One of the big lies bandied about these days is that China has been engaged in systemic and substantial ‘intellectual property theft’. Say it often enough and people will believe it – as Goebbels pointed out many years ago.

I leave aside the obvious points: that this is the usual practice of all big business and commercial research; that the United States is the past master at such practices, let alone Europe – most of their breakthroughs in the past were by foreigners, who willingly or willingly gave up these breakthroughs (think of Einstein, for example); that the idea of knowledge that benefits human beings is ‘private property’ is the most perverse idea of all.

Instead, I am interested in the rather obvious Orientalism of this accusation. To wit, China and its people – so the accusation would have us believe – do not have the wherewithal to make their own discoveries. For some, they are clearly ‘stupid people’ who have to steal other people’s ideas.

Nice one.

I cannot help wondering whether this accusation applies to the historical discoveries of paper, printing press, compass and gunpowder, which Europe ‘appropriated’ late in the piece.

Or whether it applies to the more than 1.3 million patents lodged by Chinese inventors in 2017, more than the Unites States, Europe, Japan and South Korea combined.

Or indeed to recent breakthroughs, such as the world’s first successful sending of a quantum message into space and the first successful 5G phone call.

Or to the fact that coming to China now feels like stepping into the future, where so much is the reality of an everyday life that is yet to be found elsewhere.

Obviously, socialists with Chinese characteristics must have ‘stolen’ such ideas from the future, or perhaps from aliens.

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When does the pre-modern stop and the modern begin in the Middle West (aka the Middle ‘East’)? For many biblical archaeologists and historians, the turning point is 1949. Before that date, people used ‘primitive’ farming methods, without the ‘benefit’ of modern techniques. The modes of land tenure, usage, and economic structure remained largely unchanged for millennia. After 1949, with the establishment of the state of Israel, modernity finally arrived – freedom, democracy and the US military. Needless to say, these pre-modern Arabs provide an absolute boon for archaeologists, for here may be found first-hand evidence of how people have lived since ancient times. So an increasing number of ethnographic comparisons are under way, using data from, say, the pre-Ottoman, Ottoman or British Mandate periods, in order to highlight economic life in biblical times. Yet, it is a curious argument, for it both distances the biblical materials from the interpreter and it turns the ‘dirty Arabs’ into biblical characters – on par with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Moses et al.