Ancient Legacy of Chinese Jews
Highlighting one thousand years of history
which now recognizes Jews
as an official
Chinese ethnic group, is also paying more attention to the country's Jewish past.
The Jewish presence in China is at least one thousand years old,
and elements remain today, despite assimilation and Communist anti-religious persecution.
An Ancient Letter Tells the Story
A letter written around 718 by a businessman seeking to sell some sheep
was found preserved 100 years ago in western China. The document, which
was written on paper, then made only in China, is in
Judeo-Persian, then a common business language in Central Asia,
Scholars believe it indicates a Jewish presence.
Later, another paper containing a Selihot, a Hebrew prayer,
was found in the Caves of One Thousand Buddhas in Dunhuang.
Silk Road Merchants Flourish
Capital of the Sung
was a bustling Silk Road trading center
one thousand years ago. Around 960, a group of
Jews, merchants or refugees,
arrived in the city.
The emperor allowed them to build a synagogue, commemorated by a 1489 stone tablet
in the Kaifeng Museum. In addition, a street in what was once the Jewish
quarter is known as "The Lane of the Sect that Teaches the Scriptures."
A Chinese-language Torah from the Kaifeng synagogue is in the
British Museum in London.
Working on the Railroad
Russian Jews were numerous in Harbin
around the turn of the century. Many came to build railroads in
China. BBC News
recently reported that officials think several hundred buildings
in Harbin were part of the Jewish community. The city also contains a Hebrew cemetery.
has long been one of the most cosmopolitan cities in China.
Jews fleeing Russia
in the 1900s were followed
by refugees from the
World War II
Once there were 30,000 Jews in Shanghai. Most fled when the Communists took over in 1959.
On Sept. 29, 2000, Rosh Hashanah services were held at the Ohel Rachel Synagogue for the first
time in nearly 50 years. There are also a Jewish library and a Jewish museum in the city.