In recent years the Chinese government wants to show its past with the Jewish people in China. China reminds the world they received us with open arms during difficult times.
A glance at Jewish history will show that there were more than a few Jewish communities that found their place in China over the years. Recently the Chinese government wants to shed light on the Jewish past in China and actually sponsored a unique exhibit in Bar-Ilan University that shows the Jewish communities that lived in China in the past.
Dr. Danielle Gurevitch, who is the organizer of the exhibit and the author of the book The Jews in Modern China, explains: “The Jews and the Chinese are the most ancient nations on earth. Ancient Chinese culture developed parallel to ancient Jewish culture and they have much in common. China was known as a place of refuge for Jews that lost their homes and on Chinese soil they lived in coexistence through mutual assistance.”
Gurevitch explained to Ynet that there were three waves of Jewish immigration to China in the past 150 years. The first was in 1840 when Sefardic Jews came from the Middle East and other parts of Asia. These Jews came from lands under British rule and therefore kept their British citizenship that enabled them to do business mainly in Hong Kong and Shanghai. These Jews were very successful in China and became a consortium very active in China.
The second wave came in as a result of the pogroms in Russia which caused Jews to cross the border into China to escape the great Anti-Semitism in Russia. The immigrated mainly to the Harbin region and afterwards went southward to the large cities Shanghai, Tianjin and Chengdu.
The Jewish community that was established created fertile ground for accepting the Jewish refugees escaping from Lithuania at the start of World War 2. In the years 1933 to 1941 over 30,000 Jews came to Shanghai fleeing from Europe. In this manner Shanghai accepted more Jews than Canada, Australia, India, South Africa and New-Zealand combined.
One corner of light of China during the war was the accepting the Mir Yeshiva in Shanghai during the horrible war. The Mir Yeshiva was the one yeshiva that was spared in its entirety from the war.
The miraculous rescue of the Mir Yeshiva is a saga of divine providence worthy of its own article. We will briefly mention that when the town of Mir was annexed to Russia in 1939 the travels of the Mir Yeshiva began. With the assistance of the Trans-Siberian Railway and a saintly Non-Jew the Japanese Ambassador Sugihara the yeshiva was able to flee to Japan. After 9 months in Japan the Yeshiva was moved to Shanghai in China.
Even though China was captured by Japan, an axis power that was partner with Germany, Japan miraculously refused to send the Jews back to Europe to certain death. But they did create a Jewish Ghetto in Shanghai which made life for the Jews much more difficult. The Jews were in mortal danger a few times and were spared. When the Americans were bombing Shanghai the Chinese in the town went to hide in the shadow of the yeshiva which was miraculously spared and no bomb fell there.
When the war ended the Jewish community in Shanghai fell apart. The students of the Mir Yeshiva immigrated to the United States. Part of the students reestablished the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn, New York, but a major portion continued on with their rabbis to Israel.
It’s important to note that today there is no major Jewish community in the mainland of China. There is a Jewish community in Hong Kong and on the mainland Chabad helps Jewish businessmen visiting commercial cities with their needs.
In 1992 the Chinese government started strengthening ties with Israel and included in this was documenting Jewish life in China from the previous century.