The Jews of China

Jews of Kaifeng, late 19th or early 20th century, c. Wikipedia

Although there has been a Jewish presence in Hong Kong since the mid-nineteenth century, Jews were travelling, trading and inter-marrying in China much before this time. Scholars debate the exact arrival of Jews to Kaifeng – estimated between the Tang Dynasty to the Northern Song Dynasty. Kaifeng was then a cosmopolitan city on a branch of the silk road, and the capital of the North Song Dynasty. A small community of Jews from India and Persia arrived in the city to trade and built a synagogue in 1163. They were welcomed by the emperor and permitted to become citizens of the capital. Over the course of time, Chinese and Jews intermarried. Despite their isolation from the Jewish Diaspora, Kaifeng Jews kept their traditions and customs alive for centuries, although increasing inter-marriage and assimilation began to erode these traditions. Eventually, worship services discontinued and in the 1850s impoverished families were impelled to sell some of their Torah Scrolls. Traces of a Jewish presence can still be found in Kaifeng today.

For more information on the current situation in Kaifeng, see the following articles:

The Sino-Judaic Institute, Crisis in Kaifeng

The New York Times, Chinese Jews of Ancient Lineage Huddle under Pressure


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