My Hanukkah in Beijing

Chinese people love Jews. Bookshelves in every bookstore in the country are stocked with several books espousing “The Wisdom of the Jews,” and there is a Weibo page with millions of followers with the same title.

This all strikes me as a bit strange, because almost no Chinese people have ever met a Jew. Knowledge about Judaism in China tends to be broad but not deep, and therefore consists mostly of stereotypes.

My favorite way to describe the Chinese attitude towards Jews is that the same stereotypes about Jews in the West apply in China too, although the bad stereotypes are good ones here:

“Oh, you’re Jewish? That’s great! The Jews make so much money, and never spend any of it! And they control the media AND the banks! In America, too, no less! It must be because they are super smart!”

What do I say in the face of this bizarre pro-Semitism?

Every time I reveal I am Jewish, I get a look of surprise, followed by sudden understanding. “No wonder your Chinese is so good!” people say. “You’re just smart!”

Positive stereotypes can be as frustrating as negative ones. From my angle, my Chinese is something I worked for thousands of hours on in order to gain skill, and something I constantly sacrifice my time and energy to improve.

Being Jewish doesn’t make you good at Chinese. It’s not like the Moyel came into the room when I was eight days old, did his thing, and then said, “Now you’re circumcised, and you speak Chinese!”

So, when a Jewish festival comes around, I love taking the chance to do some jokes about being Jewish in Beijing and add a bit of a personal touch to Chinese audiences’ take on Jews in China. When I landed a show during the eight days of Hannukah, I knew I would get a chance to do so.

I wanted to share my jokes as my way of wishing everyone around the world a very happy Hannukah!

Jesse, Beijing

Jesse Appell

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