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jews and Judaism in China have had a long history. Jewish settlers are documented in China as early as the 7th or 8th century CE. Relatively isolated communities developed through the Tang and Song Dynasties (7th to 12th centuries CE) all the way through the Qing Dynasty (19th century), most notably in the Kaifeng Jews (the term "Chinese Jews" is often used in a restricted sense to refer to these communities). By the time of the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, few if any native Chinese Jews were known to have maintained the practice of their religion and culture. .In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, however, some international Jewish groups have helped Chinese Jews rediscover their heritage.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Jewish merchants from around the world began to trade in Chinese ports, particularly in the commercial centers of Hong Kong, which was for a time a British colony, Shanghai (the International Settlement and French Concession), and Harbin (the Trans-Siberian Railway). In the first half of the 20th century, thousands of Jewish refugees escaping from the 1917 Russian Revolution arrived in China.  Later thousands escaping from the Germans arrived making Shanghai the biggest refugee centre in the world. The end of the war and the Chinese revolution saw nearly all leave.  The change in the Chinese economy has seen a revival of the Jewish community.

Paul Johnson pp562

That such groups (such as those in India) should survive at all testified not to the proselytizing power of Judaism but to its tenacious adaptability even in the most adverse circumstances. But it cannot be denied that the cataclysmic events of the twentieth century virtually destroyed dozens of Jewish communities, many of them ancient. The post war Communist regime in China, for instance, imposed its own final solution on China’s Jewish population, much of it a refugee exodus from Soviet Russia and Hitler’s Europe, but including descendant’s of Jews who had been in China from the eighth century onwards. All fled or were driven out, Hong Kong alone, with about 1,000 Jews and Singapore with 400, constituting lonely outposts in the Far East.

China is home to about 2,500 Jews. A small ethno-religious minority, the Chinese Jewish community has deep historical roots that go back centuries. There is currently no Jewish community representative body in China, although there are small active communities of expatriates
in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai.



An ancient trading nation, the Chinese have had contacts with traveling Jewish merchants since the 8th century. The first Jewish settlers arrived through the Silk Road during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), establishing a community in the city of Kaifeng, in a far Western region of the country. Able to maintain their religious traditions while also immersing themselves in Chinese culture, the Jewish community experienced great success in China, with some members taking and passing China’s prestigious civil service exams.

Though there were other Jewish communities in China besides the one in Kaifeng, they were largely scattered and isolated in comparison. Jews further prospered following the Mongolian invasion of the 13th century, when the conquerors overhauled the legal system in order to decrease Han power. Despite this, however, the new rulers were a mixed blessing for the Jews, as they banned ritual slaughter, thus impeding on this important Halakhic tradition.

The Jewish community experienced a golden age in the 14th century after the Han regained power. Chinese Jews were able to fully participate in public life and government affairs, and were even granted land and privileges from the emperor. A large number of Chinese Jews passed the civil service exams during this time, allowing them to become Chinese officials.

Chinese Jewry began to experience a decline in the 15th century. A disastrous flood devastated the community and the increasing activities of Christian missionaries sparked a general distrust of those deemed “foreign” by the Chinese; Jews fell into this category. This decline was somewhat halted when Ashkenazi Jews came to Shanghai as the city opened to foreign trade in 1842. Fleeing persecution and pogroms, these Jews – almost entirely Eastern European – mixed with the already established Sephardic community.

Over the next several decades the Jewish community continued to decline, despite efforts by Egyptian and Iraqi Jewish merchants  to revive the Kaifeng Jewish community. In 1914, the Jews there were largely unable to read and understand Hebrew and had sold their synagogue.

By the mid-1930’s, before the arrival of Jews fleeing from persecution in Nazi Germany, Shanghai’s Jewish community consisted primarily of two groups – approximately 700 descendants of Iraqi Jews who had come there in the mid-1800’s, and several thousand Jews who had fled from Russia following the October 1917 Revolution. The latter group built three synagogues and published numerous Jewish periodicals – including a Hebrew newspaper.

Following the 1937 Sino-Japanese war, large sections of Shanghai fell under Japanese control, including the so-called International Settlement, referred to as Hongkew, where the city’s Jews lived.

Today, the Chinese Jewish community is a small, concentrated minority within China. A large number of Jews from around the world have been coming to Beijing to part in the economic development of China. The relative lack of religious affiliation among members of the community is largely due to strict surveillance of religion under the Chinese government – and the censorship and crackdowns against “foreign” influences. For most Chinese Jews, religious identity is celebrated individually and privately.


Because Shanghai did not require entry visas, the city became a haven for Jewish refugees during the Nazi period. Between the 1933 -1941, approximately 17,000 Jews found refuge there.

Arriving in Shanghai, many of these Jewish refugees had trouble finding work. Stripped of most of their assets before arriving to China, many had to rely on charity to survive.

Still, quite a number of German and Austrian Jews were able to establish themselves commercially in Shanghai. The Eisfelder family operated Café Louis, where refugees gathered during the war years. Other refugees set up restaurants, nightclubs, bakeries, and shops, or earned a living as doctors, dentists, teachers, architects, and builders, among other professions.

With Japan’s capture of Shanghai in 1937, most Jews were forcibly relocated to semi-internment camps in the Hongkew district. Following Kristallnacht in 1938, Shanghai’s refugee population experienced a sudden increase that left the already existing Jewish refugee community hard-pressed to provide the resources necessary to help needy families. By 1939, more than half of the population required financial assistance in some form. In 1940-1941, about 2,000 Polish Jews who had been given visas by Chuno Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat stationed in the Lithuanian capital of Kaunas (Kovno) , found refuge in Shanghai. Among the Jewish refugees who survived the Holocaust years in Shanghai were Michael Blumenthal, who would become U.S. Treasury Secretary, Israeli businessman Shaul Eisenberg, and composer Otto Joachim.

After the war, most Jews left for the United States, Britain and other destinations abroad.


The 2010 census places the Chinese Jewish population at 2,800 people out of a total population of 1,339,724,852 – constituting 0.0002% of the population. Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola provided the same 2,500 figure for 2015.

The Jewish community in China is spread throughout the major cities. Kaifeng, Beijing, and Shanghai are some of the locations of some of the more sizeable Chinese Jewish communities. No Jews are known to be living in China outside of these cities.


Jewish communal life in China is complicated and convoluted, representing the precarious situation of a community caught between the international, economic aspirations of a rising superpower and a ruling party intent on exercising and retaining complete authority. While the Jewish community in China has no official communal representative body, there still exists some form of communal activity in the country, primarily in international hubs such as Beijing and Shanghai, where there are sizeable Jewish expatriate communities. Cities such as these have organized and centralized Chabad Houses that provide a variety of Jewish services.


Jewish religious life in China is almost exclusively run through regional organizations and institutions. There are almost no independently-run synagogues in China; instead, religious ceremonies are conducted through regional Chabads and other centers for Jewish life in China’s major cities (the Shehebar Sephardic Center even has a branch in Shanghai.)

Kosher food can be found in China’s major cities through their Chabads and other Jewish religious institutions. The Shanghai Jewish Center has a kosher café, and the Chabad in Beijing provides Kosher meals and has a kosher market. Additionally, Beijing also has a kosher restaurant. Kosher food elsewhere is rare, if not non-existent.


Jewish kindergarten and day schools are offered through Chabad.


There is a small Jewish museum in Kaifeng on the old Teaching Torah Lane. Additionally, several museums in Kaifeng contain exhibits on Chinese Jews throughout the ages. In Shanghai, visitors can see the site of the former Hongkew ghetto and visit the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, which contains artifacts and exhibits on Jewish life in China during the years of the Holocaust. There is also a Jewish cultural museum and cemetery in Harbin.


China and Israel maintain full diplomatic relations, with the two states working closely together in economic, technological, and military capacities.

Embassy of Israel in Beijing
No. 17 Tianzelu, Chaoyang District,  Beijing 100600, China

Telephone: 86-10-85320500, Fax: 86-10-85320555


China's Jewish communities have been ethnically diverse ranging from the Jews of Kaifeng and other places during the history of Imperial China, who, it is reported, came to be more or less totally assimilated into Chinese culture, to 19th- and 20th-century Ashkenazi Jews, to Baghdadis, to Indians.

The presence of a community of Jewish immigrants in China is consistent with the history of the Jewish people during the first and second millennia CE, which saw them disperse and settle throughout the Eurasian landmass, with an especial concentration throughout central Asia. By the 9th century, ibn Khordadbeh noted the travels of Jewish merchants called Radhanites, whose trade took them to China via the Silk Road through Central Asia and India. Jacob of Ancona, the supposed author of a book of travels,was a scholarly Jewish merchant who wrote in vernacular Italian, and reached China in 1271, although some authors question it.

During the period of international opening and quasi-colonialism, the first group to settle in China were Jews who arrived in China under British protection following the First Opium War. Many of these Jews were of Indian or Iraqi origin, due to British colonialism in these regions. The second community came in the first decades of the 20th century when many Jews arrived in Hong Kong and Shanghai during those cities' periods of economic expansion.

Many more arrived as refugees from the Russian Revolution of 1917. A surge of Jews and Jewish families was to arrive in the late 1930s and 1940s, for the purpose of seeking refuge from the Holocaust in Europe and were predominantly of European origin. Shanghai was notable for its volume of Jewish refugees, most of whom left after the war, the rest relocating prior to or immediately after the establishment of the People's Republic of China.

Over the centuries, the Kaifeng community came to be virtually indistinguishable from the Chinese population and is not recognized by the Chinese government as a separate ethnic minority. This is as a result of having adopted many Han Chinese customs including patrilineal descent, as well as extensive intermarriage with the local population. Since their religious practices are functionally extinct, they are not eligible for expedited immigration to Israel under the Law of Return unless they explicitly convert.

Today, some descendants of the Jews still live in the Han Chinese and Hui population. Some of them, as well as international Jewish communities, are beginning to revive their interest in this heritage. This is especially important in modern China because belonging to any minority group includes a variety of benefits including reduced restrictions on the number of children and easier admission standards to tertiary education.

The study of Judaism in China has been, like other Abrahamic religions, a subject of interest to some Westerners, and has achieved moderate success compared to other Western studies in China.


The Kaifeng Jews are members of a small Jewish community in Kaifeng, in the Henan province of China who have assimilated into Chinese society while preserving some Jewish traditions and customs. Their origin and time of arrival in Kaifeng are a matter of debate among experts.

Most scholars agree that a Jewish community has existed in Kaifeng since the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127), though some date their arrival to the Tang Dynasty (618–907) or earlier. Kaifeng, then the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty, was a cosmopolitan city on a branch of the Silk Road. It is surmised that a small community of Jews, most likely from Persia or India, arrived either overland or by a sea route, and settled in the city, building a synagogue in 1163.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), a Ming emperor conferred eight surnames upon the Jews, by which they are identifiable today: Ai, Shi, Gao, Gan, Jin, Li, Zhang, and Zhao. By the beginning of the 20th century one of these Kaifeng clans, the Zhang, had largely converted to Islam.

The Jews who managed the Kaifeng synagogue were called "mullahs".[when?] Floods and fire repeatedly destroyed the books of the Kaifeng synagogue;[when?] they obtained some from Ningxia and Ningbo to replace them, and another Hebrew Torah scroll was bought from a Muslim in Ning-keang-chow in Shen-se (Shanxi), who acquired it from a dying Jew at Canton.[When?]

The existence of Jews in China was unknown to Europeans until 1605, when Matteo Ricci, then established in Beijing, was visited by a Jew from Kaifeng, who had come to Beijing to take examinations for his jinshi degree. According to his account in De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas,[5][6] his visitor, named Ai Tian (Ai T'ien; 艾田) explained that he worshipped one God. It is recorded that when he saw a Christian image of Mary with Jesus, he believed it to be a picture of Rebecca with Esau or Jacob. Ai said that many other Jews resided in Kaifeng; they had a splendid synagogue (礼拜寺 libai si) and possessed a great number of written materials and books.

About three years after Ai's visit, Ricci sent a Chinese Jesuit Lay Brother to visit Kaifeng; he copied the beginnings and ends of the holy books kept in the synagogue, which allowed Ricci to verify that they indeed were the same texts as the Pentateuch known to Europeans, except that they did not use Hebrew diacritics (which were a comparatively late invention).

When Ricci wrote to the "ruler of the synagogue" in Kaifeng, telling him that the Messiah the Jews were waiting for had come already, the "Archsynagogus" wrote back, saying that the Messiah would not come for another ten thousand years. Nonetheless, apparently concerned with the lack of a trained successor, the old rabbi offered Ricci his position, if the Jesuit would join their faith and abstain from eating pork. Later, another three Jews from Kaifeng, including Ai's nephew, stopped by the Jesuits' house while visiting Beijing on business, and got themselves baptized. They told Ricci that the old rabbi had died, and (since Ricci had not taken up on his earlier offer), his position was inherited by his son, "quite unlearned in matters pertaining to his faith". Ricci's overall impression of the situation of China's Jewish community was that "they were well on the way to becoming Saracens [i.e., Muslims] or heathens.").

Later, a number of European Jesuits visited the Kaifeng community as well.

The Taiping Rebellion of the 1850s led to the dispersal of the community, but it later returned to Kaifeng. Three stelae with inscriptions were found at Kaifeng. The oldest, dating from 1489, commemorates the construction of a synagogue in 1163 (bearing the name 清真寺, Qingzhen Si, a term often used for mosques in Chinese). The inscription states that the Jews came to China from India during the Han Dynasty period (2nd century BCE – 2nd century CE). It cites the names of 70 Jews with Chinese surnames, describes their audience with an unnamed Song Dynasty emperor, and lists the transmission of their religion from Abraham down to the prophet Ezra. The second tablet, dating from 1512 (found in the synagogue Xuanzhang Daojing Si) details their Jewish religious practices. The third, dated 1663, commemorates the rebuilding of the Qingzhen si synagogue and repeats information that appears in the other two stelae.

Two of the stelae refer to a famous tattoo written on the back of Song Dynasty General Yue Fei. The tattoo, which reads "Boundless loyalty to the country" (simplified Chinese: 尽忠报国; traditional Chinese: 盡忠報國; pinyin: jìn zhōng bào guó), first appeared in a section of the 1489 stele talking about the Jews’ “Boundless loyalty to the country and Prince”. The second appeared in a section of the 1512 stele talking about how Jewish soldiers and officers in the Chinese armies were “Boundlessly loyal to the country.”

Father Joseph Brucker, a Roman Catholic researcher of the early 20th century, notes that Ricci's account of Chinese Jews indicates that there were only in the range of ten or twelve Jewish families in Kaifeng in the late 16th to early 17th centuries, and that they had reportedly resided there for five or six hundred years. It was also stated in the manuscripts that there was a greater number of Jews in Hangzhou. This could be taken to suggest that loyal Jews fled south along with the soon-to-be crowned Emperor Gaozong to Hangzhou. In fact, the 1489 stele mentions how the Jews "abandoned Bianliang" (Kaifeng) after the Jingkang Incident.

Despite their isolation from the rest of the Jewish diaspora, the Jews of Kaifeng preserved Jewish traditions and customs for many centuries. In the 17th century, assimilation began to erode these traditions. The rate of intermarriage between Jews and other ethnic groups, such as the Han Chinese, and the Hui and Manchu minorities in China, increased. The destruction of the synagogue in the 1860s led to the community's demise. However, JL Liebermann, the first Western Jew to visit Kaifeng in 1867, noted that "they still had a burial ground of their own". In 1868 it was reported that their liturgy consisted only of pieces from the Bible. SM Perlmann, the Shanghai businessman and scholar, wrote in 1912 that "they bury their dead in coffins, but of a different shape than those of the Chinese are made, and do not attire the dead in secular clothes as the Chinese do, but in linen"


In China, due to the political situation, research on the Kaifeng Jews and Judaism in China came to a standstill until the beginning of the 1980s, when political and economic reforms were implemented. In the 1980s, the Sino-Judaic Institute was founded by an international group of scholars to further research the history of the Jewish communities in China, promote educational projects related to the history of the Jews in China and assist the extant Jews of Kaifeng. The establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Israel in 1992 rekindled interest in Judaism and the Jewish experience, especially in light of the fact that 25,000 Jewish refugees fled to Shanghai during the Nazi period.

It is difficult to estimate the number of Jews in China. Numbers may change simply because of a change in official attitudes. The last census revealed about 400 official Jews in Kaifeng, now estimated at some 100 families totalling approximately 500 people. Up to 1,000 residents have ties to Jewish ancestry, though only 40 to 50 individuals partake in Jewish activities.

Some descendants of Kaifeng's Jewish community say their parents and grandparents told them that they were Jewish and would one day "return to their land",[10] others are only vaguely aware of their ancestry.

The Kaifeng Jews intermarried with local Chinese sufficiently to be indistinguishable in appearance from their non-Jewish neighbors. One trait that differentiated them from their neighbors was not eating pork. Qu Yinan, a Chinese woman who discovered her Jewish ancestry after her mother attended a conference on minorities in 1981, says her family did not eat pork or shellfish and her grandfather always wore a blue skullcap.

Within the framework of contemporary rabbinical Judaism, matrilineal transmission of Jewishness is predominant, while Chinese Jews based their Jewishness on patrilineal descent. As a result, in Israel they are required to undergo conversion in order to receive Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.

After contact with Jewish tourists, some of the Jews of Kaifeng have reconnected to mainstream Jewry. Recently a family of Kaifeng Jewish descendants formally converted to Judaism and accepted Israeli citizenship. Their experiences are described in the documentary film, Kaifeng, Jerusalem. On October 20, 2009, the first group of Kaifeng Jews arrived in Israel, in an aliyah operation coordinated by Shavei Israel.

See Association of Former Residents of China in Israel



This combined version of my previous posts on this community was written for and is cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana. This post also contains some information not included in previous posts; this community is the subject of my MA thesis, so I will always have more to add. In fact, even re-reading this now I’m thinking “weeellll it was more complicated than that I mean…” but I think it’s long enough for now. If you would like me to, I can elaborate on anything in this post. Just ask. The only thing I cannot elaborate on is my argumentation, as it’s generally a bad idea to post such things online.

I would just like to note for my Jewish readers that this post has been set to go live today since mid-March, and I did not realize the significance of today when that date was set. So, please be advised that this is not a Yom HaShoah post.            

German Jews did not immediately begin to put their emigration papers in order after Hitler came into power, or after the passing of the Nuremberg Laws, because as far as they were concerned they were fully assimilated Goethe reading, WWI fighting German citizens. They could not believe, and would not believe, that the country they loved would turn against them.

Hitler introduced his anti-Jewish legislation slowly over the course of the 1930’s, giving German Jewry time to rationalize each new piece; this especially held true for Jewish men, as they tended to work in traditionally Jewish occupations. Jewish women, however, through the regular contact with gentiles allowed to them by their place in the home sphere, became aware of the “social death” being imposed on them by Nazi legislation long before their husbands took notice.

In the wake of the mass arrests of Jewish men during Kristallnacht, it fell to these women to free their husbands—typically from Dachau. Nazi officials would not release men until their families provided proof that they would depart from Germany immediately upon their release. Thus, not only did women have to rescue their husbands, but they also had to navigate the emigration process by themselves. Due to the complex legal frameworks enacted by possible destination countries to keep Jewish refugees out, it was immensely difficult for Jews to secure visas out of Germany, made even more difficult when they were confronted with the massive exit tax forced on emigrating Jews.

There was, however, one destination which had not put up legal roadblocks to fleeing Jews: Shanghai—this had more to do with the decentralized and highly colonized nature of Shanghai than it had to do with any sort of altruistic sentiment. While the Chinese government had the right to demand to see emigration papers before new arrivals would be allowed to enter Shanghai, this was seldom enforced. Thus, to get to Shanghai, all fleeing families needed were boat tickets. For this reason—in accordance with the necessity to present proof of emigration to Nazi officials before male family members would be released—Shanghai became the only option available to some of the families of incarcerated men.

The journey to Shanghai began by train to an Italian port. From one of those ports, refugees aboard luxury liners serviced by German, and sometimes Japanese, crews sailed across the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal, into the Indian Ocean, and around to the east coast of China. Their ship then made its way down the Whangpoo River until it docked at the Bund (Shanghai’s harbor-side financial district). This route was in use until Italy’s entrance into the war on June 10, 1940—although a few ships full of refugees did depart from Portugal and Marseilles before the Mediterranean was fully closed to passenger traffic. After the Mediterranean route closed, Jewish refugees fled to Shanghai via the trans-Siberian Railroad. This overland route took them across Russia, through Siberia, and into North China, where they boarded a ship for Shanghai. The overland route was in use until December 7, 1941. After that date, all escape routes to Shanghai were closed.

Though I’ve focused on German and Austrian Jews, about 1,800 Polish-Lithuanian Jewish refugees—including a large population of yeshiva students—too found refuge in Shanghai. This population of yeshiva students and their families first fled to Vilna, and then to Kovno, Lithuania after the invasion of Poland. The Dutch and Japanese consuls in Kovno collaborated to grant the refugees visas to the Dutch Caribbean holding of Curacao; the trip to Curacao involved a stopover in Kobe, Japan. Both consuls were aware of the fact that it was not possible to cross the Atlantic during a time of open warfare, meaning that they illegally granted the refugees admittance into Japan.

This group of refugees remained in Kobe until 1941, at which point the Japanese government sent them to Shanghai. The Dutch consul, Jan Zwartendijk, was later fired in disgrace, while the Japanese consul, Chiune Sugihara was merely asked to step down. Sugihara, who saved 10,000 Jews total and is listed by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, is typically perceived as the Oskar Schindler of the East. However, it is probable that his actions were merely in line with general Japanese policy towards the Jews, which will be expounded upon below.

The first wave of refugees to arrive at the Bund in 1938 disembarked with little more to their names than the clothes on their backs, a suitcase or two, and the equivalent of about fifteen American dollars; Nazi policy forbade them to take much else out of the country. This poverty could be seen in each subsequent boat full of refugees. The visible poverty of these Jews embarrassed the established Russian and Sephardic Jewish communities of Shanghai; the Sephardic Jewish community was Baghdadi in origin, and had traveled to Shanghai as businessmen under the auspices of the British Empire, while the Russian Jewish community arrived in Shanghai in two main waves: first fleeing from the pogroms of 1905, and then from the violently anti-Semitic White Russian forces during the Russian Civil War.

One year before the refugees began to arrive, hostilities of the Sino-Japanese War were waged in the streets of the Hongkew district of Shanghai, leading to its partial destruction. Because land and property in Hongkew were thus so inexpensive, and because of the destitution of the new arrivals, Jewish relief organizations in Allied and neutral countries along with the Sephardic and Russian communities in Shanghai—the Hardoon and Kadoorie families in particular—collaborated to set up refugee homes based in Hongkew for the refugees. These homes (Heime), though obviously better than nothing, were crowded, unsanitary, and the time spent there was extremely distressing for the formerly upper middle class refugees.

While some refugees received money from relations in Allied or neutral countries, had smuggled money and/or valuables out of Germany, or had been able to quickly find gainful employment and relocate to the French or International Districts of Shanghai,  many were never able to accumulate the funds needed to secure housing outside of Hongkew. Some, so traumatized by Kristallnacht, leaving Germany, and arriving with nothing to the Heime, so traumatized by their loss of identity, became depressed and never left their Heim; this was especially true for those who had held high status professions in Germany—such as professorships—which could not be adapted to the Shanghai setting.

Some refugees were able to establish a fairly normal life in Shanghai, complete with jobs, refugee schools founded by Horace Kadoorie, and synagogue attendance. However, in February 1943, the Japanese rulers of Shanghai announced that all “Stateless Persons” who had arrived in Shanghai after 1937 had to relocate to Hongkew—an area of about one half mile in length already populated by thousands impoverished Chinese refugees—by May 1943. This proclamation was directed at Jewish refugees as an attempt on the part of the Japanese to appease their German allies. The “designated area” to which the refugees were relegated is, and was, colloquially known as the “Shanghai Ghetto.”

Conditions within Hongkew were deplorable, with the available housing insufficient to shield the residents from the extreme temperatures reached in the summer and winter months, lack of access to adequate health care, a contaminated water supply, a barely sufficient sewage system, trash-lined streets, and targeted Allied bombing raids. The refugees also had to contend with poverty, malnutrition, and health problems associated with a contaminated water supply. This said, refugee children were still able to attend school, adults could secure passes out of Hongkew to go to work, and the refugees were so vigorous in shaping their surroundings that by 1944, the main thoroughfare of Hongkew looked more like a street in Vienna than a bombed out section of Shanghai. In fact, the refugees created such a rich cultural life in Hongkew that, when some groups of refugees began to stage theatrical productions, other refugees penned editorials in refugee run periodicals complaining about the quality of said productions.

Despite having forced the Jewish refugee population to relocate to Hongkew, the Japanese took no directly aggressive or violent steps against this population despite the urgings of their German allies. There are two reasons for this, both based in Jewish and Japanese isolation from each other throughout most of their respective histories. The first reason is that the Japanese formed a positive view of the Jewish people after private Jewish American financier Jacob Schiff funded their efforts in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Though positive, this view characterized the Jews as a wealthy, powerful people. Not long after, Japan fought alongside the White Russians in the Russian Civil War. The White Russians circulated the Protocols of the Elders of Zion amongst the Japanese troops, and when this document reached the Japanese government, that body saw it as a confirmation of their prior characterization of the Jews. The Japanese then enacted a policy of appeasing these people with such control over the Western governments. They thus refrained from abusing the Jewish refugees in their care.   

American troops occupied Shanghai in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s 1945 surrender. After a year or so of peace, the refugees once again found themselves in a precarious political position. The economy was failing under the rule of Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek, and every day they received news of the progress made by Mao Zedong’s Communist forces. By 1949, the year in which Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China, most of the Jewish residents of Shanghai—Polish, German, Austrian, Russian, and Baghdadi alike—had fled to the United States, Australia, or Israel. By 1956, 171 Jews were left in Shanghai.

A total of about 20,000 Jews (estimates vary) sought refuge in Shanghai. Others—though very few—made it to safety in such locales as the United States, Argentina, and Palestine. Many of the Jews who had fled Germany in the early 1930’s for other European nations ended up trapped in the late 1930’s, early 1940’s as those nations were invaded and occupied by the Nazis. Of the German Jews who escaped from Germany before 1941, only half of them survived the Holocaust.


Aish Dr. Yvette Alt Miller


In the Middle Ages, Jewish traders following the ancient Silk Road spice route settled in China, forming a community in the city of Kaifeng. Kaifeng was then one of the “Seven Ancient Capitals of China” and one of the world’s largest metropolises, with a population of close to one million. China’s ruling Song Emperors welcomed the Jews as welcome guests, bestowing seven family names that these Kaifeng Jews could use – some of which are still carried by their descendents in the town today.

Kaifeng’s Jewish community thrived at first, building its first synagogue in 1163, and eventually swelling to several thousand members. Smaller Jewish communities sprung up in other towns in China. Unlike many Jewish communities elsewhere, it seems that China’s Jews faced little or no persecution. Ironically, the lack of discrimination they faced in China seems to have hastened their end.

A model of the Kaifeng synagogue at Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People, Tel AvivA model of the Kaifeng synagogue at Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People, Tel Aviv

Within a few hundred years, the Jews of Kaifeng began to drift away from their religion. They intermarried with their Han Chinese neighbors and gradually lost their Jewish knowledge and traditions. When Kaifeng faced a devastating flood in 1642, its small Jewish community was able to recover and rebuild their synagogue. When Kaifeng was again heavily damaged by floods in 1841 – which wiped away the town’s sole remaining synagogue, among other buildings – the Jewish community never rebuilt.

Today, Kaifeng still boasts a street called Nan-Xuejing Hutong, meaning South Studying-the-Scriptures Lane, where its Jewish community used to live. Few other clues remain of the once-bustling community of Jews that called China home.


When Elena Kagan, the Jewish law school professor who is now a US Supreme Court Justice, was questioned during her confirmation hearings, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked her what she did on Christmas. Rather than be flustered by this unusual question, Kagan quickly quipped, “Like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.”

Data backs up Justice Kagan’s claim. Google records a noticeable jump in searches for Chinese Restaurants each December, and on-line delivery sites report receiving a “significant jump in sales” of Chinese meals on December 25.

The link between Jews and Chinese food lasts year-round too. In 1959, a New York kosher restaurant, Bernstein’s on Essex Street, caused a sensation by becoming the first kosher restaurant to offer Chinese food when they put Chinese egg rolls on their menu. Over the years, kosher Chinese restaurants have opened in cities across the world. (Chicago offers a typical example: of roughly two dozen kosher eateries in the city, three have Asian menus, and many others include Chinese or pan-Asian selections as well.)

China is gaining an increasingly prominent role in kosher food production, too. It is now the world’s fast-growing producer of kosher food, with over 500 factories manufacturing kosher items. Star-K, a kosher certifier, reports that “China is fast becoming the frontrunner in all aspects of kosher food production” as more and more foods (including those that are kosher) are produced there.


Chien His-chieh, the Executive Director of the Peacetime Foundation of Taiwan, has called for a radical change in the way some Chinese words are written. Specifically, she points out, the Chinese word for Jew, you tai, can be written with a variety of symbols – yet troublingly, the one used most often is demeaning, denoting dog or monkey. So far, Ms. Chien’s request has gone nowhere. It’s thought that the derogatory spelling originated at a time when Jews were considered extremely exotic or foreign to China.

The Hebrew term for Chinese is less controversial: Sini. It likely originated with the Chinese Ch’in, the fourth dynasty of China, and is related to the Greek and Latin words for China (Sinai and Sinae, respectively).


While a small Jewish community lived in Shanghai since the 1800s, Jews began to flock to that coastal city in the 1920s and 1930s, fleeing first from the upheaval of the Russian revolution, and then growing anti-Semitism in Europe. When the great powers, meeting at the Évian Conference in 1938, decided to block almost all Jewish immigration to their shores, only two places remained completely open to fleeing Jews: the Dominical Republic; and Shanghai (which at that time was governed separately from the rest of China).

In the late 1930s, over 20,000 Jews called Shanghai home; by the time World War II broke out, Shanghai was home to more Jewish refugees than any other city in the world.

After Japan’s invasion of Shanghai in 1941, Germany pressured Japan to murder the Jews in its control, even sending SS Colonel Joseph Meisinger (reputedly carrying a canister of Zyklon B gas with him) to Shanghai to advise various “extermination” plans. Japan resisted calls to murder the city’s Jews, but they did implement drastic new restrictions: Shanghai’s Jews were no longer able to receive aid money from abroad, and were crammed into the “Shanghai Ghetto,” more formally called the Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees in the Hongkou District, where Jews were forbidden to leave.

Even in these restrictive conditions, Jewish life in Shanghai flourished. Most notable was the Mir Yeshiva, a famous center of Jewish learning that relocated from Lithuania to Shanghai during World War II, and continued to offer classes. (Following the end of the War, the Mir Yeshiva moved to Jerusalem, where it remains one of the world’s premier centers of Jewish learning today.) Following the War almost all of Shanghai’s Jews left China for new lives abroad.


Each year, hundreds of Chinese graduate and post-doctoral students flock to Israel’s universities to participate in the world-class research at Israel’s universities. In 2013, Tel Aviv University and Beijing’s Tsinghua University set up a joint high-tech joint research center, tapping into Israel’s and Chinese know-how to bring new innovation to medical technology and to finding solutions to pressing environmental problems.

Interest in Judaism is rife in China. There are no fewer than ten academic centers of Jewish studies in Chinese Universities across the country, and students often spend a semester abroad, learning more about Jewish history and culture in Israel or the United States.

Perhaps the biggest boost to knowledge about Israel’s academic life in China came from a recent game show Who’s Still Standing, a Chinese quiz show based on a popular Israeli program. When Hebrew University graduate student Lechao Tang appeared on the Chinese show in 2014, he did so well the show became the second-most watched program in all of China. Tang regaled Chinese audiences with descriptions of life in Israel, while the show’s hosts chimed in with a story of their own. On a visit to Israel they once placed a note asking for help in conceiving a child in the Western Wall – when they returned home, they told their audience, they had a baby boy.


As China has emerged as a manufacturing dynamo in recent decades – and Israel has evolved to become one of the world’s foremost centers of high-tech innovation – links between the two countries have deepened. From virtually no high tech funding from China in the early 2000s, the period of 2011-2013 saw Chinese firms invest $32 billion in Israel.

Asia’s richest man, Hong Kong-based tycoon Li Ka-shing, seems to have a penchant for Israeli Research and Development; to date, he has invested in at least 28 high-tech companies in Israel. Of the startups funded by his company, Horizon, over one third is Israeli. Examples of Horizon’s funding include the Israeli firm Corephotonics, which designs dual-lens systems for cell-phone cameras, and the Israeli bio-tech firm Kaiima, which designs products to increase agricultural sustainability.

China now ranks second (after the United States) in collaboration with Israeli high-tech firms that are backed by Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has described Israel as “going East” in terms of trade and R&D.

Trade between the Israel and China has skyrocketed: increasing over 20000% in the past two decades, to more than $10.8 billion today. After the United States and the European Union, China is now Israel’s third-largest trading partner.


Association of Former Residents of China in Israel

The history of Jews of the Jewish communities in China would have been incomplete were it not for its Post Scriptum: The story and the activity of Igud Yotzei Sin - The Association of Former Residents of China in Israel is a unique phenomenon. It is unique amongst dozens of other landsmanschaft organizations of Jews arriving in Israel from all over the world.

Igud Yotzei Sin maintains a head office in Israel, with branches in the United States and Australia. It is an active organization that binds the traditions of the past history of the community in China with  the present needs of the communities in Israel, the US and Australia and continues the traditions established in China namely assistance to students, senior citizens and the distribution of the Bulletin that desiminates information on past and present lives of the former residents of China.

Annual activities consist of:

The scholarships are funded by family trusts established by former residents of China
and individual donations



History of the Jews in China - Wikipedia

Are There Really Jews in China?: An Update (1985), Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jewish Community Studies, Daniel Elazar Papers Index

Detailed History of the Kaifeng Jews by Michael Pollack (z”l), revised and updated by Anson Laytner and Tiberiu Weisz

China's Ancient Jewish Community Is Re-Emerging - But to Unexpected Problems

Jonathan Romain 26/06/2013, The Huffington Post

Contemporary Overview  Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora: Origins, Experiences and Culture

Irma Glahs Gottlieb’s story of leaving Germany and becoming a refugee in Shanghai, China

Why Are the Chinese so Obsessed With the Jews  Forward 2016
Jim Ross, a long-time member of the Jewish Studies faculty and Executive Committee and member of the School of Journalism of Northeastern  University speaks with journalist Benjamin Ivry about his research.

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Jewish Ghetto of Shanghai

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