In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section China

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Illustrated Exhibition Catalogues and Published Artwork
  • Films
  • Major Serial Publications
  • 19th-Century American Jews in Canton and Macao
  • The Postwar Jewish Community of Hong Kong

Jewish Studies China
Jonathan Goldstein
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 January 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 January 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0115


In terms of the world Jewish population, the number of Jews residing in east, southeast, and south Asia has always been miniscule. The number of Jews living between Mumbai (Bombay) and Tokyo has never surpassed an all-time high of approximately 100,000 in 1945. Perhaps 25,000 lived in China, 30,000 in India and 20,000 in Birobidzhan (in Siberia). Despite the small size of China’s Jewish population, a study of it based on sources cited in this bibliography can help answer some basic questions of Jewish and Asian history. How did outsiders perceive the Jews? How did the ancient Jewish community of Kaifeng manage to retain aspects of its ancient faith in an alien environment for approximately a millennium? Why did the Russian-Jewish community of Manchuria prefer that destination to the goldene medina of America, open to virtually all European Jews until 1924? How did Jewish survival during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai compare with Jewish experiences in other restricted residential zones? After the Second World War, why did most Chinese Jews disburse to other destinations? Why did some choose to remain in China? What has been the nature of the relations between China, China’s Jewish communities, the Zionist movement, and the State of Israel? A brief overview of the millennial-long history of Jewish settlement in China may provide some context for considering these questions.

The earliest archaeological evidence of Jews in China are Hebrew inscriptions which some obscure 8th-century CE voyager left on cave walls in Dandan Uiliq and Dunhuang, along the central Asian caravan route linking Baghdad with western China. During China’s Song dynasty (960–1279 CE), the Jurched and Mongol invasions isolated Jews for about two centuries in the Song commercial metropolis of Kaifeng, in north central China. While retaining aspects of their theology and religious practice, some of these transient merchants chose to intermarry with indigenous Chinese. Jewish migrants and sojourners thus transformed into immigrants and settlers.

Kaifeng’s Jewish community has the longest record of continuous existence of any in China. It consisted of some 700 individuals in the last Chinese census to classify Jews as such, as youtairen, in 1980. Thereafter, Kaifeng Jews were classified as part of China’s dominant Han ethnicity. In 2015 this heavily assimilated minority is approximately the same size as it was in 1980. Other Jewish communities established in China include, in the early 19th century, American China traders of Sephardic and German descent in Canton (Guangzhou) and Aomen (Macao); by the mid-1800s, Baghdadis in Canton/Macao, Hong Kong, and Shanghai; and, by the late 1800s, Russians in that nation’s Manchurian railway zone (colony) and in the foreign concessions of Tientsin (Tianjin) and Shanghai. Harbin, the hub of the railway zone, had perhaps 13,000 Russian Jews in 1931. Between 1938 and 1945, Shanghai absorbed approximately 17,000 central and eastern European Jews fleeing Hitler.

By the late 1940s, with the near-simultaneous establishment of the State of Israel and the People’s Republic of China (Communist China), nearly all immigrant Jews left China. With China’s opening to the West in the 1970s, its rapid industrialization, and the establishment in 1992 of full diplomatic relations between China and Israel, foreign Jews returned to China in modest numbers. They have rebuilt Jewish institutions and strengthened ties with Israel and world Jewry. A note for readers: Chinese and Japanese names are listed with the last name preceding the first name, as in “Ho Fengshan,” “Maruyama Naoki” or “Pan Guang.” Despite an effort to situate all entries in this article within distinct categories, there is some overlap (e.g., Ya’akov Liberman’s My China is an autobiography of a Russian Jew, a description of Jewish life in Harbin and Taipei, and the authoritative account of the exodus of Jews from China to Israel in 1948–1949, which he helped organize). When a source such as My China is cited in several sections of this article, it is cross-referenced by the author’s last name and date of publication followed by the name of the section in which a full reference appears (e.g., Liberman 1998, cited under Russian-Jewish Experiences in China (1898–1960): Autobiographical and Biographical Writings.

General Overviews

As of 2015, there is no narrative text that comprehensively covers the millennial-long history of China’s Jews. The 2007 edition of Encyclopedia Judaica and Ehrlich 2008 Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora (Ehrich published at least two items in 2008) provide brief entries on the subject. Scholarly introductions include Eber 2002, Ehrlich 2008 (Jewish-Chinese Nexus), Kublin 1971, Malek 2000, Pan 2001, and Wald 2004. All are rich in detail and useful for libraries, general readers, graduate students, and highly motivated undergraduates. Goldstein 1999b and Goldstein 2000 are collaborative overviews and research guides. They benefit from the bibliographic assistance of Frank Joseph Shulman and are appropriate for academic libraries and individuals with a serious interest in Sino-Judaica. Specialized monographs have proliferated in China since 1992, when China and Israel established diplomatic relations. Chinese scholars have been in the forefront of analyzing Chinese perceptions of Jews that varied over time as diverse groups of Jews reached The Middle Kingdom. Images of Jews ranged from affluent Western and Levantine travelers to penniless refugees from Hitler’s Germany. The diversity of Chinese imagery has been traced by Xu 2000 and Xiao 2000 and Israeli Sinologist Irene Eber (see Eber 2002). Pan 2001, Gao 2013, and Maruyama 2009 (the latter two cited under Central and Eastern European Jewish Refugees from Hitler (1938–1945): Studies and Analyses) analyze policies of the Chinese and Japanese governments that affected Jewish immigration in China as well as Jewish life in China. Goldstein 1999a and Goldstein 2000 survey the relations of China with the Zionist movement before 1948 and with Israel thereafter.

  • Eber, Irene. Sinim vi-yehudim: Mifgashim ben tarbuyot. Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2002.

    A survey of Sino-Judaic interactions that elaborates on Eber’s Voices from Afar: Modern Chinese Writers on Oppressed Peoples and their Literature. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Monographs in Chinese Studies, 1980.

  • Ehrlich, M. Avrum, ed. The Jewish-Chinese Nexus: A Meeting of Civilizations. London and New York: Routledge, 2008.

    An introduction/anthology survey Ehrlich’s historical and contemporary Sino-Judaic encounters and elaborating on brief Sino Judaic entry in his Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspord (2008). Useful for the general redder.

  • Goldstein, Jonathan, ed. China and Israel, 1948–1998: A Fifty Year Retrospective. Westport, CT, and London: Praeger, 1999a.

    Covers relations between the Republic of China and Zionist leaders worldwide before 1949 and Israel’s relations and nonrelations with the Republic of China on Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China after 1949. Contains memoirs of such major architects of Sino-Israeli relations as Isador Magid, Reuven Merhav, E. Zev Sufott, and Moshe Yegar.

  • Goldstein, Jonathan, ed. The Jews of China: Historical and Comparative Perspectives. Vol. 1. Armonk, NY, and London: M. E. Sharpe, 1999b.

    A volume of original research and the product of a 1992 Harvard conference that included the officially sanctioned participation of several of China’s emergent Judaic scholars. Proceedings from earlier conferences and other collections of essays about Jews in China include Kublin 1971, Leventhal 1985 (cited under Postwar Jewish Community of Hong Kong), and Shapiro 1984 (cited under Kaifeng Experience: Historiography and Major Overviews).

  • Goldstein, Jonathan, ed. The Jews of China. Vol. 2, A Sourcebook and Research Guide. Armonk, NY, and London: M. E. Sharpe, 2000.

    A bibliographic guide and anthology of primary source material, which is also the product of the 1992 Harvard “Jewish Diasporas” in China conference.

  • Kublin, Hyman, ed. Jews in Old China: Some Western Views. New York: Paragon, 1971.

    Pioneering studies by Western scholars about Sino-Western contact. Serves as a useful introduction for undergraduate and graduate students.

  • Malek, Roman, ed. Jews in China. St. Augustin, Germany: Monumenta Serica Institute, 2000.

    A compendium of scholarship on the Sino-Judaic encounter that can serve as an introduction for graduate students and highly motivated undergraduates.

  • Pan, Guang. Youtairen zai Zhongguo. Beijing: China Intercontinental Press, 2001.

    A survey of Chinese-Jewish history by China’s preeminent historian of modern Sino-Western contact and the founding director of Shanghai’s Center for Israel and Judaic Studies.

  • Wald, Shalom Salomon. China and the Jewish People: Old Civilizations in a New Era. Jerusalem: Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, 2004.

    A policy paper using the thousand-year history of Sino-Jewish contact as a rationale for the enhancement of Sino-Israeli relations. Flying in the face of Eurocentric strategies for Israel’s survival, Wald sees ties with China as critical for Israel’s progress in the 21st century. A useful thesis for consideration by highly motivated undergraduates, graduate students, foreign service officers, and intelligence professionals.

  • Xiao Xian. “An Overview of Chinese Impressions of and Attitudes Toward Jews Before 1949.” In Jews of China. Vol. 2. Edited by Jonathan Goldstein, 33–46. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2000.

    Surveys varied Chinese impressions of Jews, based largely on a textual analysis of Chinese newspaper reporting.

  • Xu Xin. “Chinese Research on Jewish Diasporas in China.” In Jews of China. Vol. 2. Edited by Jonathan Goldstein, 3–13. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2000.

    Summarizes Chinese academic writing on premodern and modern Chinese Jewish communities.

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