Keeping history's horrors in perspective

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 September, 2015, 12:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 September, 2015, 12:01am

Speaking about history, a conversation with students and colleagues alike will usually turn to 1937 and the Rape of Nanking, stirring bitterness towards Japan. Chinese can be justifiably angry but only to a point. Sometimes I also feel that Chinese victimise themselves too often.

We should be angry, but what we cannot forget is how others have suffered, too. When we live resentfully against a nation, all we do is affect ourselves and nobody else.

Today, if a person identifies themselves as Jewish, they could be killed in many parts of the planet.

Do Chinese know how Jews were persecuted? They were chased out of Russia during the Tsarist pogroms in the late 19th century. Some, in this diaspora, went to Europe and the Americas. The Jewish diaspora continued to the end of the second world war. A group of 40,000 made it to China.

Yes, Chinese are deeply hurt and have suffered different degrees of discrimination and genocide in their history but I don't want to compare. Our two peoples have suffered greatly.

China did lose around 4 per cent of its population during the war; however, the Chinese did not lose their country, thank goodness.

The Jews were nearly wiped off the face of the earth. By the time the war had ended, about two-thirds of European Jewry had been killed in the Holocaust.

Since the Holocaust, neighbourhoods in Johannesburg, Antwerp, Buenos Aires and New York City have flourished.

They have developed their enterprises, industries, culture, schools and religious life. After all, they did establish synagogues and businesses across eastern China: from Harbin, Tianjin, Shanghai, down to Hong Kong. These cities today have their respective historical areas, honouring the Jewish neighbourhoods with synagogues, community centres and museums.

Presently, Jewish life continues to flourish in China, America and in large European communities. But still, Jews have had to learn to protect themselves and fight back against Muslim extremists and terrorists who want to kill them.

We should learn from each other and always remember to fight discrimination and hatred.

We must never forget our respective histories. and empathise with those who have suffered. As the British statesman Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Daniel Otero, Nanjing