TEAL Exhibitions

Overview

"The Jewish diaspora in China is unique in the experience of world Jewry, as China is the only country in the Far East that has had Jews living in its society for more than 1,000 years. There is a significant distinction between Jews in premodern (before 1840) China and those in modern China (since 1840). Those who came before modern times became part of Chinese society without being marked by distinct features, but those who came in modern times remained as aliens.

No one can say with any degree of certainty precisely when Jews first set foot on the soil of China. They existed in China in the Tang Dynasty if not before, based on the evidence of the pottery figures with Semitic features and the documents discovered in northwestern China."

The Jewry in Kaifeng is the only one having a documented history among all Jewish communities in China. It was established in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) according to the inscriptions of the steles from the Kaifeng synagogue. It is believed that the core group of Kaifeng Jewry most likely came by overland caravan routes (Silk Road) and others then came by sea route to the coastal area such as Yangzhou, Ningbo, Quanzhou, and Guangzhou, before moving inland. It reached its golden age in the Ming dynasty and declined in Qing. However, it was not until the 17th century when a Chinese Jew Ai Tian visited the Italian priest Matteo Ricci in Beijing that the Western World was aware of the existence of a Jewish community in China.

The last rabbi of the community died without a successor in the mid-nineteenth century, and the synagogue disappeared during the Taiping Rebellion. Nevertheless, there are still a number of Jewish clans that identify as Jews and continue to live in Kaifeng.

(Contents on this page contain texts quoted from Encyclopedia of Diasporas: Immigrant and Refugee Cultures Around the World. For full bibliography information, please refer to the reference page.)