Jewish Communities in China - Frieberg Center

The Dragon's Yarmulke: Jewish Communities in China 犹太人在中国 . Though small, these are some of the newest and fastest growing Jewish communities in the world.

Escape to Shanghai: A Jewish Community in China

$22.95
  • Review
  • TAG : Ancient Chinese Community Celebrates Its Jewish Roots, ..
ADD TO CART
  • As there were a disproportionately high number of in the trading profession, it should not be surprising that some of these Jews became involved in trade with . Up until the past century, there was a significant Jewish population in Persia, and since the Persian Jews traded with the West, there is no reason to think they did not trade with the East as well. Although there is no evidence of the existence of a Jewish community in China before the Song Dynasty, a few historians still claim that the Kaifeng Jewish community was founded in 200 CE or earlier. Most evidence supports the theory that a significant number of Jews, hundreds or perhaps thousands, migrated from Persia to some time during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). Some historians believe the Jews of Kaifeng originated in Bukhara, a city in Uzbekistan that was once part of Persia. A 1489 inscription states that 70 families came to Kaifeng, although it is unclear as to whether this meant 70 clans (surnames) or 70 families (households). No one can say for sure why this mass migration occurred; perhaps there was a famine, drought, or other natural disaster, or maybe local Persian authorities were hostile to the Jews. It is also possible that these Jews had been drawn to Kaifeng by tales of the city’s beauty and comfort, yet one can only speculate why such a large group of Jews would leave Persia, a nation where they had lived since the Babylonian Exile in 586 BCE, to venture to the distant and unknown city of Kaifeng, China.

    As there were a disproportionately high number of in the trading profession, it should not be surprising that some of these Jews became involved in trade with . Up until the past century, there was a significant Jewish population in Persia, and since the Persian Jews traded with the West, there is no reason to think they did not trade with the East as well. Although there is no evidence of the existence of a Jewish community in China before the Song Dynasty, a few historians still claim that the Kaifeng Jewish community was founded in 200 CE or earlier. Most evidence supports the theory that a significant number of Jews, hundreds or perhaps thousands, migrated from Persia to some time during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). Some historians believe the Jews of Kaifeng originated in Bukhara, a city in Uzbekistan that was once part of Persia. A 1489 inscription states that 70 families came to Kaifeng, although it is unclear as to whether this meant 70 clans (surnames) or 70 families (households). No one can say for sure why this mass migration occurred; perhaps there was a famine, drought, or other natural disaster, or maybe local Persian authorities were hostile to the Jews. It is also possible that these Jews had been drawn to Kaifeng by tales of the city’s beauty and comfort, yet one can only speculate why such a large group of Jews would leave Persia, a nation where they had lived since the Babylonian Exile in 586 BCE, to venture to the distant and unknown city of Kaifeng, China.

  • The project of the Jewish communities in China encompasses several areas. Among these are: translations of the Old Testament (Tanakh) into Chinese, the ancient community of Kaifeng, and the modern communities of Shanghai. Several students are presently doing research in these areas, and dissertations and theses are currently under way about Tanakh translations, the German-Jewish exile press, and Yiddish travel accounts in China.

    The existence of this community was unknown to the West until 1605, when the intrepid Jesuit scholar and missionary in China, Matteo Ricci, received a visit from a Kaifeng Jew in Beijing. After an initial confusion in which the two thought they belonged to the same religion, Ricci recognized that he was dealing with a previously unknown phenomenon: a native Jewish community in China. This well preceded the later communities established in the late 19th century in Shanghai and Harbin.

  • Officially, the Chinese government does not recognized Judaism as a minority religion, a status that would allow Jewish citizens to frequent synagogues and potentially have more than one child. A recent Chinese documentary on the ancient Jewish community in China interviewed families in Kaifeng with Jewish ties and concluded that Chinese Jews simply no longer exist.

Are There Really Jews in China?: An Update

After 1840, the Jewish communities in China were populated by Westerners and were not assimilated into greater China. Three different events brought more than 40,000 European and Middle Eastern Jews to China: Colonialism, Russian pogroms and revolution, and the Holocaust. Shanghai was one of the few international cities to open its doors to Jewish refugees during World War II, so many Jews were able to settle there without obtaining a visa. After 1949, with the end of World War II and the start of China's Communist rule, most foreigners left China and headed back to the West.