China’s Turn Toward Antisemitism

by November 2023
Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo credit: Kyodo via Reuters Connect.

“The United States as a nation has been severely kidnapped by political and other forces derived from Jewish capital,” thus said Dong Manyuan, the former Vice president of CIIS, the Chinese foreign ministry’s think tank, in a TV interview on November 1, in response to the interviewer claim that Jews “manipulate and control” 70% of America’s wealth. (Dong had expressed a similar view, cast in only slightly less hostile terms, even before the war.)

In the weeks since Hamas’ October 7 assault on Israel, the People’s Republic of China has not only joined ranks with Russia and Iran in diplomatic efforts against Israel and supportive of Palestinians. That is not new. What is new is a surge on social media platforms controlled by the Chinese government of an unprecedented spate of antisemitic messaging.

A Social Media Campaign

The Chinese government’s media began in the days after October 7 to broadcast the theme of an American conspiracy hatched by Jews who control the US government. On October 9, China Central Television (CCTV) accused the US of “instigating the war” and “adding fuel to the fire” as part of a grand strategy to maintain regional hegemony and enrich its military-industrial complex. “The US is siding with the wrong side of history in Gaza,” according to the CCP Central Propaganda Department’s China Daily

Side by side with this theme of American conspiracy came the accusation promoted on October 10 by the Propaganda Department’s front organization, the China Internet Information Center (CIIC), that the Israelis should be compared to the Nazis. On the same day, another viral post by state-run China Central Television (CCTV) tied the conflict to widespread antisemitic tropes. It read, “Jews, who account for 3% of the US population, manipulate and control 70% of the country’s wealth.” It went on to describe US presidential candidates’ obeisance to Jewish capital in an effort to explain the Biden administration’s unwavering support for Israel. Ambassador Wu concurred: “The Jewish bloc’s influence is clear to all.” 

Chinese social media influencers quickly sprang into action. 

“Hamas went too soft on Israel,” opined award-winning online influencer Su Lin soon after. “Isn’t Israel today a Jewish version of the Nazis?” she asked rhetorically. 

“Beyond a shrinking minority in the West, her views are widely accepted,” mused Andy Mok, a frequent contributor to state broadcasters and a senior research fellow at the Center for China and Globalization (CCG), China’s top “private” think-tank.

Racist cartoons, Hitler memes, swastikas, and quotes from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are now ubiquitous in comments sections. In an ironic twist, Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of the CCP mouthpiece Global Times, cautioned his followers on Weibo, “Some of us should not be influenced by public opinion dominated by Jews and Americans.” Two weeks later, Hu claimed that “there is no such thing as antisemitism in China,” adding Holocaust inversions comparing Israel to modern-day Nazis.

A Former Sanctuary

The idea of China as a sanctuary for Jews is rooted in a historical precedent. Just ninety years ago, tens of thousands of Jews escaping the Holocaust sought refuge in pre-Communist, war-torn Shanghai. Organized state violence aimed exclusively at Jews has never been documented in China. On the contrary, the country is famed for its stereotypical apotheosis of the Jewish “genius.”

As fellow victims of genocidal imperialists during WWII, the Chinese have generally sympathized with the Jewish plight. Even during the Cold War, when they were firmly aligned with the anti-Zionist Third World, they admired Israel’s triumphs against all odds.

Indeed, Chinese and Israeli officials have frequently proclaimed that “there‘s never been antisemitism in China.” In fact, this was never the case – even prior to the present war. Antisemitic and anti-Zionist discourse is as old as Chinese nationalism. In recent times, the steady trickle would occasionally surface from official party-state sources and academia, usually during fresh rounds of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. 

Chinese social media apps. Photo credit: Oriental Image via Reuters Connect

A Possible Motive 

Portraying a symbiotic relationship between America and the Jewish people is a recurring theme in the propaganda campaign. Retired Major-General-turned-pundit Luo Yuan affirmed on October 14, “Israel is America’s ironclad brother, a pawn it planted in the Middle East to implement its interests in the region.” This theme is increasingly used as a counter to the Western campaign to accuse China of imprisoning Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang concentration camps, and engaging in forced labor and genocide.

Hence, the more heinous and evil Israel’s actions in Gaza are, the more “Western hypocrisy and double standards [are] on full display,” as tweeted China Daily’s EU bureau chief, Chen Weihua.

“No longer the descendants of survivors of Nazi concentration camps; they are the armed guards of Gaza’s open-air concentration camp,” wrote Yin Zhiguang, an international relations professor at the prestigious Fudan University. Arguments like these demonstrate that America’s ostensible concern for Muslim human rights is merely a ruse to conceal its true motivation: the containment of China’s rise.

Unwavering support for the Palestinian cause may help recruit Muslim-majority countries’ support for China’s“core interests. At a time when China seeks inroads in the Middle East and Xi Jinping is promoting a post-Western vision of global governance, it is critical to isolate the United States, including through its portrayal as a puppet of world Jewry.

A Call for Action

The current antisemitism coming from China is unprecedented. Since the start of the war, Chinese social media platforms have developed into a safe haven for antisemitism. The Chinese government exercises effective control over internet usage in China, with millions of social media accounts deleted for signs of political dissent or moral transgression.

To combat rising Chinese antisemitism, the US State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism and Israel’s Ministry for Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism should form a joint specialized task force. It could document the rise of antisemitism in China, encourage educational efforts, such as Holocaust education in Chinese language materials, and collaborate with civil society organizations that combat antisemitism to expand their portfolios to include China.

This new platform for the age-old tropes of antisemitism should be combatted through advocacy, media campaigns, public reports, and public education.

Tuvia Gering
Tuvia Gering is a researcher at the Israel-China Policy Center of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, and a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub. @GeringTuvia
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