10 July 2008

China: Some Jewish history

The Australian Jewish News offers a Stan Marks' blog entry on the Olympics, Israel and China - although the focus is on Chinese Jewish history.

In this Chinese Olympics Games year, it is fascinating to learn of various moves by Israelis and Chinese to get to know each other better. There is also renewed interest in the history of the Jews who lived in the Middle Kingdom of China for thousands of years. Who were they? Where did they come from? How did they get to China? What happened to them and their religion?
The posting also discusses a recent Kaifeng conference where 80 Chinese professors and graduate students - and foreign educators - discussed the Holocaust and disseminating the message to the Chinese people in general. It continues with information on Kaifeng:
Kaifeng, a bustling Silk Road business centre and capital city of the Sung Dynasty, was home to around 1000 Persian Jews, refugees and merchants more than 1000 years ago.

Kaifeng became the home of China's first known synagogue and a centre for research into all aspects of Jewish life in China. Some estimates are that there were many thousands of Jews in Kaifeng, making it one of the largest and busiest Jewish cities in the country.

There are historians who insist Jews first travelled to China at the time of Moses. They moved out of the desert and kept travelling until they arrived in China.

Other theorists believe that members of the 12 tribes that vanished arrived in China around 700BC.

There are also theories that other Jews settled in Tibet. Jews were mentioned in official documents following the Mongol's conquest of China in the 13th century.
Marco Polo is mentioned. His writings indicate he met Jews in 1286, that Jews commemorated their festivals and the association of Kublai Khan with Jews. Shanghai is included as the home of some 30,000 Jews; with mentions of Hong Kong, Russian Jews in Harbin and more.
Elements of Jewish life can be found in many parts of China, indicating that wherever you look at the present or past, you will find some aspect of Jewish life. Probably many Jews across the globe don't realise their Jewish heritage and that they are members of the People of the Book.

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