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History of China
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of China

1949–present
Republic
of China

(Taiwan)
1945–present

Jews and Judaism in China have had a long history. Jewish settlers are documented in China as early as the 7th or 8th century CE, but may have arrived during the mid Han Dynasty, or even as early as 231 BCE[1]. Relatively isolated communities developed through the Tang and Song Dynasties (7-12th cent. CE) all the way through the Qing Dynasty (19th cent.), most notably in the Kaifeng Jews (the term "Chinese Jews" is often used in a restricted sense to refer to these communities). By the time of the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, few if any native Chinese Jews were known to have maintained the practice of their religion and culture. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, however, some international Jewish groups have helped Chinese Jews rediscover their heritage.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Jewish immigrants from around the world arrived with Western commercial influences, particularly in the commercial centers of Hong Kong, which was for a time a British colony, Shanghai (the International Settlement and French Concession), and Harbin (the Trans-Siberian Railway). In the first half of the 20th century, thousands of Jewish refugees escaping from the 1917 Russian Revolution and the Holocaust in Europe arrived in China.

Today, with the current expansion of trade and globalization, Jews of many ethnicities from multiple regions of the world have settled permanently and temporarily in China's major cities. Jews may be considered one of the officially undistinguished ethnic groups in China.

Contents

Overview

China's Jewish communities have been ethnically diverse ranging from the Jews of Kaifeng and other places during the history of Imperial China, who, it is reported, came to be more or less totally assimilated into Chinese culture, to 19th and 20th century Baghdadis, to Indians, to Ashkenazi Jews from Europe.

The presence of a community of Jewish immigrants in China is consistent with the history of the Jewish people during the first and second millennia CE, which saw them disperse and settle throughout the Eurasian landmass, with an especial concentration throughout central Asia[2]. By the ninth century, ibn Khordadbeh noted the travels of Jewish merchants called Radhanites, whose trade took them to China via the Silk Road through Central Asia and India. Jacob of Ancona, the supposed author of a book of travels, a scholarly Jewish merchant who wrote in vernacular Italian, had reached China in 1271,[3] although some authors question it.[4][5][6]

During the period of international opening and quasi-colonialism, the first group to settle in China were Jews who arrived in China under British protection following the First Opium War. Many of these Jews were of Indian or Iraqi origin, due to British colonialism in these regions. The second community came in the first decades of the 20th century when many Jews arrived in Hong Kong and Shanghai during those cities' periods of economic expansion.

Many more arrived as refugees from the Russian Revolution of 1917. A surge of Jews and Jewish families was to arrive in the late 1930s and 1940s, for the purpose of seeking refuge from the Holocaust in Europe and were predominantly of European origin. Shanghai was notable for its volume of Jewish refugees, most of whom left after the war, the rest relocating prior to or immediately after the establishment of the People's Republic of China.

Over the centuries, the Kaifeng community came to be virtually indistinguishable from the Chinese population and is not recognized by the Chinese government as a separate ethnic minority. This is as a result of having adopted many Han Chinese customs including patrilineal descent, as well as extensive intermarriage with the local population. Since their religious practices are functionally extinct, they are not eligible for expedited immigration to Israel under the Law of Return unless they explicitly convert.

Today, some descendants of Jews still live in the Han Chinese and Hui population. Some of them, as well as international Jewish communities, are beginning to revive their interest in this heritage. This is especially important in modern China because belonging to any minority group includes a variety of benefits including reduced restrictions on the number of children and easier admission standards to tertiary education.

The study of Judaism in China has been, like other Abrahamic religions, a subject of interest to some Westerners, and has achieved moderate success compared to other western studies in China.

History

It has been asserted by some that the Jews who have historically resided in various places in China originated with the Lost Ten Tribes of the exiled ancient Kingdom of Israel who relocated to the areas of present-day China. Traces of some ancient Jewish rituals have been observed in some places.

One well-known group was the Kaifeng Jews, who are purported to have traveled from Persia to India during the mid-Han Dynasty and later migrated from the Muslim-inhabited regions of northwestern China (modern day Gansu province) to Henan province during the early Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127).[7]

A massacre of Jews in Canton, China occurred during the Chinese Tang Dynasty in the 9th century during the Huang Chao Rebellion.[8]

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Origins

Jews of Kaifeng, late 19th or early 20th c.

There is an oral tradition that the first Jews immigrated to China through Persia following the Roman Emperor Titus's capture of Jerusalem in 70 CE. A large number of Jews emigrated from Persia during the reign of Emperor Ming of Han (58-75 CE).[9] Writing in 1900, Father Joseph Brucker hypothesized that Jews came to China from India by a sea route during the Song dynasty between 960 and 1126.

Three steles with inscriptions found at Kaifeng bear some historical suggestions. The oldest, dating from 1489, commemorates the construction of a synagogue (1163) (bearing the name Qīngzhēn Sì, a term often used for mosque in Chinese), states the Jews entered China from India in the Later Han Dynasty (25–220 CE), the Jews' 70 Chinese surnames, their audience with an "un-named" Song Dynasty Emperor, and finally lists the transmission of their religion from Abraham down to the prophet Ezra. The second table, dated 1512 (found in the synagogue Xuanzhang Daojing Si) details the Jews' religious practices. The third is dated 1663 and commemorates the re-rebuilding of the Qingzhen si synagogue and recaps the information from the other two steles.[7]

Two of the stelae refer to a famous tattoo written on the back of Song Dynasty General Yue Fei. The tattoo, which reads jǐn zhōng bào guó (simplified Chinese: 尽忠报国traditional Chinese: 盡忠報國 "Boundless loyalty to the country"), first appeared in a section of the 1489 stele talking about the Jews’ “Boundless loyalty to the country and Prince”. The second appeared in a section of the 1512 stele talking about how Jewish soldiers and officers in the Chinese armies were “Boundlessly loyal to the country.” One source even claims that Israelites served as soldiers in the armies of Yue Fei.[7]

Father Joseph Brucker believed Matteo Ricci's manuscripts indicate there were only approximately ten or twelve Jewish families in Kaifeng in the late 16–early 17th century, and that they had reportedly resided there for five or six hundred years. It was also stated in the manuscripts that there was a greater number of Jews in Hangzhou. This could be taken to suggest that loyal Jews fled south along with the soon-to-be crowned Emperor Gaozong to Hangzhou. In fact, the 1489 stele mentions how the Jews "abandoned Bianliang" (Kaifeng) after the Jingkang Incident.

Section of the 1512 stele which mentions Yue's famous tattoo.

Many Jewish communities were established in China in the Middle Ages. However, not all left evidence of their exinstence. The following are those known to us today: Kaifeng, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Yangzhou, and Ningxia.[10]

Names

The contemporary term for Jews in use among Chinese today is Youtairen (Chinese: 猶太人pinyin: Yóutài Rén) in Mandarin Chinese. The term Youtai has similar phonetic sound of Jude or Judah, Greek terms for Jew.

It has been recorded that the Chinese historically called the Jews Tiao jin jiao (挑筋教), loosely, "the religion which removes the sinew," probably referring to the Jewish dietary prohibition against eating the sciatic nerve (from Genesis 32:32).[11]

Jewish dietary law (kashruth), which forbids the eating of, among other foods, non-ruminant mammals, shellfish and reptiles, would have most likely caused Jewish communities to stand out from the surrounding mainstream Chinese population, as Chinese culture is typically very free in the range of items it deems suitable for food.

Jews have also been called the Blue-Hat Hui (Chinese: 藍帽回pinyin: Lánmào Húi), in contrast to other populations of Hui people, who have identified with hats of other colors. The distinction between Muslim and Jewish Hui is not, and historically has not been, well recognised by the dominant Han population.

A modern translation of the "Kaifeng Steles" has shown the Jews referred to their synagogue as "The Pure and Truth", which is essentially the same as the term used in modern China to refer to Muslim mosques (清真寺).

According to an oral tradition dictated by Xu Xin, Director of the Center for Judaic Studies at Nanjing University, in his book Legends of the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng, the Kaifeng Jews called Judaism Yīcìlèyè jiào (一賜樂業教), lit. the religion of Israel. Yīcìlèyè is a transliteration and partial translation of "Israel". Xu Xin translates this phrase as "Chosen people, endowed by God, and contented with their lives and work".

Early record

Bird's eye view of the synagogue of Kaifeng.

The earliest evidence showing the presence of Jews in China is from the beginning of the eight century: a business letter written in the Judeo-Persian language, discovered by Marc Aurel Stein. The letter (now housed in the British Museum) was found in Danfan Uiliq, an important post along the Silk Road in northwest China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The text is thirty-seven lines in length and was written on paper, a product then manufactured only in China. It was identified, by David Samuel Margoliouth, as dating from 718 C.E.[12][13] Ibn Zeyd al Hassan of Siraf, a 9th century Arabian traveler, reports that in 878 followers of the Chinese rebel leader Huang Chao besieged Canton (Guangzhou) and killed a large number of foreign merchants, among others Jewish, resident there.[14]

Sources indicate that Jews in China were often mistaken for Muslims by other Chinese. The first plausible recorded written Chinese mention of Jews uses the term Zhu-hu, or Zhu-hu-du (perhaps from Hebrew Yehudim, "Jews") found in the Annals of the Yuan Dynasty in 1329 and 1354. The text spoke of the reinforcement of a tax levied on "dissenters" and of a government decree that the Jews come en-masse to Beijing, the capital.

Famous Venetian traveler Marco Polo, who visited China, then under the Yuan Dynasty, in the late 13th century, described the prominence of Jewish traders in Beijing. Similar references can be found in the notes of the Franciscan John of Montecorvino, first archbishop of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Beijing at the early of 14th century, and the writings of Ibn Batuta, an Arabian envoy to the Mongol Empire in the middle of 14th century.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), a Ming emperor conferred seven surnames upon the Jews, by which they are identifiable today: Ai, Shi, Gao, Jin, Li, Zhang, and Zhao; sinofications of the original seven Jewish clan's family names: Ezra, Shimon, Cohen, Gilbert, Levy, Joshua, and Jonathan.[15] Interestingly, two of these: Jin and Shi are the equivalent of common Jewish names in the west: Gold and Stone.[16][17]

The first modern Western record of Jews residing in China is found in the records of the seventeenth century Jesuit missionaries in Beijing. The prominent Jesuit Matteo Ricci, received a visit from a young Jewish Chinese man in 1605. Ricci mentioned this man's name as Ngai, who has since been identified by the French sinologist Paul Pelliot as a Jew named Ai T'ien, who explained that the community he belonged to was monotheistic, or believing in only one God. It is recorded that when he saw a Christian image of Mary with the child Jesus, he took it to be a picture of Rebecca with Esau or Jacob, figures from Hebrew Scripture. Ngai (Ai Tian, Ai T'ien) declared that he had come from Kaifeng, and stated that this was the site of a large Jewish population.[18]

Ricci sent an ethnic Chinese Jesuit Lay Brother to visit Kaifeng;[18] later, other Jesuits (mostly European) also visited the city. It was later discovered that the Jewish community had a synagogue (Libai si), which was constructed facing the west, and housed a number of written materials and books.

19th century

During the Taiping rebellion of the 1850s, the Jews of Kaifeng apparently suffered a great deal and were dispersed. Following this dislocation, they returned to Kaifeng, yet continued to be small in number and to face hardships, as is recorded in the early 20th century.

Shanghai's first wave of Jews came in the second half of the 19th century, many being Mizrahi Jews from Iraq. The first Jew who arrived there was Elias David Sassoon, who, about the year 1850, opened a branch in connection with his father's Bombay house. Since that period Jews gradually migrated from India to Shanghai, most of them being engaged from Bombay as clerks by the firm of David Sassoon & Co. The community was composed mainly of "Asian," (Sephardi) German, and Russian Jews, though there were a few of Austrian, French, and Italian origin among them. Jews took a considerable part in developing trade in China, and several served on the municipal councils, among them being Silas Aaron Hardoon, partner in the firm of E. D. Sassoon & Co., who served on the French and English councils at the same time. During the early days of Jewish settlement in Shanghai the trade in opium and Bombay cotton yarn was mainly in Jewish hands.

Modern times

Contemporaneous sources estimated the Jewish population in China in 1940 — including Manchukuo — at 36,000 (source: Catholic Encyclopedia).

Jewish life in Shanghai had really taken off with the arrival of the British. Mizrahi Jews from the Middle East came as traders via India and Hong Kong and established some of the leading trading companies in the second half of the 19th century. Later, after World War I, many Ashkenazi Jews came from Europe. Rebbe Meir Ashkenazi (Chabad-Lubavitch) was the Chief Rabbi of Shanghai (1926-1949).

At the early 20th century many Russian Jews fleeing pogroms in several towns in Russian Empire decided to move to northeast China for permanent settlement (Rabbi Aaron Kiselev served in Harbin from 1913 until his death in 1949). After the Russian Revolution of 1917, a lot of White Russians, fled to Harbin (former Manchuria). These included, among others, Dr. Abraham Kaufman, who played a leading role in the Harbin Jewish community after 1919,[19] the parents of future Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Teodor Parnicki at the age of 12.

The Japanese occupation of northeast China in 1931 and the establishment of Manchukuo in 1932 had a negative impact on the Harbin Jewish community (13,000 in 1929). Most of those Jews left Harbin for Tianjin, Shanghai, and British Mandate of Palestine. Until 1939, the Russian Jews were about 5,000 in Shanghai.[20]

World War II

Another wave of 18,000 Jews from Germany, Austria, and Poland immigrated to Shanghai at the end of 1930s and the early of 1940s.[21] Shanghai at the time was an open city and did not have restrictions on immigration, and some Chinese diplomats such as Ho Feng Shan issued "protective" passports. In 1943, the occupying Japanese army required these 18,000 Jews, formally known as "stateless refugees," to relocate to a 3/4 square mile area of Shanghai's Hongkew district (today known as Hongkou District) where many lived in group homes called "Heime" or "Little Vienna".[22] The total number of Jews entering Shanghai during this period equaled the number of Jews fleeing to Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa combined. Many of the Jews in China later moved to found modern Israel.

Shanghai was an important safe-haven for Jewish refugees during the Holocaust, since it was one of the few places in the world where one didn't need a visa. However, it was not easy to get there. The Japanese, who controlled the city, preferred in effect to look the other way. Some corrupt officials however, also exploited the plight of the Jews. By 1941 nearly 20,000 European Jews had found shelter there.

Jacob Rosenfeld, a doctor for the New Fourth Army, between Liu Shaoqi (left) and Chen Yi (right).

Notable Chinese Jews during the Second Sino-Japanese War include Hans Shippe, doctor George Hatem, doctor Jakob Rosenfeld, Eva Sandberg, photographer and wife of Communist leader Xiao San, and Morris Abraham Cohen.

Late in the War, Nazi representatives pressured the Japanese army to devise a plan to exterminate Shanghai's Jewish population, and this pressure eventually became known to the Jewish community's leadership. However, the Japanese had no intention of further provoking the anger of the Allies after their already notorious invasion of China and a number of other Asian nations, and thus delayed the German request until the War ended. With the intercession of the Amshenower Rebbe and the translation skills of Ariyeh (Leo) Hanin, the Japanese ultimately kept the Jews of Shanghai safe.[23]

The relative safety of the Jews during the period, in contrast to the Japanese treatment of Chinese during the war, was linked to an appreciation of Jewish culture and history by the Japanese and to the connections that many Jews had in the United States. Nevertheless, conditions in the Designated Area were unpleasant, particularly during the summer months.

In general, in the period of 1845 to 1945 more than 40,000 Jews came to China for business development or for a safe haven.[24]

Late 20th century

After World War II and the establishment of the PRC in 1949, most of these Jews emigrated to Israel or the West, although a few remained. Two prominent non-Chinese lived in China from the establishment of the People's Republic of China to the contemporary period: Sidney Shapiro and Israel Epstein, two American emigres, are of Jewish descent. Another Jewish-American, Sidney Rittenberg served as interpreter to many top Chinese officials.

Sara Imas, the Shanghai-born daughter of Shanghai's Jewish Club president, Leiwi Imas, became the first Jewish-Chinese immigrant to Israel after the two countries established formal diplomatic relations in 1992. Leiwi Imas, who had to leave Germany for Poland in 1939, arrived in Shanghai the same year. He spent his final years in Shanghai until 1962, prior to the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. Although Sara Imas's non-Chinese appearance and family background brought her much trouble during the Cultural Revolution when she was accused of being a foreign capitalist and spy, today Sara Imas has returned to Shanghai, working as the Chinese representative of an Israeli diamond company.[25]

The Institute of Jewish Studies was established at Nanjing University in 1992.[26]

Since the 1990s, the Shanghai municipal government has taken the initiative to preserve historical Western architectures that were constructed during Shanghai's colonial past. Many formerly Jewish-owned hotels and private residence have been included in the preservation project. In 1997, the Kadoorie-residence-turned Shanghai Children's Palace, had their spacious front garden largely removed in order to make room for the city's overpass system under construction. A One Day Tour of the history of Jewish presence in Shanghai can be arranged through the Center of Jewish Studies Shanghai.[27] Rabbi Shalom Greenberg from Chabad-Lubavitch in New York arrived in Shanghai to serve this community in August 1998. Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation of New York, donated a Torah to the community that same year. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, in September 1999, a Jewish New Year service was held at the Ohel Rachel Synagogue for first time since 1952.[28]

21st century

Synagogues are found in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong today, serving both international Jews and native Jews.[29] In 2001, Rabbi Shimon Freundlich from the Chabad came and settled in Beijing with the mission of building and leading the center of Chabad-Lubavitch of Beijing, an Orthodox congregation.[28]

In 2005, the Israeli embassy to China held their Hanukkah celebrations at the Great Wall of China.[30]

Famous Jews in China

See also

References

This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.

  1. ^ Israelites Came To Ancient Japan, a website by Arimasa Kubo.
  2. ^ "Jewish Communities in Asia." Asia Society. 12 July 2000 (Accessed 19 Nov 2006).
  3. ^ David Selbourne. The City of Light. Abacus, London 1998. ISBN 9780349108957
  4. ^ Mark Honigsbaum. Chinese fake away? The Spectator, October 25, 1997
  5. ^ J.R.S. Philips. The Medieval Expansion of Europe. Oxford University Press, 1998, p.289. ISBN 9780198207405
  6. ^ David L. Gold. A Fresh Essay on Duty and Responsibility. 2008
  7. ^ a b c Weisz, Tiberiu. The Kaifeng Stone Inscriptions: The Legacy of the Jewish Community in Ancient China. New York: iUniverse, 2006 (ISBN 0-595-37340-2)
  8. ^ Atlas of the Jewish world, by Nicholas DeFlange, PAGE 42
  9. ^ Alfred Edelsheim. History of the Jewish Nation after the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus. Kessinger Publishing, 2004, p. 71. ISBN 1417912340
  10. ^ Encyclopedia of Diasporas. Immigrant and Refugee Cultures Around the World. Vol. I, Jewish Diaspora in China by Xu Xin, pp.153-154, Ember, Melvin; Ember, Carol R.; Skoggard, Ian (Eds.), Springer 2004, ISBN 0306483211
  11. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia.
  12. ^ Xu Xin, The Jews of Kaifeng, China. History, Culture, and Religion. p.153, KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 2003. ISBN 0881257915, 9780881257915
  13. ^ Encyclopedia of Diasporas. Immigrant and Refugee Cultures Around the World. Vol. I, Jewish Diaspora in China by Xu Xin, p.153, Ember, Melvin; Ember, Carol R.; Skoggard, Ian (Eds.), Springer 2004, ISBN 0306483211
  14. ^ Gabriel Ferrand, ed (1922). Voyage du marchand arabe Sulaymân en Inde et en Chine, rédigé en 851, suivi de remarques par Abû Zayd Hasan (vers 916). pp. 76.  
  15. ^ M. Avrum Ehrlich (Ed.). The Jewish-Chines Nexus: A Meeting of Civilizations. Routledge, UK, 2008. ISBN 978-0-415-45715-6
  16. ^ A Visit to Kaifeng by Beverly Friend Ph.D.
  17. ^ Kaifeng Jewish Descendants
  18. ^ a b De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas, Book One, Chapter 11. Pages 107-111 in the English translation: Gallagher (1953). "China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Matteo Ricci", Random House, New York, 1953. The Latin original text, De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas suscepta ab Societate Jesu can be found on Google Books. The corresponding text is on pages 131 and onward of Book One of the Latin text.
  19. ^ Encyclopedia of Diasporas. Immigrant and Refugee Cultures Around the World. Vol. I, Jewish Diaspora in China by Xu Xin, p.159, Ember, Melvin; Ember, Carol R.; Skoggard, Ian (Eds.), Springer 2004, ISBN 0306483211
  20. ^ Shanghai Jews as seen by Chinese
  21. ^ Return of a Shanghai Jew
  22. ^ Feature: Former Jewish refugees revisit Shanghai Ark
  23. ^ [1]
  24. ^ Encyclopedia of Diasporas. Immigrant and Refugee Cultures Around the World. Vol. I, Jewish Diaspora in China by Xu Xin, p.155, Ember, Melvin; Ember, Carol R.; Skoggard, Ian (Eds.), Springer 2004, ISBN 0306483211
  25. ^ A Chinese Jew's tale of adversity and triumph
  26. ^ "Religion Journal; A Professor in Nanjing Takes Up Jewish Studies" by Gustav Niebuhr New York Times, March 13, 2007. full text
  27. ^ One Day Private Shanghai Jewish Culture Tour
  28. ^ a b Encyclopedia of Diasporas. Immigrant and Refugee Cultures Around the World. Vol. I, Jewish Diaspora in China by Xu Xin, p.162, Ember, Melvin; Ember, Carol R.; Skoggard, Ian (Eds.), Springer 2004, ISBN 0306483211
  29. ^ Synagogues in China
  30. ^ China's Great Wall hosts Hanukkah celebration

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