The Jewish and Chinese diasporas
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The word "diaspora" in its normative usage indicates the dispersion of Jews and the settling of Jewish communities after the Babylonian captivity. More generally, it refers to Jews living outside of
Editor's note: The following article is an abridged version of Professor Zhang's paper, "Jewish and Chinese Diasporas", which he delivered at the Howard Gilman International Conference: "
The Jews of OrientMany scholars have mentioned
At the end of the 19th century, Warrington Smythe, a British adviser to the Thai government at the time, "saw the Chinese as advancing socially and economically at the expense of the Thais." He also called the Chinese "the Jews of Siam." In 1914, the aforementioned King Vajiravudh published a pamphlet called The Jews of the Orient in which he defined the Chinese as outsiders, who were negatively compared to the Jews as foreign intruders taking over the local economy and society at the expense of the "natives".
Since the Jews and the Chinese had existed in their respective host countries for a very long time before the late 19th century, the intensification of anti-Semitism and anti-Sinicism at the turn of the century must have had some specific historical circumstances. Daniel Chirot, Professor of International Studies and of Sociology at the University of Washington, who has been working on the causes of ethnic conflicts and their solutions, argues, "the rise of modern nationalism hardened attitudes toward those newly viewed as outsiders. Entrepreneurial minorities, previously seen as just one more among many specialized ethnic and religious groups that existed in most complex, premodern agrarian societies, now became, in the eyes of the new nationalists, something considerably more threatening."
The comparison of the Chinese to the Jews, however, does not come only from the negative side of anti-Semitic and anti-Chinese nationalists. For example, Professor Wang Gungwu, an expert in the field of overseas Chinese, particularly in
In my view, that comparison is indeed appropriate, and Anthony Reid's idea of "entrepreneurial minorities" might be a good place to start. Reid, who co-authored a book with the previously mentioned Professor Chirot entitled Essential Outsiders: Chinese and Jews in the Modern Transformation of Southeast Asia and Central Europe, maintains that Jews in Central Europe before World War II and the Chinese in Southeast Asia are "the two most important entrepreneurial minorities," and by that he means "economically powerful but politically disadvantaged minorities." He argues that the Jews and the Chinese are comparable "in their creative and vulnerable role as Ooutsiders at the centre' in dynamic processes of change." On the creative side, both Jews and the Chinese are doing remarkably well as entrepreneurial minorities, particularly in finance and trade.
For example, it has been pointed out that in Vienna before World War II, Jews had an enormous impact on many aspects of Viennese society, not only in cultural areas but on the city's economy as well. As for the Chinese in Southeast Asia, a 1997 Chicago Tribune report, "Chinese Expatriates Dominating Asian Economies," told the story well: although ethnic Chinese count for less than 2% of the population in the Philippines, they own 55% of the wealth in the private sector. Similar figures were cited for Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia. It is beyond doubt that the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia are spectacularly successful in business and trade.
Indeed, it is the predicament of economic success and political disadvantage that makes the Chinese and the Jews remarkably comparable. So is the parallel situation of the potential danger of tension and conflict. It is the negative response from the "native" majority and political leaders in Southeast Asian countries that makes the Chinese minorities vulnerable as "outsiders at the centre".
Role of culture and tradition
Steven Beller, an independent scholar and author of
Again, the situation of Chinese entrepreneurial minorities in
How to maintain balance among the different ethnic groups and prevent serious racial and ethnic conflicts in the future are important issues for the region, and indeed for the world at large. These are of course complicated issues and difficult to have solutions that can eliminate all potential conflicts once and for all. And yet, in search of solutions, I believe that we need to come back to economics and culture again, for the sustained economic development and improvement of the quality of life for all is the effective means to attack the problem at its very root.