China is known for the Jewish immigration and settlement that dates back for centuries. The Jews were documented in China as early as the 7th or 8th century. Though nobody can really tell the exact time when the Jewish set foot on Chinese soil. This gap in history is often filled with guesswork. There are records that indicate Jewish merchants travelled along the legendary silky road until they got to the Middle Kingdom. If you want to learn more about Jewish history in China, there are specific towns you can visit that will be definitely helpful in your quest. These cities are Shanghai, Kaifeng, Harbin, and Tianjin. Read on to learn more about these 4 best cities for Jewish history in China.
Jewish Museum Shanghai China
It is recorded that the first Jew to set foot in Shanghai was a British soldier back in1841. it wasn’t until 1848 when the first Jewish settlers started arriving. Records state that they arrived in three waves.
FIRST WAVE (1843-1920)
The first wave consisted of Sephardic Jews from Baghdad and Bombay. They built large business empires and most of the city’s landmark, buildings including Metropole Hotel, Cathay Mansions among many others. They later rented space for religious worship.
SECOND WAVE (1920-1937)
During the second wave, Russian Jews migrated to Shanghai. It was during this period that the wealth of Baghdadi Jews increased exponentially. They helped out their Russian brothers through organizing charitable works. Shanghai started booming as a result of the active and important roles played by the Jews.
THIRD WAVE (1938-1952)
This occurred during the second world war where Shanghai provided refugee for more than 20000 European Jews who fled the Nazis who were looking to persecute them. Today, one of the first Synagogues built in Shanghai, Ohel Moishe, was transformed into a museum dedicated to the history of the Jewish refugees in Shanghai. It houses documents, films, photographs, and personal items all on display.
Greystone bowl. Kaifeng, China. The Royal Ontario Museum Records show that the Jewish community existed in Kaifeng since the Song Dynasty. They had come to trade and in the process, they left a lasting mark. Kaifeng was the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty and it comprised of Sephardic Jews. In spite of their separation from the rest of other Jews, they still preserved their traditions for centuries. I remember the time when I studied and wanted to buy a dissertation on this topic. Unfortunately, the Kaifeng synagogue was destroyed in the 1860s but visitors can visit the quaint Jewish history museums that are in the city. You can also pass by Torah lane which was part of the Jewish Quarter.
It all started with the construction of the railway in 1897 where Russian Jews families moved to Harbin to escape persecution by Russian Tsar. They were given better status than the Jews left behind in Russia. By 1920, the Jewish population was at 20,000. Walking down this city’s streets you can still feel the Jews presence as well as experience their architecture. Harbin is also home to the largest Synagogue in all of East Asia and it was just recently re-opened as a Jewish History and Culture Museum. You can also pass through the largest Jewish Cemetery in the far East, Royal Hill Cemetery. It has over 600 preserved gravestones.
Tianjin had the third largest Jews population in China (after Harbin and Shanghai). This was as a result of its close proximity to the port as well as its readiness to accept Jewish immigrants. They later built schools, cemeteries, hospitals, and cafeterias. There are still traces of the Jewish community in this city. The Tianjin Synagogue built back in 1939 recalls the melange of Jewish architectural styles at the turn of the century. Also, the Five Great Avenues to home to Jewish homes. YOUTUBE LINK – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xnTIP1Hgl4