“I couldn’t stop thinking about Jewish coins,” Xu Long says. But he means it in a good way!
Frequently, Chinese culture’s infatuation with the Jews as an industrious, successful people—along with China and Israel’s burgeoning bilateral relationship—can seem suspiciously like the sort of philo-Semitism that, as books critic Adam Kirsch argued last week, shares with anti-Semitism “an unhealthy interest in Jews and an unreal notion of who and what Jews are.” But Xu Long seems different. Yes, this Chinese chef remarks, “I had never met a Jew before. I just knew they were smart and Marx was Jewish.” But Xu has the goods to back up his obsession with Jewish money, and more specifically, with Jewish and Israeli coins: He has published a nearly 600-page volume called Money of Ancient Judea and Israel, and, according to the president of the Israel Numismatic Society (numismatics!), “I don’t think in any other language there’s such a large book as his.”
Xu’s obsession with coins generally derives from being the chef in charge of Western cuisine at the Great Hall of the People, essentially China’s Capitol, and foreign service bureaucrats’ giving him spare change in currency from around the world. Wanting, meanwhile, to study French, he found a language partner in a French-Israeli medical student who gave him a few shekels. “Once he learned more about Jewish history,” the Los Angeles Times reports, “Xu felt a deep connection and saw many similarities with his own culture, drawing connections between two ancient societies that have kept traditions alive for more than 5,000 years.” Plus, y’know, Marx.