Zeying Zheng has been to Israel three times on programs about women’s empowerment and says the lessons provided are vital for China.
“The most important thing facing our country is education,” Zheng told JTA, “so I was involved in training programs especially for women. If you look at our young generation, percentage-wise it’s not as educated as Israel’s or even America’s.”
Zheng was one of some 50 former Chinese participants of Mashav who came to the Israeli Embassy here last week for a conference to mark 16 years of China’s participation in the 50-year-old program.
Mashav, a Hebrew acronym for Center for International Cooperation, is a department in Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After a 1958 visit to Africa, then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Golda Meir established the program to work with developing countries on issues and solutions adapted from Israel’s development experience.
China has partnered with Mashav since 1992, the year Israel established relations with the country. Some 8,000 Chinese students have participated in Mashav courses held in China, most of which are focused on agriculture. Forty courses are planned for China this year, up from 32 in 2007.
At the Beijing conference, which mostly was conducted in English, the business cards passed around showed that Chinese Mashav participants come from impressive institutions in a variety of fields: China Agricultural University, All-China Women’s Federation and Beijing Forestry University, as well as pharmaceutical companies and media outlets.
The most visible Mashav efforts in China beside the courses are three Sino-Israeli demonstration farms. The first, for growing flowers and vegetables, was founded in 1993 near Beijing.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited the Yongledian Dairy Cattle Demonstration Farm, also near Beijing, in 2007. All dairy activity at the farm, which was designed according to Israeli standards, is monitored daily by computer.
China’s Sanyuan dairy company, which has a large market share in the country, owns the Yongledian farm. With a herd of more than 1,050 dairy cows in milk production, the farm reached record consumption last year. Its yield was the highest among Sanyuan dairy farms and probably all Chinese dairy farms, company officials said.
One of the speakers at the Beijing conference was Lilong Gan, who runs a government dairy in the southern province Guizhou.
“It was a good opportunity to see the highly developed dairy production in Israel,” said Gan, who studied dairy management in Israel in 2006.
Gan is planning to bring in an Israeli expert for a dairy management workshop in Beijing at the end of the year.
While he marveled at the technology and management styles he witnessed in Israel, Gan believes the Mashav program stood out because of its thorough introduction to the people and country of Israel. His trip took participants from more than 15 countries all over Israel, including a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
“It’s just a very small country, and we are not exposed to Israel or Jews very often,” Gain said.
Wang Nan from the People’s Daily newspaper completed a Mashav media-training program in Israel in 2006. He says the top priority of his program, even more than furthering professional skills, was helping participants understand Israel.
Wang says the Israeli Embassy in Beijing must consider him a success story: Since returning from Israel, he says, “I have written tens of thousands of words on Israel.”
His only criticism was that he wasn’t given the chance to visit the home of a typical Israeli.
“I was on a similar program in Japan, and they gave us the chance to visit a home,” Wang said. “It would be important. We could make friends and then keep in contact over the years. It would be good for Israel.”
Yet already it seems that the conference participants, all members of the Shalom Club, as they call those who completed a Mashav trip to Israel, feel an affinity for Israel on professional, technical and personal levels.
Since her trips to Israel in 1994, 1996 and 2006, Zheng has become increasingly engaged in studying Israeli and Jewish history.
Zheng says she regularly reads a Chinese copy of the Bible she received from the Israeli Embassy, and because of her Mashav trips, can connect with the stories and history of the Jewish people.