Editorial: The Chinese Discover Jews and Israel and Can’t Seem To Get Enough
TEL AVIV — Back in 1991 Chen Yiyi was, as he puts it, a “bored” law student at Peking University. At the time, China was in the process of formalizing relations with Israel, and the Chinese Education Ministry and Israel’s Foreign Ministry selected his university as the site of China’s first Hebrew course taught by visiting Israeli teachers. When the class fell short of its eight-student enrollment target, Chen was persuaded to sign up to boost its numbers.
Little did Chen know at the time that he was embarking on a career in what would soon be a burgeoning field within Chinese academia: Jewish studies.
Chen, who is now director of Peking University’s Institute of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, teaches a Bible course at his school that is billed as a class in Tanach, using the Hebrew word for the Bible and drawing upon Jewish interpretations. Now in its eighth year, the class can accommodate a maximum of 200 students each session, but it regularly has 500 students sign up.
“People see it that the best students of the best university need to know about the cornerstones of other civilizations, and the cornerstone is Tanach,” Chen said.