Confucius Institute at Tel Aviv University holds a senior forum for a dialogue between Chinese writer Lao Ma and his Israeli counterparts

[Source]    the Confucius Institute at Tel Aviv University [Time]    2015-06-05 15:16:16 

On April 29, 2015, a senior Sino-Israeli literary forum entitled “the Dialogue between Prof. Ma Junjie and Israeli Writers” was held in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv jointly by the Confucius Institute at Tel Aviv University and Contento International Publishing House. The attendees included Chinese writer and Deputy CPC Party Secretary of Renmin University Lao Ma (aka. Ma Junjie), Israeli writers Danny Yatom, Ran Ronen and Oshrat Kotler, Director of China Renmin University Press Li Yongqiang, and Chinese Director of the Confucius Institute at Tel Aviv University Li Zhenshi. The forum was chaired by Netanel Semrik, CEO of Contento International Publishing House. The participants totaled over 130, including Israeli literature lovers as well as teachers and students from Tel Aviv University.

Signing ceremony

At the opening ceremony, Netanel Semrik and Li Yongqiang delivered speeches respectively and signed the contract for publishing the Hebrew translations of Lao Ma’s works. Then Lao Ma and Israeli writers held discussions about Sino-Israeli literary works and cultural exchanges, and they also interacted with the literature lovers present.

“My speech will be in Chinese today. I am not sure whether you can understand. But it’s all right. I don’t know any Hebrew, anyway. I didn’t expect such an amazing turnout. I’ve been to a number of countries, where an activity like this attracted an audience even less than the writers as speakers. But the love for literature in Israel is far beyond my imagination. In order to participate in this forum in Israel, I flew 10,000 kilometers. I heard that Tel Aviv had traffic problems similar to Beijing, so I set out the day before yesterday,” said Lao Ma in a humorous way, which drew laughter from the audience and brought him closer to them.

Lao Ma making a speech

Israeli writer Danny Yatom shared his experience of exchanging ideas with Chinese leaders on Sino-Israeli relations while he was serving as the Israeli Prime Minister’s security consultant and the Director of Mossad (the national intelligence agency of Israel). He said: “China as a big country has been treating Israel, a small country, in a friendly and respectful way internationally. It moved me very much that Chinese leaders remarked that although small in territory, Israel is a powerful nation in terms of science, technology, education, etc.”

Lao Ma expressed his views on Sino-Israeli relations from the perspective of literature: “The two most difficult languages in the world are probably Chinese and Hebrew. It is a real pleasure for us to gather together here in the name of literature. We write literary works in different languages, but both languages are rich in history and cultural heritage, so our stories share a lot of similarities. Both Chinese and Israelites are good at writing and telling stories. Without the Bible and Chinese fairy tales, it would be impossible for the two peoples to have such long-standing identification with each other.”

Lao Ma is famous for writing short stories and microfiction. His works are humorous, philosophical and allegorical. Israeli writers and literature lovers are very interested in Lao Ma’s writing style, which he vividly interpreted as follows: “If I were asked to sum up my novels in one sentence, I would say my stories come from life. We continue to live and write stories. Humor sometimes grows out of hardship. If you are not humorous, it may be because you don’t have a miserable childhood. I think humor is like an umbrella people carry around with them. If you open it in the rain or under the burning sun, you could keep a distance away from the pain. As a Jewish proverb goes, cry in front of God while smile at other people.”

At the forum

Oshrat Kotler, a well-known television personality and best-selling writer in Israel, described the common ground shared by Chinese and Israeli cultures. She said: “China and Israel, or rather the two peoples, view family as the most basic and important thing. Both nations have a history of thousands of years and attach great importance to culture and education.” Her novel Ija Mia about an Israeli immigrant family shows the great influence of family on individual life.

Speaking of literature and family, Lao Ma said: “Israeli writers, as far as I know, are good at writing about family. I have read Amos Klausner’s novel A Tale of Love and Darkness, which introduces the readers to various aspects of Israel such as its people, culture and religion through the story of a Jewish family. Even the smoke from kitchen chimneys in Jerusalem seems to have the anxiety of local residents written all over it.”

Literary works about the Holocaust and the Middle East peace process play a unique and important role in Israel. Danny Yatom explained how his works rethink the impact of the assassination of Israel’s former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the Middle East peace process. Lao Ma talked about the attitude of Chinese people and literary community toward the Holocaust. He said: “In the last twenty years more than 100 titles of Israeli fiction have been translated into Chinese. Through these translated works, we learn a lot about the history, culture and religion of Israel. We feel sorry about Jewish people who suffered a lot in the Holocaust. In 1999, the Chinese journal World Literature published a special issue about the Holocaust literature, which exerted a tremendous influence in Chinese literary circle.”

Interacting with the audience

Ran Ronen, a writer and also the most famous fighter pilot in Israel, excitedly introduced to the audience the recently published Chinese translation of his book Eagle in the Sky. He said: “Translating it from Hebrew into English, and then from English into Chinese actually built a bridge between Chinese and Israeli readers. It is hoped that readers of the two countries, through reading, would deepen their understanding of each other’s history, culture and beliefs.” In the Q&A session, Lao Ma answered the questions raised by some members of the enthusiastic audience concerning China’s current young readership, Internet literature, children’s literature, translation of literary works, and the influence of Confucianism in China today.

As the largest and most influential Sino-Israeli literary exchange in recent years, the forum received widespread attention from Chinese and Israeli media. Both Channel 2 and Channel 10 (Israel) conducted an interview with Lao Ma. The event was also covered by Chinese media like Xinhua News Agency, China Radio International and Guangming Daily.

Photo/Text: Bao Yinhui


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