, I don’t see a conflict,” he said. “We have economic ties with both [countries], and people on the ground working on projects in both countries.
There are Chinese scholars and engineers visiting both countries, and Israeli and Iranian counterparts in China.”
Chen continued, “For China, the past 30 years of economic development and the betterment of peoples’ lives are more important than the political agenda, or whatever the media says is more important.”
Based on his meetings with Israeli leaders, Chen said he doesn’t feel that China is being overlooked in Israel by those favoring further development of Israeli ties with the US and Europe.
“China is getting a lot of attention from the elite thinkers in Israel,” he said.
“[Israelis] feel that China will take a more and more prominent role in world affairs and the affairs in the Middle East.
Policy-makers are paying more and more attention to China, which I believe China deserves.”