Thursday, July 24, 2014

Chinese sympathy for Israel

So another round of the eternal Arab-Israeli conflict is upon us, and all over the Western world people with nothing better to do are arguing about it over the internet. But how do people feel about it in China?

Here in the Middle Kingdom, most people do not seem to care very much about what is going on in Israel and Gaza. Media reports have been subdued and neutral in tone. The plane crash in the Ukraine attracted far more interest among the Chinese public, perhaps because it was the same airline which had already lost a plane in the Indian Ocean with hundreds of Chinese passengers on board. On my Wechat feed, I have seen various Chinese acquaintances post comments on the plane crash, some of them blaming Malaysia or wondering if Russia is responsible, but I have not seen a single Wechat contact post anything on the events in the Middle East. 

If you search the word "Israel" on Weibo, China's equivalent of Facebook (it often gets referred to as China's Twitter, but I think it has more in common with Facebook), some posts on the issue by random Chinese netizens do appear. What is striking is that a majority of them have a pro-Israeli tone.

Here as some random ones which popped up (the word in red, 以色列,means Israel):

听风灌雨以色列建国时,并未驱逐巴勒斯坦阿拉伯人,留下的也不少。逃难的巴人有相当一部分是被参战的阿拉伯国家忽悠了。事后,这些国家又不允许难民融入本国。//@古筝-赵勃楠: 是太太奇怪了。沙特那一大堆,东南亚一大堆伊斯兰教国家,这么多兄弟都不肯接纳巴勒斯坦兄弟?

This one is in reply to a post about Palestinian refugees. It says "When Israel was created, it actually didn't drive out the Palestinian Arabs, many of them remained. Some of the Palestinian refugees were conned by the warring Arab countries. After the event, these countries didn't even allow the refugees to integrate into their countries." The post it is replying to says "It's so strange. Huge Saudi Arabia and all the South East Asian Muslim countries, are they all unwilling to take in their Palestinian brothers?"

我重新出发也@申点启: 巴平民死亡是哈马斯需要的,不是以色列需要的。以色列是误杀,哈马斯是谋杀。以色列克制,所以巴勒斯坦平民才会死得这么少。

This one says "the deaths among the Palestinians civilians are needed by Hamas, not by Israel. Israel kills by accident, Hamas murders. Israel exercises restraint, and that is why so few Palestinian civilians are dying."


"If the Palestinians had the advantage, there is no doubt what the conclusion would be: all the Jews would become feed for the fish in the Mediterranean. Israel has killed 710 people, but it could have killed 100.000 times more. Where is the good and where is the evil? Israel could receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Support Israel!"

To be very fair, not all the posts are pro-Israeli in their tone. There are also some berating Israel for killing innocent people, and the US for supporting it. Since I first looked a few days ago, the anti-Israeli posts seemed to have increased, I suppose as more and more news of Palestinian civilians being killed comes in.

Last year's meeting between the Israeli and Chinese delegations on the occasion of Netanyahu's visit to China.

All the same, the general sentiment among the few Chinese who even take an interest in such matters is certainly far more pro-Israeli than in Europe. The reasons are varied. The urban Chinese populace generally has a positive image of Jews. The one thing they will immediately tell you about Jews is that they are all "very intelligent". Jews have a reputation for being smart, hard-working, and yes, good at business too, but that is not seen as a bad thing. Everyone has heard that lots and lots of important Western scientists and cultural figures are Jewish.

Furthermore, the Chinese have a certain respect and admiration for anything seen to be 厉害. 厉害 (lìhai) can be translated as "terrific, powerful, formidable". The word implies no moral judgement whatsoever. It simply expresses admiration for someone or something that can get things done and achieve their goals. After the 11th of September incident, many Chinese were describing Bin Laden as 厉害. Currently you can hear many Chinese praising Putin for being a really 厉害 leader for Russia.

Well to the Chinese, Israel is clearly very 厉害. One day a bunch of Jewish refugees decided to get their act together, created a country from scratch, and decided that from that day on nobody was messing with them. In spite of being tiny and surrounded by enemies they have thrived and turned their country into a modern economy which has created many technological innovations and high-tech start-ups, as well as keeping all of their enemies at bay (the book "Start up Nation" ha been translated into Chinese, to a certain success I believe). To the Chinese, all this may be right or wrong, but it is clearly 厉害. And that commands respect, and suggests that the Chinese might be able to learn something from this country.

All this creates an environment where people are open to hearing the Israeli side of the story. There is also another factor which has only come about recently: it seems like some Chinese might be identifying more with Israel after the recent wave of terrorist attacks around China supposedly committed by Muslim terrorists from Xinjiang. These attacks have not improved the image of Islam in China, a religion few Chinese know much about. There are quite a few posts on Weibo making the connection between fighting Hamas and fighting Xinjiang terrorism. 


Nguyen Hien said...

I think have a cross purpose in the Chinese's sympathy. Anyway, war is not the game, hope Chinese leader understand that.

Ji Xiang said...

Well, I am talking about Chinese public opinion here, not the leaders. China's government actually does its best to remain neutral, especially given its excellent relations and large trade with Iran...