Arts & Culture

Jewish Mythbusters: There are No Jews in China

You may be used to seeing Jews of all different ethnicities—black Jews, Arab Jews, Eastern European Jews, Latin American Jews—but East Asian Jews, especially Chinese Jews, don’t seem to pop up very often. There are Jews in China, though, and … Read More

By / April 3, 2008

You may be used to seeing Jews of all different ethnicities—black Jews, Arab Jews, Eastern European Jews, Latin American Jews—but East Asian Jews, especially Chinese Jews, don’t seem to pop up very often. There are Jews in China, though, and more than a few ethnically Chinese Jews. Here’s the scoop: Jews have been in China since the 8th century, when they came in from Persia on the Silk Road. In 1163 the Jews were ordered to live in Kiafeng by the Emperor, and a Jewish community remained there for over seven hundred years. Some descendants of that community still live in Kiafeng and around China, but they don’t identify as Jews. In the late 19th century, Jews began entering China from Russia, and during the 20th century, thousands of Jews sought safety in China as they fled from persecution and pogroms in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe. Much of that community left during the Japanese annexation in 1931. During World War II more than 18,000 Jews came to Shanghai seeking shelter from the Nazis. Eventually, the Japanese, who controlled Shanghai at the time, relocated the Jewish community to a ¾ square mile area (“the Shanghai Ghetto”) where they were kept until the end of the war. Still, Jews in China enjoyed a relatively high level of safety and security. When World War II ended, many Jews left China for Israel, America, or Eastern Europe. Most of the remaining Jews left when the Communist regime began in 1949. For just over fifty years there was no significant Jewish life in China, but in 2000, Rosh HaShana services were held at the Ohel Rachel Synagogue in Shanghai. Believe it or not, the Chinese government now recognizes Jews as an official Chinese ethnic group. You can go to shul in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong today, and daven with both native and international Jews. And in China, Orthodoxy and Reform Judaism play nice. On the downside, China is rife with books that promise to help the reader make money “the Jewish way.” Contemporary Chinese anti-Semitism is a real concern for Jews there. Learn more about Jews in China at the Shanghai Jewish Center website.

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