The Jews of the Orient

European prejudices can take root among Asian elites. Take for example the short book ‘The Jews of the Orient’. Its author was Vajiravudh, King Rama VI of Siam who succeeded King Chulalongkorn in 1910. Vajiravudh had been educated at Sandhurst and Oxford. He was a passionate Anglophile and a prolific author: he translated both Agatha Christie and three plays of Shakespeare, including ‘The Merchant of Venice’.  In ‘The Jews of the Orient’, which had a powerful impact on the development of chauvinist Siamese/Thai nationalism, the King claimed that the Chinese exhibited all the notorious (and mythological) traits of European Jews: they cultivated clannish international networks; were reluctant to assimilate; they were clever and greedy financiers; they despised their hosts…   ‘The Jews of the Orient’ invested Asian anti-Sinitic tropes with European stereotypes of Jews.  A century after the Siamese King published his poisonous tract, and six decades after the European Holocaust, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad addressed the Islamic Conference on 16 October 2003: Jews, he proclaimed, ‘ruled the world by proxy’: he called for a ‘final victory’ by the world’s 1.3 million Muslims – we cannot, he told the Conference, be defeated ‘by a few million Jews’. Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed […]
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