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The Schmooze

What Chinese People Think About Jews

On Monday, Michael Levy wrote about Jews and Chinese Food. His posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:

My last post began with a list of stereotypes about Jews. We tell jokes; we like Chinese food; etc. While living and teaching in central China a few years ago, I ran into a few stereotypes that were new to me. I was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guizhou Province teaching English at a university way off the beaten path. I was one of a small handful of foreigners — and the only Jew — in a province of 40 million people. My students could be forgiven for a few strange ideas about their guests.

Thus, when one of my students handed in a paper with the title “GREAT JEW” I knew I was in for a few surprises. The letter summarized the status of world Jewry:

Jew in the world:

There are 14 million Jews in the world, 5 million of them are in the Israel, and 6 million in the USA. They have done so many great things for people in the world. They good at jokes, doing business and managing money so that there are a large number of Jewish tycoon in the world…. In the Wall Street which is the controlling financial interests of the United States, it is the world of Jews who dominate the “street.” Jews deserve careful study though their history is pitiful.

The student also included a bullet-point list of facts she had gleaned from her textbooks and from local newspapers:

  • Einstein is the greatest scientist in the world

  • Every Jew has received high education for their family tradition

  • Jews can begin law school in the second year in America, because they are advanced in law

  • Phelps, a swimming Jew, will win many gold medals in the Beijing Olympic Games

Chinese in rural Guizhou Province have some interesting ideas about Jews. What about Chinese in the slightly less bucolic neighborhoods of Manhattan? I decided to test the Jewish knowledge of the staff at Eden Wok on 34th Street, the self-proclaimed “finest Glatt Kosher Chinese restaurant and sushi bar.”

First, a word on the food: meh. I really wanted to like the food more, if for no other reason than out of respect for the effort. Truly kosher Chinese food is as strange an idea as Phelps the swimming Jew.

Pork, after all, is to Chinese food what cheese is to Italian food. You take it away, and you’re left with nothing but starch. Still, Eden Wok makes a solid lo mein.

Next, a word on the staff: friendly and — happily — quite knowledgeable about Judaism. Vicky, my waitress, was from Guangdong province. She never met a Jew in China, but “loves Jewish customers.” I showed her my student’s letter and she giggled. “I hope you went easy on her,” she told me. She also gave me a free egg roll.


Michael Levy is the author of “Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion.”

The Jewish Book Council is a not-for-profit organization devoted to the reading, writing and publishing of Jewish literature. For more Jewish literary blog posts, reviews of Jewish books, book club resources, and to learn about awards and conferences, please visit www.jewishbookcouncil.org.

MyJewishLearning.com is the leading transdenominational website of Jewish information and education. Visit My Jewish Learning for thousands of articles on Judaism, Jewish holidays, Jewish history, and more.

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