Jewish Identity in China: A Chinese View
By An Tifa
Translated from Chinese by Tiberiu Weisz
Abstract: This article under its original title “A Group of Jewish Descendents from Kaifeng Want to Immigrate to Israel, but Their Identity Is in Doubt” was published in 21st Century World in Chinese and on the internet at:
As the Chinese title indicates, this article is written for Chinese audiences,
and the text follows Chinese reporting practices that differ considerably from
reporting style in the West. To make the article more reader friendly for
Western readers, the translator has made some structural changes and eliminated
many repetitions, duplications and redundancies, while remaining true to the
original article. Background information on the story of Chinese Jews may be
found in the endnotes and suggested readings.
Among a group of people studying Hebrew at the Foreign Language Institute at
Nanjing University was Zhang Xingwang a teacher from Kaifeng with a small black
cap called a kipa covering his head. Zhang said that he does not
have a great knowledge of the Jewish tradition, but he wears the kipa in
search of spiritual sustenance. Because of this search, he is very attentive
when he follows the instruction of the Hebrew teachers.
At the invitation of Professor Xuxin, Director of the Jewish Cultural Studies
Department at Nanjing University, Chinese students, historians, teachers,
scholars and other interested parties came from all over China to attend a
summer program of Israel cultural studies. He also invited several descendents
of the Jews from Kaifeng and a Jewish professor and his wife to teach Hebrew and
Zhang Xingwang introduced straightforwardly the long history of the Jews in
Kaifeng. “One thousands years ago,” he said, “[Jewish] ancestors came on the
Silk Route from Israel to Kaifeng, capital of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). After
the court received them the emperor said; ‘[You] returned to my China. Honor and
observe the custom of your ancestors. Bianliang was abandoned.’ These Jews decided to settle down. At the
beginning, there were 17 families but only 7 exist today: Shi, Gao, Ai, Li,
Zhang, Zhao and Jin. All these names were transliterations from Hebrew with the
exception of Zhao, whose name was bestowed by the emperor. Thus, Li sounded like
Levi while Shi [Stone] and Jin [Gold] were translations.”
 According to Zhang Xingwang there were 618
descendents of the Kaifeng Jews, some of them had left, scattered in Uruguchi,
Lanzhou, Xian, Chengdu, Shanghai, Nanjing, Shenzhen
and other cities.
In the past, these Jews marked “Jews” as their nationality in the census. In
1952, two Jewish delegates from Kaifeng went to Beijing to represent the
community at the celebration of the National Day and were received by the leadership of the
Central Committee. A few years ago at the time of the census most of the people
changed [nationality] to “Muslim” or “Han.” Zhang Xingwang was obviously not pleased.
He said [that the Jews] were obviously not Muslims or Han Chinese, so why ask
them to change their nationality? It is unreasonable that they cannot get such
Zhang Xingwang also maintains that the descendents of the Kaifeng Jews had
forgotten the Jewish culture. The original Kaifeng descendents had congregated
near the teaching alley (hutong) but after 1958, they moved out. Only the
Zhao family remained there. Looking at this from a daily life perspective, they
were no longer observing the Jewish tradition. This year is the first time that
[the Jews] have celebrated Passover. Although most of the [Jews] are still in
the habit of not eating pork, there is no Jewish person who is true to the image
of “the sect that extracts the sinew” of the sheep. They forgot the traditional customs
and therefore came here [to Nanjing] to study Hebrew hoping to return and search
for their historical Jewish memories.
[Meanwhile, in the class] these Jewish descendents repeated after the teacher a
Hebrew prayer: “In front of the Lord we sing a new song—Hallelujah!” Everybody
made great effort to have the correct pronunciation as each one hoped to
annunciate every single word of the hard-to-study Hebrew sentence.
With Illegal Emigration the Family Stretches the Boundaries
When the reporter asked Zhang Xingwang about the family who had already
immigrated to Israel, he responded without hesitation: “They are different from
us, we are patriots.” He also admitted that there were Kaifeng Jews who ran away
illegally but this was a matter of purely individual behavior. He also said that
just because this family name was Jin, it does not mean that we study Hebrew for
the pleasure of the Jin family. “First we are Chinese, but because we have
Jewish bloodlines, we are Chinese with Jewish characteristics. We teach this to
our children: that first of all we love our country.”
Outsiders need to understand that this is a sensitive issue. Zhang Xingwang
illustrated this point: “We were the little birds in the forest, without worries
and concerns. Later as the cats [hunters] became numerous, we saw the guns’
fowling pieces and ran. Now, many people are looking for us both from China and
abroad.” He repeatedly stated that the majority of the Kaifeng Jewish
descendents are patriots.
According to Zhang Qianhong, the head of the Institute of Jewish Studies at Henan University,
in addition to the Jin’s [who already emigrated] there were the Zhang’s
and the Li’s who had wanted to immigrate to Israel in the 1990s. However,
only the three members of the Jin family were successful; they moved to Finland
and their uncle Jin Guanzhong remained in Kaifeng.
Zhang Xingwang expressed his disappointment that the Kaifeng descendents cannot
immigrate to Israel legally: “We would like to go to see Jerusalem, too.” He
explained that intermarriage between Jews [in Kaifeng] and Han Chinese was quite
common. The descendents of the Kaifeng Jews followed the patrilineal descent in
China, and therefore could not immigrate because in Israel the matrilineal
descent is followed. “Had the Kaifeng community followed the matrilineal
descent, then they would have not encountered any problems. The Jewish community
in Spain had a 300 year-old history; they also celebrated Passover, but were not
even aware that they were Jews. Only after scholars realized that they were of
matrilineal descent, they could immigrate. Jewish blood cannot be forgotten.”
Zhang Xingwang explained the value of the Jewish presence in China: “The Kaifeng
Jewish community has an impact on the world. They often receive Jews from
foreign countries and from Israel. The Israelis consider the Jews of Kaifeng
especially important, because it serves a testimony to the friendship between
China and Israel. We are saying that the Chinese people are good toward the
Jews; they do not discriminate against the Jews. Living circumstances in Kaifeng
are favorable, and the Jews can survive and flourish for another thousand
years.” In conclusion, he said, “it is not important whether or not the
government recognizes us as Jews, nor is it important that the census cannot be
changed, what is important is that we feel that we are Jews in our hearts.
Neither this nor the next generation will forget that we are Jews.”
But the Young Generation of Jews Has a Different View of Their Jewish
At the Hebrew school [in Nanjing] was another female student, majoring in
International Relations at the Elousi Mosque.
Her name is Shi Han, a second year student who used the summer vacation
to go to Nanjing University to study Jewish culture. Although her [maternal]
grandfather was a representative of the Jewish descendents at the Beijing
[festivities] in 1952, she has no deep historical affiliation to
Judaism and her interest in this class is mostly curiosity. “I rarely mention that I am Jewish;
only when classmates come over to my house and ask about the few books and the
pictures in the house, I tell them that I am a descendent of Jews.” When the
government allowed [the Jews] to test for their DNA in the 1980s, the proof came
back that she had the same DNA traces as an Iraqi Jew. She has no understanding
of Judaism and even less of the Bible. But when she was asked about the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict, she said: “Of course we are on the side of
The Jin family obviously went one step further [in their quest] of their
ancestors’ tradition. According to reports, when Jin Xiaojin, who worked at the
Institute for Minority Research, found out in the 1980s that he was of Jewish
descent, he sent his daughter Qu Yian, who at the time was a reporter in
Beijing, to Los Angeles to study Judaism.
The Latest Jewish Records
Kaifeng is an old city; its economy naturally cannot be compared to the coastal
area. Song Nushi, who works for the city Migration Assistance Bureau, said that,
because of the high unemployment rate, many people considered going to work
abroad, and last year a number of people asked about Israel.
Zhang Xingwang directed the reporter to the Teaching Alley (jiao hutong).
That place is marked on the map as the ”remnants of the Jewish Synagogue” but
the original synagogue site has been replaced by the Peoples’ Number Four
Hospital and the only historical marker is an ancient well in the hospital
Cui Shuping, a widower of a Jewish descendent, lives on the southern side of the
Teaching Alley. She is a Han Chinese
but her late husband Zhao Pingyu was of Jewish descent. Every day she sees local and foreign
visitors. On the table in the house, there is a candleholder and a “Great Six
Star” (Magen David) paper-cut window decoration that her daughter had cut out
and put in the framed mirror. She told the reporter that the paper cut is both a
decoration and a reminder. On the sides of the door are hung two traditional
Chinese scrolls designated for peace. Apart for these reminders, her house is no
different from that of her neighbors.
On the fourth floor of the Kaifeng Museum is the Jewish Department, and to gain
admission one needs to apply in advance.
Fortunately, the gatekeeper was there and asked the guide to take the
reporter to the fourth floor, on condition that she take no pictures nor make
any recording. On display in the museum is an extremely important memorial
engraving, the original stone stele of “The Record of the Rebuilding of the Pure
and Truth Temple” and “The Record in Honor of the Daojing Temple.” The floor was very dark and very humid
and the mood was somber. Due to the declining number of visitors, Zeng
Guangqing, the head of the department, told the 21-Century World reporter
that the Kaifeng Jews were a historical phenomenon and that there is no Jewish
minority among the 56 national minorities in China. But of course the reporter
does know this.
The local Kaifeng Jewish descendents, however, welcomed the publicity. Li
Suisheng’s wife bought a watermelon to serve the reporter while she showed her
two sets of original census documents as proof of their nationality. The nationality of Li Suisheng was
clearly marked “Jew” in the old the Red Book.
The new census is handwritten and has the word “Jew” for Li Suisheng and
his daughter, but a closer look at the census record of Li Suisheng shows that
there is a trace of change. His wife explained that the census official wrote it
wrong and he immediately corrected it.
Officially, Neither Country Recognizes Them as Jews
The reporter followed up with the census registration office. The People’s
Police pulled up the record of Li Suisheng on the computer and the reporter
could see on the screen that the nationality of the three members of the Li clan
is Han Chinese. The deputy director explained that most of the new census is
computerized but the transfer [to computerized system] occurred while the census
was taken. At the time, the software was not secure and therefore Li Suisheng’s
registry was handwritten. But he added that the computerized system has only two
nationalities Han or Muslims. China has 56 nationalities and Jews are not among
Not only the local government did not recognize them as Jews, but when the
reporter went to the Office of Migration of the Foreign Ministry [in Beijing]
inquiring about the application of the Jin family to Israel, an official at the
Public Documentation Office admitted that in 1996 the local government made an
error issuing those certificates. At the time, the Public Notary Office issued
individual IDs that did not constitute legal recognition of the Jews. Later the Public Notary Office revoked
the Jewish certificates and since then IDs with “Jew” on them were illegal.
According to the official, China has only 56 minorities, and the Jewish minority
is not among them.
[The reporter went] to the Israeli Consulate in Beijing located on the 4th
floor of the West Trade Center building.
The response from the Israeli Consulate was the same. The Public Relations
Officer told 21st Century World that the Israeli Consulate recognizes
only the legal procedure of the Foreign Ministry and does not regard the Jewish
certificates as legal. He also said that the Consulate had not issued
immigration certificates to any Jewish descendents.
Though neither country admits officially that they are Jews, a few organizations
assist the Kaifeng descendents to return to their traditional culture. Chou
Cailian, a Chinese Canadian, helped many Chinese minority poor children with
education. Since he [Chou] suspects that his great-grandmother was of Jewish
descent, he had helped several Jewish descendents of Kaifeng. He financed the
education of fourteen Kaifeng Jewish descendents; among them was Lijing, Li
Suisheng’s daughter, who just recently had received a scholarship. In March of
this year, Chou Cailian invited the families of the descendents to a restaurant
to celebrate Passover. At the same time, other organizations also assist the
Kaifeng Jewish descendents to immigrate to Israel. The Jin family only recently
immigrated to Israel with the help of such an organization.
The Jewish teacher at the Israel Cultural Training Center of Nanjing University
offered some private thoughts to the hopeful few who want to immigrate to
Israel: “If one wants to become a Jew, of course you can become Jew. But, this
is a very long and slow process. Besides, I want them to think about three
things: Is it worth becoming a Jew? Jews have many enemies, a long and sad
history of bitterness and strict laws…. But no matter what we say, if they want,
we welcome them with open arms.
Are the Kaifeng Jewish Descendents Jews?
To clarify this question, the reporter interviewed Professor Xuxin from the
Nanjing Jewish Cultural Center.
21st Century World: The Jews of Kaifeng are a historical incident. But,
from an Israeli standpoint, after some descendents of the Jews of Kaifeng
immigrated to Israel it suddenly became reality. Could you put the issue of the
Kaifeng Jews in simple terms for us?
Xuxin: The issue of the Kaifeng Jews as was talked about in China in the
past actually referred to the remnant of the historical Kaifeng Jews. Some
maintain that the Jews settled in Kaifeng in the Northern Song Dynasty [1162 CE]
and some of them formed a community conforming to the Jewish customs. At the end
of the 19th century, Chinese scholars started to pay attention to the
question of Kaifeng Jews, and in the 1920s, they documented their historical
In the beginning of the 17th century, the story of the Kaifeng Jews
was extensively reported in the West. It attracted the attention of the
intelligentsia in Europe creating controversy and debates. During the reign of
Yong Zheng [1723- 1735] of the Qing Dynasty [1644- 1911], China expelled foreign
religions from China, and the outside world lost its connection with the Kaifeng
Jews. After the Opium War in 1850, two Chinese missionaries from Shanghai were
sent to Kaifeng and they wrote a report that was widely publicized in the West.
According to that report, there was no longer a rabbi in Kaifeng and they
estimated that [the community had been without a rabbi] or a successor since the
beginning of the 19th century. Thus, they [Jews] ceased to observe
the traditional customs because the role of the rabbi was very important in
The Kaifeng Temple had been in disrepair for a long time, and it was evident
that the Jews stopped going to the synagogue. Since the synagogue belonged to
the descendents of the Kaifeng Jews, the descendents sold the building in 1914.
This attracted the attention of the Shanghai Jews. Jews have a tradition of helping each
other, and when they learned that the Kaifeng descendents sold the Torah
scrolls, they were very sad. They established an “Association for the Aid of the
Kaifeng Jews” and wrote letters to the world Jewish communities calling for
saving the descendents of the Kaifeng Jews. But the outbreak of World War II
shelved the issue; they [the Jews] faced other disasters in the world. At the
time there were several Kaifeng Jews who went to Shanghai and were well received
by the Shanghai Jewish community, they also underwent circumcision, but
afterward there were no more attempts to restore the tradition.
21st Century World: The descendents of the Kaifeng Jews called themselves
Jews in the past, what is your view about this question?
Xuxin: After the end of the 19th century, there were no Jewish
descendents in Kaifeng, but some people followed the tradition and called
themselves Jews. The Kaifeng Jews followed the patrilineal tradition, that is,
if the father was Jewish, the offspring were Jewish, too, and they used the
father’s surname. In the 1920 census, during the Republican Period [1911-1949] a
few Kaifeng descendents wrote “Jew” as their nationality affiliation. They did
so out of conviction of historical loyalty and not due to political or economic
aspirations. Even on the 1952 census [form], some Kaifeng Jewish descendents
wrote “Jew” [as their nationality] even though there were not many [who
observed] Jewish tradition at the time, but in that generation, people were
permitted to determine their own religious affiliation. The census did not
require any proof of ancestry or nationality; descendents knew the origin of
their ancestors. This kind of “Jew” was actually [a Jew] in a cultural sense.
Interestingly, the descendents of the Kaifeng Jews based their being Jews on the
tradition, but other people claim that they are not [Jewish]. This is strange
because no other minority, not the Han Chinese nor the Muslims are required to
prove their [affiliation], so why are the Kaifeng Jews?
21st Century World: But according to the Law of Return, they are not
Xuxin: That is correct. I was talking about Jews in a cultural sense.
Strictly speaking, I do not regard them as Jews, and that refers to the “Jewish
I think that it is ludicrous that they want to immigrate to Israel. According to
the Law of Return, only if the mother is Jewish, or the individual is converted
to Judaism, he or she is a Jew. Based on these standards, they are obviously not
Jews, because the descendents of the Kaifeng Jews follow the father’s lineage.
But this is a legal definition, and one cannot suppress these peoples’
traditional right to call themselves Jews. We should not forget that during
biblical times the Jewish lineage was patrilineal and only after the exile [586
BCE], the standard changed to matrilineal.
When China examined its definition of national minorities, the status of the
Jewish minority was also considered. In 1952, two delegates from Kaifeng
represented the Jews in the National Minority Day Celebration. But in 1953 the
Central Committee reaffirmed the article [of the basic laws] that maintained
that there are only 56 minorities in China, and Jews were not among them, yet
the [same article] also protected their rights to preserve their traditional
21st Century World: Now it appears that the Kaifeng Jewish
descendents want to immigrate to Israel, how do you look at this?
Xuxin: In the 1990s, the Kaifeng descendents became interested in
immigration. Among the Seven Surnames of the Kaifeng Jews, the Jin family went
to Beijing and asked to immigrate. The Consulate of Israel, however, refused to
consider their application because of the Law of Return. Then they [the Jin’s]
went to Israel from a third country (from Russia to Finland and to Israel). My
understanding is that a Christian organization helped them. But, I doubt that
they can become eligible to be Israelis according to the Law of Return unless
they convert. Conversion is not easy. If one wants to convert, the Jews will be
the first to tell you that becoming a Jew is not fun. If you insist on
converting, you need to study, and be under close observation for [at least] a
year. Most of the conversions occur because of marriage. Most Chinese do not
understand Israel; they think that immigration is good. But, I tell them
straightforwardly that immigration is a difficult affair. I do not approve of immigration, they
do not speak the language, they have no skills and life in Israel is very
Special Correspondent An Tifa Reports from Jerusalem
Since 1986, many foreign and Chinese visitors have come to Kaifeng to interview
L. (I use the name L. because the interviewee did not agree to use the real
name), and the descendents of the Kaifeng Jews. After the establishment of
relations between China and Israel in 1992, these kinds of interviews increased
daily. And L.’s name started to appear in a few places both in China and abroad.
An unexpected opportunity in 1999 changed the fate of L. At the beginning of
that year, L. received assistance from an organization that in the 1920s started
to help overseas Jews to immigrate to Israel, and they expressed their
willingness to assist L. to be the first Kaifeng Jew to immigrate to Israel.
Once the Reporter Met L. She Asked: Why Do You Want to Immigrate to
L. said, “Since I was little, I have known that I was Jewish. When I was little,
my mother told me that one branch of [the family] is Chinese and one branch is
Israelite. Reaching out to the other branch has been one of my dreams since
After 1999, L. sought the path of immigration, but that path was not successful.
It can be said that behind each emigration from China, there is a complicated
story. But in the end they achieved their goal. By the year 2000, they obtained
the various permits, spent four months in Finland, and went to live in Israel.
L. explained the process of immigrating to Israel as a Jews. “First, I needed to
prove that I was a Jew. Though I wrote ‘Jew’ as my nationality in the 1996
census, officials told me that I had to write either Han or Muslim and could not
continue to write ‘Jew’ as nationality because there was no such name among the 56 names. Then I had
to produce an official notarized letter. I went to the Foreign Ministry in
Beijing where I was told that [such] a notarized letter needed to be approved by
higher levels at the Ministry. After two weeks, I received the approval of the
higher officials in the ministry, and in addition, it was also stamped by the
Israeli Consulate.” L. continued:
“If one wants to maintain Jewish identity one needs also to obtain a notarized
[letter] from one’s rabbi. But there are no rabbis in China. The few Jewish
descendents ‘perhaps several thousand people altogether’ are widely scattered
throughout China and very few of them are observant Jews.”
Once the identity is recognized, traveling becomes a question of expenses.
According to the records, the aid society who helped them immigrate, had already
taken into account the expenses and successfully provided them enough financing.
Thus in the fall of 1999, L. [and wife] embarked for Finland, where they stayed
for four months and in the end they arrived in Jerusalem.
They Lived in Jerusalem for Two Years
“Because of the sensitivity of the immigration issue, the government hoped that
we would not come to Jerusalem directly from Beijing, therefore we adopted a two
stage plan. First we went to Finland and then to Israel. Our expenses in Finland
and in Jerusalem were covered by the aid society.
For two years after we left Kaifeng we had received about ten thousand US
dollars in aid.” They lived in
Jerusalem for two years, and received a monthly stipend of US $ 600 (5000
Chinese yuan) that covered the rent. In addition, they received 6000-yuan ($700)
a month for living expenses and medical insurance equal to the [standard of
living of a] middle-income family. They were also provided with furniture and
appliances. L. did not work. He spent half days, three times a week, at an
ulpan, the rest of the time he had free time. He went for walks, watched TV,
read books, surfed the internet and cooked. At least three times a week, he went
to the synagogue and used Hebrew to read the prayers. L. said that once he felt
he could communicate, he was able to look for a job. Gradually the aid society
decreased the amount of aid and eventually stopped it altogether. No matter to
what standards one compares L.’s living conditions, his two-room apartment is
not considered small. On the snow white painted walls, hangs a Chinese scroll.
Also displayed in the living room are seven or eight picture frames depicting
the old Kaifeng synagogue and the scenery around it.
Observing Jewish Rituals
During the interview the reporter asked L.,”To what extent did you observe the
Jewish tradition in Kaifeng?
L. said, “In the old days, there was a saying that ‘seven surnames and eight
families’ of Jews lived in Kaifeng.
These surnames were bestowed in antiquity by the emperor. Our surname was
historic and our ancestors held a fourth grade official rank in the court. The
household was rather prosperous. There were also rather many Jews in old Kaifeng
who observed the tradition. We had our own family tree, which also was a proof
that we were Jewish. Before the Cultural Revolution [1966-1969], our family
still kept the imperial tablet but later we lent it to a display in
Beijing. It was never returned to us, and we lost its trace. There are also
stone inscriptions left in Kaifeng that had recorded the deeds of our ancestors. The
graves of our Jewish ancestors near Kaifeng are still are in good conditions.
There are approximately 30 tombs. Buried among the bodies of nine generations is
[the grave] of my elder brother who recently passed away.
On the door of our house, we had a special Jewish sign that we touched when we
entered or left the house. It was a sign of ‘to go and come in peace’. Our
family observed the Sabbath from Friday sunset until sunset on Saturday. That
time we did no work. Our family had also read the Chinese version of the Jewish
L.’s wife is not of Jewish descent but she said that [since her marriage] she
had understood and respected [her husband’s] national identity and traditional
customs. L. said, “During the ninety years of living in Kaifeng, our family had
not eaten pork or shrimp and these customs had been preserved until today.”
Before immigrating to Israel, L. ran a rather small factory and his wife used a
room in the house to run a barbershop. L. has an elder sister and a younger
brother who live near the community housing in Kaifeng. They also follow the
same customs as the L. household.
The interview is nearing an end and the reporter asked L: “Do your sister and
brother hope to immigrate to Israel? Why did they not come yet?”
L. said: “Of course, they would like to immigrate; they also sent in their
application. But two main obstacles are in the way: One, there is no
organization that is willing to give them the documentation that they are Jews. Two, financing is also a problem. You
know, immigrating requires a lot of money and the organization that helped and
financed us is helping other people.”
In conclusion, it must be added that L’s family are not the sole Chinese
Jews living in Israel. During World
War I, many Jews sought refugee in Shanghai and other places in China; some of
them married to local Chinese. The children of these mixed marriages have Jewish
blood. After the liberation, some of them went to Israel with their Jewish
mother or father; others came to Israel after the opening of relations between
the two countries, in search of their mother or father. In every town or city in
Israel, one can find such examples.
An Tifa is special correspondent for the 21st Century World, a
About the Translator
Tiberiu Weisz sits on the Board of the Sino-Judaic Institute, and is the author
of two books about China and the Jews: The Kaifeng Stone Inscriptions: The
Legacy of the Jewish Community in Ancient China (iUniverse, 2006), and
The Covenant and the Mandate of Heaven: An In-depth Comparative Cultural Study
of Judaism and China (iUniverse, 2008).
Many books and articles
have been written about the Jews in China, and below is a very short list that
provides interested readers a wide range of views on this fascinating topic.
Eber, Irene. Chinese Jews
Encounters Between Cultures. Valentine Mitchell Press, 2008 (A view from an
Goldstein, Jonathan. The
Jews of China: A Sourcebook and Research Guide.
2 Volumes. M.E. Sharpe, 2000
(A comprehensive collection of scholarly articles).
Strangers Always: A Jewish Family in Wartime Shanghai. Pacific View Press,
2000 (An account of a young Jewish girl growing up in Shanghai in the 1920s).
Pan Guang, The Jews in
China. China Intercultural Press, 2003 (A view from a Chinese scholar).
Pollack, Michael. Mandarins, Jews and
Missionaries: The Jewish Experience in the Chinese Empire. Philadelphia:
Jewish Publication Society, 1980 (A history of the Jewish presence in China for
both laymen and scholars).
Bridge Across Broken Time: Chinese and Jewish Cultural Memory. Yale
University Press, 1999 (Cross cultural observations of a Jewish student in China
in the 1970s).
The Kaifeng Stone Inscriptions: The Legacy of the Jewish Community in Ancient
China. iUniverse, 2006 (Full translation and annotation of the stone
inscriptions and their meaning).
The Covenant and the Mandate of Heaven: An In-Depth Comparative Cultural Study
of Judaism and China. iUniverse 2008.
Xu Xin, The Jews of
Kaifeng, China, History Culture and Religion.
Ktav Publishing House, 2003 (A view from
a Chinese scholar).
 Zhang Xingwang is the spokesman for the Jewish community in Kaifeng and also goes by the Hebrew
name of Moshe. He is very outspoken about Judaism in China and, here, he
expressed his views to a Chinese reporter.
He is a physical education teacher and a Wushu (martial arts) coach at a
high school in Kaifeng. He is also member of the Chinese Communist Party and a
former city council member. I met him several times but had never had a chance
to talk with him. At one of the dinners, I sat next to his daughter, at the time
a high school student, with whom I exchanged a few words. She was very surprised
that I could talk in fluent Chinese, and once she realized that we could
converse freely, she was very talkative. Unfortunately she was called away to
give us a “demonstration of her knowledge of a Hebrew song.”
 Zhang’s remarks referred to a sentence in the 1489
stone inscriptions that was believed to say that the Jews came to China during
the Song Dynasty (960-1279) at the invitation of the emperor. It is evident that
Zhang quoted Bishop White’s translation. Bishop White, a Chinese missionary who
resided in China from 1897 to 1934 and brought the case of the Kaifeng Jews to
our attention, translated this sentence to say: “You have come to our China;
Reverence and preserve the custom of your ancestors and hand them down at
Pien-Liang (Kaifeng).” Donald Leslie, an Australian scholar, merely rephrased
this: “Come to our China, honor and preserve the custom of your ancestors.
Remain and hand them down in Pianliang” (The Survival of the Chinese Jews (T’ong
Pao 1972), p. 23). Xu Xin, who is mentioned in this article and is the author of
The Jews of Kaifeng, recreated the story of the Chinese Jews based on Bishop
White’s translation without checking it for accuracy.
However, a closer look at the original Chinese
text reveals that the English translation contained two critical errors. First, Bishop White mistranslated the
word “gui,” which in Chinese means “return” (and not “come”), implying that the
Jews were not newcomers to China. Second, he also mistranslated the word
“liuyi,” which in the fifteenth century referred to the moving of the capital
from one city to another and meant “to abandon, to leave behind [the capital
city].” Based on these distinctions, the first sentence was a direct speech by
emperor while the second sentence referred to the fleeing of the Song court in
1127. For a full translation and explanation of the original Chinese text, see
Tiberiu Weisz, The Kaifeng Stone Inscriptions: The Legacy of the Jewish
Community in Ancient China (iUniverse, 2006).
1489 inscription mentioned seventy families, which was not incidental. It indicated that the Chinese Jews
knew their roots. The reference was used to identify them in a Jewish historical
context: “all the offspring of Jacob were seventy persons” (Exodus 1:5).
 Some researchers advanced the theory that these
names were of Hebrew origin, but as I showed in The Kaifeng Stone Inscriptions,
these names were bona fide Chinese surnames and not transliterations.
 A very good Chinese friend of mine, who was
assigned to a “working brigade” in Lanzhou (Xinjiang/Gansu Province) during the
Cultural Revolution (1966-1969) and spent 19 years there, said he knew people of
Jewish descent in Lanzhou.
 What he is referring to was the celebration of the
National Minority Day in 1952 when the Kaifeng Municipal Government and Bureau
of Central South chose two Jewish descendents from Kaifeng, Ai Fenming and Shi
Fenying, to represent the Jewish minority at the national celebration. Both
members became ardent Communists and later worked for the government. According
to Xuxin, the reason that these two Jews were chosen was “that the local
government was aware of the existence of Jews in the city and wanted to ensure
equal rights for any ethnic group living in their region. These two Jewish
descendants were introduced as Jews while in
Beijing and were well received during the celebration.” (For details
see: Xu Xin, “Chinese Policy Towards Judaism,” Points East, Vol. 19, No. 1
(March, 2004), pp. 3-4, and Gustavo D. Perednik, “The Chinese of Jewish Descent
at Kaifeng,” Points East, Vol. 23, No. 1, (March 2008), p. 4).
 Han is the Chinese term for Chinese.
 This is what the Jews were called in the
eighteenth century when the missionaries visited them. For details, see Michael
Pollack, Mandarin Jews and Missionaries: The Jewish Experience in the Chinese
Empire (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1980).
 I have met Qianhong on several occasions in China,
and we are currently collaborating on a joint project.
 This is Moshe Zhang’s interpretation of the
Maranos in Spain.
 I am not clear about the meaning of this sentence
nor certain of its exact location. Elousi is a Russian minority that lives
between the Uyigur Autonomous Region and Heilongjiang.
 This is the original stele of 1489; the other side
is the engraving of the 1512 inscriptions. For a full translation of the Chinese
text see The Kaifeng Stone Inscriptions.
 An official document.
 For a more detailed explanation of these events,
see Xu Xin, “Chinese Policy Towards Judaism.”
 There was a small but wealthy Jewish merchant
community in Shanghai, e.g. the Sasoons, Kadooris, Hardouns, etc. See Jonathan
Goldstein, The Jews of China: A Sourcebook and Research Guide (M.E. Sharpe,
 This is another name for the Jews in Kaifeng.
 This tablet was displayed at the entrance of the
 For a new annotated translation of these inscriptions in the Jewish context, see The Kaifeng