Traces of the Jews in China: Tang, Song and Yuan (618-1368)
A large number of foreigners were brought to China by the Silk Road in the Tang dynasty. To promote a more stable and prosperous society, the emperors made an open-door policy towards foreigners which attracted many Arabs, Persians and other peoples to settle in China. It’s not surprising that some Jews had already lived in China during the Tang dynasty.
A business letter written in the Judeo-Persian language, found at Dandan Uiliq, an important Buddhist trading center on the Silk Road in present-day Xinjiang, China and the page of Hebrew penitential prayers from a massive trove of documents in the Cave of the Thousand Buddhas of Dunhuang are two pieces of tangible documentary evidence showing the presence of Jews in China.
"The early period and formative stage of the Kaifeng Jewish community extended from the time of their arrival to the first half of the 14th century." The Chinese emperors permitted the Jews to remain in Kaifeng and to observe their own laws and customs. And they were allowed to acquire property and enjoy the same privileges as the native-born subjects of the empire during this time.
There are three steles made by the Kaifeng Jews recording their history. According to the inscription of the 1489 stele, the Kaifeng Jews built the first synagogue under the guidance of “Ustad Levi” and “Andula” in the year of 1163. However, no tangible evidence remains.
There are several convincing references of the Jews in China in the Chinese historical records during the Yuan Dynasty, but none of them referred to the Kaifeng Jewish community. The names they used to refer the Jews including shuhu (术忽), zhuhe (珠赫), wotuo (斡脱), zhuhu (竹忽), etc.
The two pages provided here are from Yuanshi, which is the official history of the Yuan Dynasty. They show the same content but use different expressions due to the different versions.
Translation of the red-lined sentence:
April 19, 1329:
“ Buddhist and Taoist priests, Nestorians, Jews, and Ta-shih-man, who engage in trade, to be taxed according to the old regulation...”