China and Judaism: Unexpected Parallels

Pablo Medina, Editor

Judaism and Chinese philosophy were united as the topic for the Asian Heritage Month’s presentation of Chinese Perception of Jews.

English Professor Xu Xin of Nanjing University visited NEIU to present his views on the influence of Judaism in Chinese philosophy. Xin spoke of the parallels between the land of Judaism and the land of the Chinese in migration and treatment.

“The time of the revolution and international wars in China from the 1930s to the 1950s was similar to the holy wars between Israel and nations in the Middle East. Both Jews and the Chinese shared the struggles of conflict and protection of their homeland. This became a point for Chinese scholars to look into the philosophy of Judaism,” said Xin.

Xin also shared his experience in discovering Judaism in the late 1980s, when Xin discovered Professor James Friend, the chair of the English department at Chicago State University. Since his meeting with the professor, he studied religion extensively for about three decades, Judaism being the most prominent of his theological subjects.

Although he is a scholar of Jewish literature and a researcher in Chinese Judaism, Xin does not commit to any single religion. “As scholar, you want to stay observant,” he said. “So as to not lose focus on the subject at hand.”

Some Chinese individuals convert to Judaism, but never in the land of China, as Xin states in the presentation: “It is okay to convert in China, but preaching is not allowed in the country. Judaism is a serious religion, and the followers practice many rules in the literature and the Torah.”

Xin addressed the qualities of Judaism in its foundation of democracy, self-depreciation and humility.

“In Judaism, no one seeks to harm or offend anyone,” said Xin. “The people who practice it prefer to resolve issues peacefully and cooperatively.”

He lectured on the Jewish tradition of humility and how it presented their long history of persecution, from the times of ancient Egypt to the twentieth century from many neighboring nations. Xin also stated how both practitioners of Judaism and the Chinese civilization experienced tragedies of their own, brought on by nations with prejudiced agendas and intents of destruction:

“When the Jews experienced the Holocaust, it was much like the experience of the Chinese when the Sino-Japanese War of 1930 and the Nanking Massacre after took place. Both groups suffered great losses through war and hatred from nations. Some refugees of the second World War came to China without choice, and most found life to be miserable there, with poor living conditions, small apartments, and sometimes a bucket of water to shower with.”

Xin ended the presentation with the two sides of the status of modern Judaism, while addressing the prominence of anti-Semitism in France and Greece. Summing up his talk about the perception of Judaism in China, Xin said, “No understanding of the Jews means no understanding of the world.”