China – A Chinese bestseller titled The Currency War describes how Jews are planning to rule the world by manipulating the international financial system. The book is reportedly read in the highest government circles. If so, this does not bode well for the international financial system, which relies on well-informed Chinese to help it recover from the current crisis.Join our WhatsApp group
Subscribe to our Daily Roundup Email
Such conspiracy theories are not rare in Asia. Japanese readers have shown a healthy appetite over the years for books such as To Watch Jews is to See the World Clearly, The Next Ten Years: How to Get an Inside View of the Jewish Protocols, and I’d Like to Apologize to the Japanese: A Jewish Elder’s Confession (written by a Japanese author, of course, under the name of Mordecai Mose). All these books are variations of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Russian forgery first published in 1903, which the Japanese came across after defeating the czar’s army in 1905.
The book’s author, Song Hongbing, claims that behind world-changing events like the battle of Waterloo, Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, President Kennedy’s assassination, and the deep recession in Asia during the 1990s stood an intricate conspiracy aimed at increasing Jews’ wealth and influence.
Song, a Chinese computer engineer and history buff who resides in the United States, writes that almost every defining historical moment has been instigated by Jewish bankers, and mainly the Rothschild family, which Song says dominates the global banking system, including the US Federal Reserve System.
Song’s book was published in China about a year and-a-half ago, and initially sold an insignificant number of copies. But in recent months the global crisis has turned the book into a hit. Estimates put sales of “Currency War” well over a million, not including hundreds of thousands of illegal copies that can also be downloaded off the net.
The Chinese picked up many modern Western ideas from the Japanese. Perhaps that is how Jewish conspiracy theories were passed on as well. But Southeast Asians are not immune to this kind of nonsense, either. Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad has said that “the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.” And a recent article in a leading Philippine business magazine explained how Jews had always controlled the countries they lived in, including the United States today.
In the case of Mr. Mahathir, a twisted kind of Muslim solidarity is probably at work. But unlike European or Russian anti-Semitism, the Asian variety has no religious roots. No Chinese or Japanese has blamed Jews for killing their holy men or believed that their children’s blood ended up in Passover matzo. In fact, few Chinese, Japanese, Malaysians or Filipinos have ever seen a Jew, unless they have spent time abroad.
So what explains the remarkable appeal of Jewish conspiracy theories in Asia? The answer must be partly political. Conspiracy theories thrive in relatively closed societies, where free access to news is limited and freedom of inquiry curtailed. Japan is no longer such a closed society; yet, even people with a short history of democracy are prone to believe they are victims of unseen forces. Precisely because Jews are relatively unknown, therefore mysterious, and in some way associated with the West, they become an obvious fixture of anti-Western paranoia.
Such paranoia is widespread in Asia, where almost every country was at the mercy of Western powers for several hundred years. Japan was never formally colonized, but it, too, felt the West’s dominance, at least since the 1850s, when American ships laden with heavy guns forced the country to open its borders on Western terms.
The common conflation of the U.S. with Jews goes back to the late 19th century, when European reactionaries loathed America for being a rootless society based only on financial greed. This perfectly matched the stereotype of the “rootless cosmopolitan” Jewish moneygrubber. Hence the idea that Jews run America.
One of the great ironies of colonial history is the way in which colonized people adopted some of the very prejudices that justified colonial rule. Anti-Semitism arrived with a whole package of European race theories that have persisted in Asia well after they fell out of fashion in the West.
In some ways, Chinese minorities in Southeast Asia have shared some of the hostility suffered by Jews in the West. Excluded from many occupations, they, too, survived by clannishness and trade. They, too, have been persecuted for not being “sons of the soil.” And they, too, are thought to have superhuman powers when it comes to making money. So when things go wrong, the Chinese are blamed, not just for being greedy capitalists, but also, like the Jews, for being Communists, since both capitalism and communism are associated with rootlessness and cosmopolitanism.
As well as being feared, the Chinese are admired for being cleverer than everybody else. The same mixture of fear and awe is often evident in people’s views of the U.S., and, indeed, of the Jews. Japanese anti-Semitism is a particularly interesting case.
Japan was able to defeat Russia in 1905 only after a Jewish banker in New York, Jacob Schiff, helped Japan by floating bonds. So The Protocols of the Elders of Zion confirmed what the Japanese already suspected: Jews really did pull the strings of global finance. But instead of wishing to attack them, the Japanese, being a practical people, decided they would be better off cultivating those clever, powerful Jews as friends.
As a result, during the Second World War, even as the Germans were asking their Japanese allies to round up Jews and hand them over, dinners were held in Japanese-occupied Manchuria to celebrate Japanese-Jewish friendship. Jewish refugees in Shanghai, though never comfortable, at least remained alive under Japanese protection. This was good for the Jews of Shanghai. But the very ideas that helped them to survive continue to muddle the thinking of people who really ought to know better by now. Ian Buruma is a Professor of human rights at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. His latest book is The China Lover.