Special Report Israel and China-a Study in Contrasts
Menu JTA Search

Special Report Israel and China-a Study in Contrasts

Download PDF for this date

Israel and the People’s Republic of China are about the same age. From the time of their birth within months of each other, both of necessity concentrated their efforts on agriculture with the primary goal of feeding of their people. Both nations have achieved this aim. Although China does not have the abundance of food for its population which Israel’s sophisticated agriculture provides, the crucial fact is that the drought-flood cycle which scourged pre-Mao China with recurrent famine is ended. Unlike their ancestors, the Chinese people are neither starving, nor in dread of its possibility.

Among the greatest contrasts between the two nations are the vital life and death statistics of demography. Israel’s raison d’etre is as the Jewish homeland premised on and promised in the Low of Return and aliya. Israel is avid for more Israelis. From Metullah to Eilat, zero population growth is anathema. But from Harbin to Canton it is a blessing — a consummation devoutly to be wished for and attained in the most populous of earth’s nations.

The congregations of teen-agers on King George Street in Jerusalem and on Dizengoff in Tel Aviv, are unknown and conspicuously absent in the cities of China. In fact, there is virtually no social life among Chinese teenagers and college students. You don’t see the mingling of the sexes so apparent and normally accepted in Israel. To stem the enormous population growth that presses so indomitably on China’s food supply and productive capacity stern rules apply concerning dating, marriage and family size.


The result is that there is an unspoken “mehitzoh”-like proscription in the streets of China’s cities where young men and women do not walk hand-in-hand as romantically peripatetic Israeli boys and girls do. Strict marital laws deny girls the right to marry until the age of 24 and boys until they are 26. More than a family of two children is frowned upon and is penalized by the state by denial of child support for these additional children. However, though families are encouraged to be small, family ties are strong and the older people are made to feel both wanted and respected.

The attitude toward, and consequent behavior of children in Israel and China is also different. In contrast to the outspokenness of Israeli children who are known for their freedom of expression, Chinese children are well mannered and respectful of their elders. Expressive terms by disapproving observers are “spoiled” for the former and “regimented” for the latter. But the ethos of each society affects its progeny. Chinese society like most Communist countries is far better programmed than the Western world to provide excellent free care for the children of working mothers. The eternal Chinese pressure-cooker milieu of a fourth of the world’s people rubbing elbows requires inner discipline, respect for others and understanding of the privilege of getting an education.

The Chinese are thoroughly energy conscious. Unburdened by the omnipresent cars and the sophisticated factories of the industrialized world they are only beginning to be troubled by pollution, and OPEC’s prices. Nevertheless, they limit heat to a minimum and keep their lighting dim in setting an example for the West of how to conserve energy and reduce reliance on imported oil.


Both Israel and China share a sense of concern about the policies of the Soviet Union. But its expression differs. The Chinese have a profoundly intense, palpable fear of the Soviet Union. America has been displaced completely by the Soviet Union as Public Enemy No. 1. Indeed, there is a complete turnaround with a pro-American feeling among the Chinese, from the people in the streets to the leaders in the Forbidden Palace, that is pleasant to see and to experience. Israel’s dread is much more focussed upon the Soviet influence on her foes who are neighbors, than upon the Kremlin itself.

The Chinese are largely ignorant of Judaism of Israel. They are Asia-oriented and concerned with that continent’s problems, and with keeping pace with the Soviets in maintaining their place of importance with the Third World nations. There is no inherent competition or contretemps between Israel and China. In fact, it would benefit both nations to trade information about their agricultural advances and achievements, and to exchange university students. Certainly China could benefit from the know how of the World Zionist Organization’s Rural Settlement Department or from Israel’s medical expertise in preventive medicine. The Chinese communes include both agriculture and industry. They are profoundly involved in the totality of their inhabitants’ lives which are far more stringently controlled than are those of the kibbuizniks.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund