Chinese Jews! A curious pairing, but strange as it may seem, there have been Jews in China for more than a thousand years. The country's Jewish community, located in Kaifeng, once the capital city, numbered several thousand at its height. Because of China's tolerance and openness, its members attained success in many fields— commerce, crafts, government service, the military. Their synagogue, a unique amalgam of Chinese architecture with Judaic tradition, was one of the city's most striking sights.
The story of Chinese Jewry is both historically interesting and profoundly inspiring. Long isolated from other Jews because they were living in a land that sought to cut itself off from the rest of the world, they tenaciously maintained their traditions and identity. Though they adopted Chinese customs and intermarried with their neighbors, Kaifeng's Jews held together as a community until well into modern times. Even today there are people in Kaifeng who remain aware of their ancestry and register as Jews on official census forms.
Of the many fascinating tales related in this beautifully illustrated, lovingly written book, perhaps the most touching is the one about Kaifeng's Jews and the first Christian missionaries in China. The Jews, never having heard of Christianity, assumed that anyone who believed in one God must be a coreligionist. The missionaries, never having imagined there might be Jews in China, assumed they were lost Christians. When the misunderstanding was cleared up, the Christians set about trying to convert the Jews— but to no avail, because Kaifeng's Jews were adamantly loyal to their heritage.
The story of Chinese Jewry is uplifting and englightening. It illustrates the true meaning of the Jewish will to survive.