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Malik, From Kaifeng ... to Shanghai: Jews in China, 2000

Robert Entenmann reviews the book for H-Asia.
January 1, 2000

Roman Malik, ed. From Kaifeng ... to Shanghai: Jews in China. Monumenta Serica Monograph Series, 46. Nettetal, Germany: Steyler Verlag, 2000.

Reviewed by: Robert Entenmann, Department of History, St. Olaf College.
Published by: H-Asia (June, 2001)

Chinese Jews and Jews in China

For many years my research has examined Chinese Catholics in eighteenth-century Sichuan. I have always been conscious of how marginal this tiny group was, never numbering more than 40,000 or so. Yet they fascinate me, perhaps precisely because of their marginality, as well as their complex relationship with their fellow Chinese and their membership in a world-wide community of fellow-believers. They are similar in many respects to Jews in China, who hold a similar fascination for me. Jews in China, whether "Chinese Jews" or sojourners, were few in number. They are often regarded only as a curiosity, playing no significant part in the grand sweep of either Chinese history or the Jewish Diaspora. Yet From Kaifeng . . . to Shanghai should interest anyone interested in either Chinese or Jewish history.

In 1997 twenty scholars from nine countries met in Germany, for a colloquium on Jews in China sponsored by the Institut Monumenta Serica. Roman Malik edited the conference volume. These essays complement, rather than supercede, another recent collection of conference papers, The Jews of China, edited by Jonathan Goldstein (2 vols., Armonk, New York, and London: M. E. Sharpe, 1999-2000). It includes twenty-nine chapters (20 in English, 7 in German, and 2 in Chinese), several dozen illustrations, and an introductory essay by Father Malik. Perhaps the best way to show the scope of this volume is to list the chapters. (Translations of German titles are my own unless in quotation marks. Both Chinese and one of the German contributions have English abstracts.)

1. Roman Malik, "Intercultural encounters: From Kaifeng . . . to Shanghai. Jews in China. An Introduction."

2. Herbert Franke, "Der Weg nach Osten. Jueddische Niederlassungen im Alten China." (English abstract: "The Way Eastward. Jewish Settlements in Old China")

3. Donald Daniel Leslie, "Integration, Assimilation, and Survival of Minorities in China: The Case of the Kaifeng Jews."

4. Michael Pollack, "The Manuscripts and Artifacts of the Synagogue of Kaifeng: Their Peregrinations and Present Whereabouts."

5. Leo Gabow, "Jewish Property in Kaifeng."

6. Xu Xin, "On the Religious Life of the Kaifeng Jewish Community in the 15th-17th Centuries."

7. Zhang Qianhong and Li Jingwen, "Guanyu Kaifeng Youtai houyi de jige wenti." (English abstract: "Some Observations on the Descendants of the Jews in Kaifeng")

8. Nathan Katz, "The Judaisms of Kaifeng and Cochin: Parallel and Divergent Styles of Religious Acculturation."

9. Hartmut Walravens, "Bibliographical Notes on Jews in China."

10. Yang Haijun, "Die Erforschung der Juden in China." (Research on Jews in China).

11. Fang Jianchang, "Nei Menggu, Liaoning, Beijing, Tianjin, ji Qingdao Youtairen shi, 1919-1949 nian." (English abstract: "History of Jews in Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, Beijing, Tianjin, and Qingdao (1911-1949)")

12. Avraham Altman, "Controlling the Jews, Manchukuo Style."

13. Zvia Bowman, "Unwilling Collaborators: The Jewish Community of Harbin under the Japanese Occupation, 1931-1945."

14. Rena Krasno, "History of Russian Jews in Shanghai."

15. Maisie Meyer, "The Sephardi Jewish Community of Shanghai and the Question of Identity."

16. Chiara Betta, "Myth and Memory. The Chinese Portrayal of Silas Aaron Hardoon, Luo Jialing and the Ali Garden Between 1924 and 1995."

17. David Kranzler, "Jewish Refugee Community of Shanghai 1938-1949."

18. Irene Eber, "Flight to Shanghai 1938-1939 and Its Larger Context."

19. Pan Guang, "Uniqueness and Generality: the Case of Shanghai in the Annals of Jewish Diaspora."

20. Paul U. Unschuld, "Aerzte aus Deutschland und Oesterreich in der Emigration in Shanghai zwischen 1934 und 1945." (Physicians from Germany and Austria in the emigration to Shanghai from 1934 to 1945)

21. Gerd Kaminski, "Dr. Jakob Rosenfeld, Mensch und Mythos." (Dr. Jakob Rosenfeld, man and myth)

22. Chang Shoou-huey, "China und Jiddisch. Jiddische Kultur in China." (China and Yiddish: Yiddish culture in China)

23. Alexander Knapp, "The State of Research into Jewish Music in China."

24. Francoise Kreissler, "Ein Journalist im Exil in Shanghai: Adolph J. Storfer und die Gelbe Post." (A Journalist in exile in Shanghai: Adolph J. Storfer and the Gelbe Post)

25. Claudia von Collani, "Cabbala in China."

26. Rita Widmaier, "Zur Frage der Juden in China in der Korrespondenz von G. W. Leibnitz." (On the question of Jews in China in the correspondence of G. W. Leibnitz)

27. Marian Galik, "The Old Testament of the Bible in Modern Chinese Literary Criticism and Creative Literature."

28. Zhou Xun, "Youtai: A History of the 'Jew' in Modern China."

29. Joel Thoraval, "Chinese Intellectuals and the 'Jewish Paradox.'"

30. Huang Lingyu, "Research on Judaism in China."

31. Xu Xin, "Some Thoughts on Our Policy Toward the Jewish Religion--Including a Discussion of our Policy Toward the Kaifeng Jews."

Like Goldstein's volume, this work encompasses two very disparate groups of Jews in China, for which the cities of Kaifeng and Shanghai are emblematic, although Jewish presence was not limited to the two cities. The Jewish community in Kaifeng was comprised of acculturated Chinese Jews whose ancestors had come from Persia as early as the Tang period. They were part of the heterogeneous mix that made up the Chinese empire, similar to the Chinese-speaking Muslims with whom they were sometimes confused. (They were also comparable to the Chinese Catholics whom I study, who were however nearly all Han Chinese.) As Donald Leslie notes, Kaifeng Jews "took in non-Jewish wives, assimilated Confucianism, and became Chinese, but survived remarkably" (p. 51). The Jews of Shanghai, however, were not Chinese, of course. The earliest were Sephardic Jews who came from Persia in the treaty port era and became prominent members of Shanghai's commercial society. They were followed by European Jews who came to the treaty ports in search of a livelihood. Later others, numbering in the tens of thousands, sought refuge in Shanghai from the Holocaust. In any case the Jewish presence in China eventually came to an end, either through assimilation of the Chinese Jews, or the emigration after World War II of the expatriate Jews of Shanghai and elsewhere.

Donald Leslie's essay is a summary of his extensive study of Kaifeng Jews, particularly how they maintained their distinct identity for over 700 years while accommodating to Chinese culture. By the late Ming period they were participating in the civil service examination system. One, Zhao Yingcheng, became a jinshi in 1646. Chinese Jews venerated Confucius and performed rituals honoring their ancestors, mirroring Matteo Ricci's attitude toward Catholic accommodation to Chinese rites. Unlike Christians, however, Chinese Jews did not proselytize. This spared them from persecution but limited their numbers. Accommodation led to assimilation, and by the late nineteenth century the Kaifeng Jewish community was absorbed into the larger Chinese society. Nevertheless, as Zhang Qianhong and Li Jingwen note in their chapter, 263 families and 638 individuals, most still living in Kaifeng, identified themselves as descendants of Kaifeng Jews in the 1980s (pp. 158-159). Michael Pollack's contribution investigates the manuscripts and artifacts of the Kaifeng Jewish community, many of which have been lost, and the late Leo Gabow describes the fate of Jewish property in Kaifeng, including the transfer of the synagogue site to a Canadian Anglican bishop. Xu Xin, the leading Chinese scholar studying Jews in China, reconstructs the religious life of Kaifeng Jews in the 15th to the 17th centuries.

Nathan Katz's essay compares the Kaifeng Jews with the Cochin Jewish community in India. In India, Jews made a clear distinction between Judaism and the religions of their neighbors, while in Kaifeng Jews found similarities between their faith and the host culture, facilitating their assimilation. In India the caste system helped keep Jews and other religious minorities) separate--"the hierarchical nature of traditional India creates the societal space for human diversity." Katz's article complements essays comparing Indian and Chinese Jews by Shirley Berry Isenberg and Barbara C. Johnson in Goldstein's book (I:87-119).

Three entries are basically bibliographical. Hartmut Walravens examines early German scholarship on Chinese Jews, from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Yang Haijun and Huang Lingyu both survey Chinese scholarship on Jews and Judaism, particularly Kaifeng Jews; their two essays cover much the same ground. For bibliographical information, readers should consult Donald Leslie's recent bibliography on Chinese Jews, Jews and Judaism in Traditional China: A Comprehensive Bibliography (Monumenta Serica Monograph Series, 44; Nettetal: Steyler Verlag, 1998), volume II of Jonathan Goldstein's work (a sourcebook and research guide co-edited with Frank Shulman), and Frank Shulman's forthcoming bibliography.

Part II (". . . to Shanghai") concerns Jewish sojourners in modern China. Feng Jianchang surveys European, primarily Russian, Jewish communities in north China, Inner Mongolia, and Manchuria in the Republican period. (Beijing, curiously, had a negligible Jewish presence, with no synagogue or organized community. Of the only 120 Jews in the city in 1939, the largest number, 40, were French.) Feng's assertion that the Japanese army in Manchuria adopted a "pro-Jewish" attitude after 1937 (p. 266-267) should be taken with a grain of salt. Avraham Altman's excellent essay, "Controlling the Jews, Manchukuo Style," better illuminates Japanese policy toward Jews in Manchuria, which was mainly directed by Yasue Norihiro, a Kanto army colonel. Yasue was a self-appointed expert on "the Jewish problem" and Jewish "national character." His views were shaped by his contact with White Russian anti-Semites, who introduced him to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Yet Yasue was not a simple anti-Semite; despite his stereotypes of Jews led he regarded them as an asset to Japan's aims. Jewish residents of Manchuria certainly did not thrive during World War II, although they did survive under the control of an ally of Nazi Germany. Zvia Bowman's contribution on the Jewish community of Harbin under Japanese occupation nicely complements Altman's study. There White Russian anti-Semites, wearing black shirts and swastika armbands, terrorized the Jewish population before Yasue reigned them in. Until the 1940 Tripartite Pact, some in the Japanese military proposed wide-scale Jewish settlement in Manchuria. Altman and Bowman, by focusing on Manchuria, bring an important perspective to the complex relationship between Japanese and Jews during World War II.

Although the Jewish refugee community in World War II Shanghai is well known, Jews in prewar Shanghai have received less attention. Rena Krasno examines the community of Russian Jews and their relationship to other Jews in Shanghai. Maisie Meyer studies the identity of the Jews who originated in Baghdad and came to Shanghai by way of India. They were Sephardic only in a loose sense - in British India their identification as Sephardim, implying Spanish origin, gave them European status. They closely identified themselves with the British empire. Meyer describes the nature of this community, its organizations and synagogues, and the way it preserved its distinctive identity. Chiara Betta examines the reputation of the most famous member of this community, Silas Hardoon (1851-1931), whose marriage to a Eurasian Buddhist, Luo Jialing, scandalized Westerners in Shanghai. Hardoon and Li, and their estate, the Aili Garden, became subjects of salacious popular Chinese literature. In the first decades of the People's republic, Hardoon became a symbol of imperialism and capitalism, a bloodsucker of the Chinese people. More recently he has been depicted, less ideologically, as the quintessential entrepreneur, an image influenced by western stereotypes of Jews.

David Kranzler, author of Japanese, Nazis, and Jews: The Refugee Community of Shanghai, 1938-1945 (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1976), is the pioneer historian of the World War II Jewish refugee community in Shanghai. He provides an overview of that subject in this volume. Irene Eber places the flight to Shanghai into the context of German foreign policy and the reaction in Shanghai to the arrival of European Jewish refugees. Pan Guang's "Shanghai in the Annals of Jewish Diaspora" emphasizes "the bridge of friendship between the Chinese and Jewish people."

Several contributions examine individual Jewish residents in China. Paul Unschuld studies three German and Austrian physicians in Shanghai. One was Max Mohr (1891-1937), perhaps more important as a novelist and playwright than as a physician. He emigrated to Shanghai in 1934, the year that his works were banned in Germany, and became a "specialist in nervous and mental diseases and homeopathy" (p. 449). Gerd Kaminski's essay examines the Austrian doctor Jakob Rosenfeld, who survived Dachau and Buchenwald and moved to China in 1939. He served as a military doctor in the Chinese Communist from 1941 to 1950, ultimately becoming surgeon-general of the People's Liberation Army before emigrating to Israel shortly before his death in 1952.

Chang Shoou-huey reviews literature written in Yiddish in China, its treatment of China as a subject, and translations of Yiddish literature into Chinese. Alexander Knapp surveys Jewish music in China - including what little can be uncovered about the music of Chinese Jews in Kaifeng, and European music, ranging from sacred to classical to Klezmer. Francoise Kreissler studies the career of Adolph Storfer (1888-1944), publisher of the Gelbe Post before his emigration to Australia shortly before Pearl Harbor.

The final part of this volume, "Europe, China, and the 'Jewish Paradox,'" deals with cultural contacts between Jews, Christians, and Chinese. Two contributions deal with the response of European Christians to Judaism in China. Claudia von Collani, a leading intellectual historian of Catholic missions in early Qing China, examines how the Figurist school of missionaries in China, led by the Jesuit Joachim Bouvet (1656-1730), attempted to relate the esoteric tradition of the Cabbala to evidence of natural theology in the Chinese tradition, particularly in the Daodejing and the Yijing. Rita Widmaier examines the correspondence regarding Chinese Jews between G. W. Leibnitz (1646-1716) and the German Protestant theologian Daniel Ernst Jablonski (1660-1741). Marian Galik investigates the role of the Hebrew Bible in Chinese literature and Chinese literary criticism, from Zhuo Zuoren (1885-1967) in the 1920s to the recent revival of interest in the Bible in the 1990s.

Zhou Xun offers a fascinating overview of the complex and often contradictory ways Chinese have perceived Jews. Many of these perceptions derive from Western influences, of course, but also they also have a function in defining Chinese identity. "By creating Jews as a homogenous group, which acts as a constitutive outsider and embodies all the negative as well as positive qualities which were feared or desired," she writes, "various social groups in China could thus identify themselves as an integrated reference group - a homogenous in-group, of the Chinese in this case" (p. 619). Joel Thoraval examines how contemporary Chinese historians deal with "the Jewish paradox," focusing on the writings of the Shanghai historian Gu Xiaoming. Huang Lingyu surveys recent Chinese scholarship on Jews and Judaism. Finally, appended as a document is Xu Xin's "Some Thoughts on Our Policy Toward the Jewish Religion - including a Discussion of Our Policy Toward the Kaifeng Jews," a proposal to Chinese authorities that the Chinese government accord Judaism recognition as a Chinese religion, as it does with Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism.

These papers are very disparate in their subject matter, reflecting the rich and complex history of Jews in China, whether assimilated Chinese Jews, or more recent Sephardic and European sojourners in the treaty ports. All of the contributions are of high quality. The interface of these two ancient, distinctive, and diverse peoples offers an opportunity for insights on identity, assimilation and acculturation, the place of minorities and foreigners in China, and Chinese attitudes toward others, and this volume is a wonderful contribution to our knowledge of both Chinese and Jewish history.

Citation: Robert Entenmann . "Review of Roman Malik, ed, From Kaifeng ... to Shanghai: Jews in China," H-Asia, H-Net Reviews, June, 2001. URL:

Republished with permission from H-Net Reviews.