The Israeli consulate in Shanghai recently released a video titled “Thank You Shanghai”. Featuring Jews who took refuge in the city during the second world war and their descendants, it thanked the Chinese people for their succour in that dark hour.
Jewish settlement in China goes back centuries. The Silk Road and cosmopolitan capitals and seaports of successive Chinese dynasties hosted people from all over the world, but it was in Kaifeng that Jews settled in significant numbers. It’s almost impossible to pinpoint the year of their arrival, though a stele erected in 1489 to commemorate the rebuilding of a synagogue suggests it was during the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127). The stele recounts an unspecified number of Jews, adherents of the Yicileye (Israel) faith and descendants of Adan (Adam) and Amoluohan (Abraham), arriving in China to present European cloth to the emperor. He allowed the Jews “to become Chinese nationals, observe their ancestors’ traditions, and settle in Bianliang [present-day Kaifeng]”.
Despite their tiny numbers and over time becoming indistinguishable from the Han and Hui (or Muslim) Chinese because of intermarriage, they managed to maintain some semblance of Jewish faith, customs and language, but barely. Today, there are some 200 Chinese Jews left in Kaifeng but they are not recognised by the state as a separate ethnic minority.