Autumn in Shanghai

Shanghai is modernity in action, it is up for business, its many staggering new high-rise buildings, spear the imagination as well as the sky. It is saturated with festive almost unreal glamour, it is soaking in wealth, it is overwhelmingly proud and yet, it is humane, very humane in fact. It is habitable, it is relatively quiet, it feels safe, it welcomes you on board. It is the Western Metropolis wannabe, yet it is in the East.

I was advised before my journey that Shanghai is not exactly a ‘cultural shock’, quite the opposite; one seems to have met Shanghai in one’s urban fantasy a long time before landing there. Shanghai is in fact the incarnation of the Western urban dream: it is an astonishing materialisation of everything the Western metropolis is claiming to be. In parts it is the embodiment of the urban imagery; it is what New York was aiming at but somehow failed to reach. In other parts, it is the ultimate urban tranquillity of a Parisian tree-lined avenue with small bars and cosy cafés. It offers everything a big city can offer in terms of culture, entertainment, business and food yet it is totally sympathetic to its visitors and inhabitants.

I was teaching jazz in China this week and performed at the Shanghai Jazz Festival, Though I was pretty busy with my students, Jazz combos, concerts and other musical commitments, I tried to absorb as much as I could. I travelled around, tried to meet local people and to grasp this miracle. I, for instance, visited the Shanghai Music Fair, probably the biggest music fair in the world.

China is now the biggest producer of Western musical instruments. And guess what, they are making some unbelievably good saxophones out there. I have tried and reviewed Chinese saxophones in the past.  For some reason I was always pretty convinced that the many Chinese brands were made by one or two manufacturers. Somehow, all contemporary Chinese saxophones and clarinets follow a very similar design and they are all equally good. In the music fair I realised that I was totally wrong. There are actually many small Saxophone manufacturers and they are all very good at it. The Chinese manufacturers whom I met were actually seeking criticism.  In a very modest manner they would ask for your honest opinion of their different models. They just want to make it better. They want to improve.

China is a financial miracle. It is about to surpass Japan as the world’s second largest economy. It is expected to leave America behind within the next five years and to become the world’s largest economy. China is the largest producer of most industrial and agriculture products. In spite of the ongoing Western criticism of China’s political structure and its one party system, the success of China proves that its political system and economic model maybe far more efficient than anything Western democracies can offer.  Unlike the crumbling English Speaking Empire and other Western service economies, China is a productive society and it is ruled by a single “People’s Party”. Rather than copying the Western economic model and value system, China adopted some Western advantages, modified them and integrated them into its own economic model and social system.

China and Israel

In my Shanghai visit I stayed in a rather fancy Western hotel. Already on my arrival just after checking in, while attending the tourist desk, a familiar golden Menora  shined at me from one of the tourist brochures. I picked it up, “The Jews in Shanghai”, it said: the story of 30.000 Jews who found shelter in Shanghai between 1933 and 1941.  I guess that you can no longer imagine a  metropolis on this planet unless it has some relevance to the Holocaust or the Jews.  Visitors to Shanghai have a lot to choose from: temples, sight seeing, shopping, new developing markets, food, Chinese folklore and of course even a bit of  ‘Shoa business’. I honestly believe that no one, except a few Jews, is interested in the historical role of Shanghai in the Holocaust. And yet, the brochure was there for a reason. Many Israelis and Jews are visiting Shanghai in the last two decades, as China and Shanghai are the future and the Israelis know it very well.

In the breakfast at the hotel I could hear a lot of Hebrew. They were not Israeli tourists. They were actually ‘selling and buying’. They were meeting local businessmen already at 8.00 am. But it wasn’t just business. The Israeli infiltration is noticeable on every possible level.

In the bus that picked us up to go to the festival’s stage, we found an Israeli flag hanging under the driver’s front mirror. A quick inquiry with the assistance of our English speaking stage manager revealed that the band to play before us was an Israeli Dixieland band. I may as well mention that I myself have lived in Britain for 15 years, I travel around the world with musicians from many different parts of the world  and I have never seen a single musician leaving nationalist souvenirs anywhere. For Israeli artists, so it seems, leaving their Star of David is apparently a common practice.

I soon realised that I knew those Israeli Dixieland musicians, they were actually my old friends from Israel. Some of them were my teachers and mentors, others had been playing in my band. Two of them were very close friends of mine at the time. Needless to say that it was very exciting to meet them after so many years. In fact they were very good at what they were doing. They could play the music and they clearly mastered the Dixieland style. On stage I heard one of my old friends telling the Chinese audience, ‘here we are, 60 years for the People’s Republic of China, 61 years for the Jewish State and all we really want is  peace.’ Such a simple message, we the Jews and you the Chinese all share one simple belief.

The Israeli horn player may not have realised that a few hours earlier the People’s Republic of China voted in favor of adopting the Goldstone report at the Human Rights Council. As far as China is concerned, Israeli war crimes should be further investigated.

However, it is common knowledge that most if not all Israeli art exports are sponsored by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Israeli artists are operating as messengers of the Zionist propaganda and Hasbara lies. It is a pretty simple concept: as the IDF drops White Phosphorous on Palestinians or starves others,  Israeli  artists travel the world spreading a 1960’s message of ‘Sex, Love and Peace’. Needless to say, the people around me didn’t really buy it.

Zionism, as we learn from Herzl and his too many followers, is all about tracing the bond between the Jewish national interests and world dominating powers. China is no doubt the rising power; it is in fact a rising sensation. In just one week in China I saw for myself the intensity of the Israeli activity on the ground.

As we all know, some naive peace activists around put all their cards on a possible growing rift between Israel and the USA. They forget that Israel can easily change its leagues as they did rather often in the past. Israel is always building relationships with rising powers. The Israelis have already invested some enormous energy on India and China.

A lot of China’s success story is because it is run by a very unique People’s party political system. It is a miracle because it somehow manages to restrain hard capitalism with a unique socially orientated system. It is a big question whether there is room in this system to accommodate Israel, a bourgeoisie nationalist philosophy based on racial supremacy and choseness in general.

GILAD AZTMON is a writer and jazz musician living in London. His latest cd is In Loving Memory of America.

Gilad Atzmon’s latest book is: The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics