Historical Overview

 

There has been a continuous Jewish presence in China for well over a thousand years. 

The most enduring community was that of Kaifeng, Henan province (in central China), dating back to at least the 11th century. There are stone inscriptions from 1489, 1512, 1663 and 1674, which tell the story of this community. This community finally disintegrated in the 1850's, but descendants of those Kaifeng Jews survive to this day and are striving to educate themselves as Jews.

While the number of Jews in China has always been small, Jews arrived there in five ripples of immigration:

  1. Persian Jews journeyed to Kaifeng and other cities via the ancient trade routes.

  2. Mizrahi (Baghdadi) Jews made their way to Hong Kong and Shanghai with the 19th century British invasion.

  3. Russian Jews traveled to Harbin, Tianjin and other cities in the northeast at the turn of the 20th century, fleeing first pogroms then counter-revolution.  Later, at the onset of World War II, many moved to Shanghai and established their own community there.

  4.   In the 1930s, desperate German, Austrian and Polish Jews refugees fleeing the Nazis found Shanghai to be the only place in the world that accepted them without visas. By the 1950s most Jews had left China, but the buildings they built, the records they kept, and their economic and cultural contributions are a monument to that historical experience.

  5. North American, European and Israeli Jews working in China today. There are flourishing ex-pat communities in Beijing, Shanghai, and of course the longstanding community in Hong Kong.  With exception of the Harbin and latter Shanghai experiences, Jews came to China primarily for economic opportunities, just as earlier generations of Jews had traveled to Western Europe in late Roman times, then to Poland, and still later to North America.