Judaism in China is a unique topic for Jewish religion as China is the only country in East Asia that has had Jews living in its society for one thousand years. Various Jewish communities existed in various places at different times. Since Judaism is not a proselytizing religion, there were no activities of converting any Chinese into Judaism, but there was intermarriage between Jews and Chinese. Therefore, “Judaism in China” refers to the religious practices of Jews who had lived or are now living in China. In order to understand or present the theme, it is necessary to briefly explain the relationship between Jewish people and Judaism, because it is different from that of any other religion. In Judaism, founded by Jews, the devotion object is God. As the earliest monotheistic religion, Judaism had great impacts on the rise of both Christianity and Islam. Because of the uniqueness of the history and cultural developments of the Jewish people, the nuances of the term “Judaism” are very broad. Its basic meaning is “all Jewish.” In other words, it includes the whole of Jewish civilization. So Judaism does not merely refer to the religious beliefs of Jews but also—maybe more importantly—the visible daily life of the Jewish people, and indicates Jewish culture or the kernel of Jewish culture. Further, in the course of a very long history, Jewish thought, spirit, religion, and culture includes all aspects of the people who were bound together and it would be very difficult to separate them. It is often said: Jews cannot separate from their religion, for if they do then there would be no Jewish people. Furthermore, for Jews Judaism is the manner of their life. The life of the Jews, observant or not, is inextricably bound to their religion, from their eating and drinking to marriage and death, and all are connected with their religion. Therefore, one may very well say that Judaism has also continued in Chinese society for over a thousand years due to the fact that Judaism is indigenous to Jews and is inconceivable without it, as Judaism and Jews entered history simultaneously. Talking about Jewish Diaspora in China, there is a significant distinction between Jews in premodern China (before 1840) and modern China (since 1840). Those who came before modern times became part of Chinese society without distinct features while those who came since modern times remained as aliens. The practices of Judaism by those two groups of Jews were carried out under different circumstances. Therefore, it is necessary to address them separately. Finally, Judaism in China must include books and articles, written either by Chinese or by foreign scholars whose works were translated into Chinese.
The presence of Jews in China obviously brought Judaism into China. To trace practice of the religion, we need to address the history of Jewish communities in China, as Judaism is the collective activities of Jews. Studies listed here deal with the overall situation of Jews living in China and their encounter with Chinese and their culture. Xu and Lin 1993 is a basic reference book for studies of Jewish subjects in Chinese. There are more than one hundred entries on the subject of the Jewish Diaspora in China, some of which first appeared in the Encyclopedia Judaica. Eber 2008 illuminates the fascinating encounters between the Chinese and Jewish cultures and is of great value to scholars and general readers alike. Xu 2000b presents the existence of Judaism in Chinese society with historical evidence, showing that Judaism had been practiced in China since the arrival of Jews. Xu 2000a (based on a 1992 lecture) focuses on research efforts of Chinese scholars on the topic of Jewish Diaspora in China from 1892 to 1992. Xu 2006 analyzes Chinese policies, if there were any, toward the Kaifeng Jews and is chiefly based on an official document issued by the central government in 1953. Loewenthal 1988a and Loewenthal 1988b are among the first bibliographies on the subject of Jews in China. Leslie 1998 is not only a reference book on the subject but a well-documented source book on Jews and Judaism in China. It is a more detailed and systematic work than any reference book published previously. The comments and analyses are valuable for readers.
Eber, Irene. Chinese and Jews: Encounters Between Cultures (中华与犹太). London and Portland, OR: Vallentine Mitchell, 2008.
A collection of essays, unique in its breadth and depth of analysis, spans from the arrival of Jews on Chinese shores during the Tang Dynasty in the 9th century to modern times, illuminating the fascinating encounters between the Chinese and Jewish cultures and is of great value to scholars and general readers alike.
Leslie, Donald Daniel, ed. Jews and Judaism in Traditional China: A Comprehensive Bibliography. Monumenta Serica Monograph Series 44. Nettetal, China: Steyler Verlag, 1998.
This comprehensive bibliography, published by the Monumenta Serica Institute, is a detailed and systematic reference book on the subject.
Loewenthal, Rudolf, ed. “The Jews in China: An Annotated Bibliography.” In The Sino-Judaic Bibliographies of Rudolf Loewenthal. Edited by Michael Pollak, 9–159. Cincinnati, OH: Hebrew Union College Press in association with The Sino-Judaic Institute, 1988a.
A bibliography on the subject of Jews in China that shows what has been written and published about Jews in China in 258 items and three appendices. Loewenthal gives extensive notes throughout to help readers understand the content.
Loewenthal, Rudolf, ed. “The Early Jews in China: A Supplementary Bibliography.” In The Sino-Judaic Bibliographies of Rudolf Loewenthal. Edited by Michael Pollak, 161–208, Cincinnati. OH: Hebrew Union College Press in association with The Sino-Judaic Institute, 1988b.
A supplement to the published bibliography of 1939. Over 170 items in various languages, including Chinese and Japanese, with six appendices.
Xu Xin 徐新 and Lin Jiyao 凌继尧, eds. Youtai Baike quanshu (犹太百科全书). Shanghai: Shanghai Renmin Chubanshe, 1993.
This Chinese version of an encyclopedia is a comprehensive reference book that provides basic information on various Jewish subjects for its readers and assists Chinese scholars in studying and researching Jewish topics from 1990s and after.
Xu Xin. “Chinese Research on Jewish Diasporas in China.” In The Jews of China. Vol. 2, A Sourcebook and Research Guide. Edited by Jonathan Goldstein, 3–13. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2000a.
A research paper, first read at the international conference “Jews in China: A Comparative and History Perspective” at Harvard University in 1992, reflects research efforts of Chinese scholars on the topic of Jewish Diaspora in China from 1892 to 1992.
Xu Xin. “Youtaijiao zai Zhongguo (犹太教在中国).” Shijie Zhongjiao Yanjiu (《世界宗教研究》) 2 (2000b): 13–20.
This article focuses on the existence of Judaism in Chinese society with historical evidence.
Xu Xin. “Chinese Policy towards Kaifeng Jews.” East Asia 23.2 (Summer 2006): 87–101.
The article analyzes Chinese policies toward Kaifeng Jews chiefly based on an official document issued by the Chinese central government in 1953, of which the full text in English translation is appended.
Xu Xin. “Practice of Judaism in China.” In Encyclopedia of Judaism. Vol. 4. Edited by Jacob Neusner, 1630–1652. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003.
An essay prepared specifically for the Encyclopedia of Judaism that gives a brief account of how Judaism was and is practiced in China.
Xu Xin. “Jewish Diaspora in China.” In Encyclopedia of Diasporas. Edited by Melvin Ember, Carol Ember, and Ian Sloggard, 152–164. Dordrecht, The Netherlands, and London: Kluwer Academic/Plenum, 2004.
An essay prepared specifically for Encyclopedia of Diasporas to provide a general picture of Jews in China.
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