What the Chinese Know about the Jews

Published: August 28th 2010
in News » World

Shanghai at night
Pic: WikiMedia Commons

The economic growth and the military strengthening of China during the last decades turned it into a rising power in international relations. It economic growth raised its demand for oil from Iran and Arab countries. In light of these two developments the Jews and Israel have an interest to get to know China and find ways to strengthen their ties with her.


Dr. Shalom Salomon Wald studied the relationship between China and the Jewish people, and his study was published by the "The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute," in Jerusalem, founded by the Jewish Agency.


This article presents a chapter on "What the Chinese know about the Jewish people.


Until the 19th century there were only a few encounters between Jews and Chinese. In the Chinese town Kaifeng a community of descendants of the 10 tribes existed since the Han Dynasty, which ruled China between the 3rd century BCE and the 3rd century BE. But, they were called Israelis, not Jews and until recently they have not been identified as Jews. Chinese scholars discovered the existence of this community in the 19th century, but did not connect between Israelis and Jews.


The first encounter between Jews and Chinese began in Shanghai, in the 19th century when a Jewish community was established in Shanghai, by Iraqi Jewish traders. At about the same time an extensive missionary effort began throughout China by Protestant Christians. Protestant missionaries translated the Bible into Chinese, as part of their missionary work, and Chinese who came into contact with missionaries learned, for the first time, about the Bible, and the existence of an ancient people, called Jews. But, the first book in Chinese on Jewish history was first published in 1850.


Chinese began to learn more about Jews and Judaism when Chinese students began to study in Western universities and Chinese scholars began to visit Europe and the United States, after the middle of the 19th century. The image that crystallized on Jews at the time among the Chinese was that Jews are rich and talented, especially in business, but, they are not honest. Also, Chinese came to believe that the Jews are extremely powerful, financially and otherwise in the U.S.A.


Between the end of the 19th century and the middle of the 20th century, Chinese have learned more about the Jewish people and a new image began to take shape. They learned about the long history of the persecution of the Jews in Europe and the pogroms and came to the conclusion that the Jews were "the white man's victims." Since the Chinese considered themselves "the White man's victims" too, they found similarity between the Jewish and the Chinese fate. The two peoples were, in their eyes, victims of the white man. The white man took over China in the 19th century, exploited it economically, and crushed the dignity and self-respect of the Chinese people. The Chinese rebelled twice against the white man's control: The so called, "Opium War" (1839 – 1842), and the "The Boxer Rebellion"(1900 – 1901). The two uprisings were brutally suppressed by the white man, and as a result of the victory of the Western imperialism, the Western involvement in China's affairs deepened.


In 1903 another Jewish community was founded in Harbin, Manchuria. The Community was founded by Russian Jews, who received permission from the Russian Czar, to settle there, after the Russian conquest of Manchuria from China in the end of the 19th century. Between the years 1905 -1917 Jewish refugees from the Russian pogroms and from the war zone of First World War fled from Russia and joined the Jewish community in Harbin.


Related articles: (Chinese Jews, China, Israel)

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