- By Isaac Stone Fish
Isaac Stone Fish is associate editor at Foreign Policy. Previously a Beijing correspondent for Newsweek, he wrote stories on such subjects as the Dalai Lama’s effect on international trade, China’s love affair with rogue states, and crystal meth in North Korea. His articles have also appeared in the International Herald Tribune, the Economist, and the Los Angeles Times.
During a speech on Tuesday in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told his audience that the Jews "have contributed greatly to America. No group has had such an outsized influence per capita," inspiring the New York magazine headline, "Biden Praises Jews, Goes Too Far, Accidentally Thrills Anti-Semites."
But cringe-inducing philo-Semitism is not just a U.S. phenomenon. In a recently published memoir, titled A Collection of Works Written During Leisure Time, Wu Guanzheng, who from 2002 to 2007 was China’s top anti-corruption official, reminisces about his time in Israel. "I bought some books on the Jewish people," he writes. One, which he cites later, is written by someone with the name "Abraham" and called — you guessed it! — Why Are Jews Intelligent.
Wu notes how Jews "attach extreme importance to study" and how they see scholars "as their spiritual leaders." Somewhat ironically for the man who was once the seventh-highest-ranking figure in an authoritarian system, Wu also praises Jews’ ability to "speak truth to power" and "freely express different opinions."
Chinese are notoriously philo-Semitic. Jewish visitors are often greeted with the platitude, "Ah, Jews, you so easily make money" (no joke), and there are dozens of Chinese-language books promising insight into Jewish secrets like raising smart children, succeeding in business, or unlocking the moneymaking secrets of the Talmud.
Wu also tweaks China’s conventional wisdom about Judaism. "There are people who say that the world’s wealth is in the Jews’ pocket," he writes. "Actually, Jews’ wealth is in their own brain." (The line works better in Chinese, where Wu uses a word for brain that literally means "brain pocket.")
Many retired Chinese officials publish (or try to publish) books after leaving office. And it is required — or at least strongly recommended — that Chinese news outlets covering these memoirs say nice things about them. The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, has applauded Wu’s book for exhibiting a "deep and true unaffected emotionality," while Xinhua, China’s state news agency, has noted how the book’s "sincere and honest" writing style has received attention "from all walks of life," which explains why the publishers issued 300,000 copies the first week after the release. (According to a write-up in China Publishing News Online, the book includes "essays, reflections, jottings, fiction, discussions" and features discursions on the legal system as well as "how to conduct oneself in society.")
The news website for Wu’s birthplace, part of the Jiangxi provincial city of Shangrao (a city I’d never heard of before, but which apparently has a population of more than 6.5 million people), published an article titled, "The Party Officials and Ordinary People of the Entire City Have Set Off a Popular Craze of Studying" Wu’s book.
The praise from Chinese state media does not necessarily mean the book is filled with drivel — Southern Weekly, a liberal newspaper that generally publishes less censored news than its competitors, remarked on its "unconventionality" in featuring a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s most powerful body, "exposing his inner thoughts."
Wu’s inner thoughts include a verdict on Franklin Delano Roosevelt ("excellent"), Bill Gates ("he stepped down to let talented youth take on heavy responsibility"), and retirement ("I look up and observe the universe, I look down and observe all living things — I feel totally full of vitality.")
And when he does look down and observe all living things, there’s apparently a special place in his heart for the Jews.