Jump to content
Chinese-forums.com
Learn Chinese in China

  • Why you should look around

    Since 2003, Chinese-forums.com has been helping people learn Chinese faster and get to China sooner. Our members can recommend beginner textbooks, help you out with obscure classical vocabulary, and tell you where to get the best street food in Xi'an. And we're friendly about it too. 

    Have a look at what's going on, or search for something specific. We hope you'll join us. 
bhchao

The Jews of Kaifeng

Recommended Posts

bhchao

During the eighth century at the height of Tang splendor, traders of different ethnic backgrounds crossed the Silk Road into China. It is believed that the first Jewish settlers appeared in China via this route during the Kaiyuan period. By the time of the Northern Song dynasty, a large Jewish community existed in the capital of Kaifeng, which at that time was the terminus of the Silk Road. They are known as "The Lost Jews of Kaifeng".

This Jewish community in Kaifeng were descendants of the traders who brought cotton fabric and seeds into China during the Tang dynasty. The Kaifeng Jews were granted an audience by the Song emperor, who urged them to preserve the customs of their ancestors, according to Chinese customary practice. They were allowed to build a synagogue and one was built in 1163. The emperor also bestowed seven Chinese surnames to the Jewish families; Li, Zhao, Shi, Ai, Zhang, Gao, and Jin. This was a great honor to them as foreigners. The descendants today still are called by these names, referring to themselves as belonging to "qixingbajia".

Eventually, these Jews assimilated into Chinese culture, intermarrying with Han people. They also embraced Confucian philosophy and took the civil service exams as entry into government positions. Many Jews became government officials during the Ming dynasty, gaining rank as "juren" or "jishi". Furthermore, the Jewish community was treated with great tolerance even by the Ming government. There was no sign of anti-Semitism in China at that time.

The Jews of Kaifeng eventually dwindled in size over time because of Yellow River floods, which destroyed many of their synagogues. By the 19th century, the Jewish community has all but faded, a result of assimilation into Chinese culture and intermarriage, or through natural disasters.

During World War 2, Jewish people escaping the Holocaust sought refuge in the only city in the world that would accept refugees with no visas and no questions asked, Shanghai. Despite pleas from Nazi Germany to massacre them, the Japanese moved the Jews into a separate settlement of their own in Shanghai and treated them benevolently, a stark contrast to the way they treated the Chinese.

Today a 1489 stone tablet can be found in the Kaifeng museum commemorating the building of the first synagogue in Kaifeng in 1163.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

skylee

I watched a TV documentary on this subject a few months ago. It follows one Kaifeng Jew who has moved to Jerusalem on some sponsorship. Because of Isreali laws he cannot work (yet?), and because the Jewish laws recognize the mother's line instead of the father's line (unlike Chinese), he is not recognised as Jew. And Jews are not recognised as one of the nationalities in China. This is what I have learnt from the documentary. Kind of frustrating.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
sudasana

I've heard rumours that there are a few Chinese jews left even today, but they've lost most of their heritage and identity. Don't know if this can be substantiated or not.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
shibo77

My younger brother had a babysitter who was a Jew, but I think she was from Shaanxi not Kaifeng.

-Shibo :mrgreen:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Albert

Hi Skylee,

This documentary on you watched on a family of Kaifeng Jewish descendants sounds fascinating and intriguing. It also sounds very interesting and enlightening. It sounds like it taught you a great deal about Kaifeng's Jewish connection. I too would like to watch this documentary. Could you please tell me what is the title of this documentary and was it translated into English? Please let me know. Thank you.

Best wishes,

Albert

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
skylee

Albert, it was at least 2 years ago and I can't recall the name of the programme. Sorry.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Albert

Thank you for getting back to me.

Best wishes,

Albert

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×