Offical Blog Entry #10: Judaism in China

Were there Jews in China? This picture testifies to their presence.

It is not only possible, but quite inevitable that Jews were involved in the trade along the Silk Routes.  Working alongside Muslims and Christians, Jews were merchants and traders, and traveled along The Silk Road with their customs and traditions.  Over the centuries, much evidence has been found to conclude that the Jews of the time did reach as far as China, and settled in small communities over there.

Between the 8th and the 13th centuries, Jews could be found on the west coast of India, in Khazaria, east in Afghanistan near Herat in the district of Ghur (tombstones have been excavated), and in Radhan, near Baghdad, present-day Iraq.  In China, Jews were primarily found residing on the east coast at Khanfu, and in Kaifeng, which is in Central China.


Jews in China can mainly be found in Kaifeng.

Jews, in general, according to The Jewish-Chinese Nexus:  A Meeting of Civilizations, edited by M. Avrum Ehrlich, have prided themselves with their ability to assimilate.  As can be seen by the Jews in China, they assimilated with ease to the Han Chinese.  China, though, with its extreme restrictions on minorities, hesitated in giving opportunities to Chinese Jews.  Therefore, the Jews in China nowadays can be found in extreme poverty, who more or less have lost much of their faith and customs due to the restrictions set in place by the majority Han Chinese over the centuries.  There are still a few families in China who claim to be Jewish descendants.  Most of these families reside in Kaifeng, China, with The Gao Clan having migrated to Xian.

In Kaifeng, China, there were seven original clans of Jews.  Out of them, The Gao Clan emigrated as mentioned, and the Zhang Clan converted to Islam at the beginning of the 20th century.  Currently, there are about a thousand Chinese Jews.  The Israeli government has turned almost a blind eye to these Jews mainly due to their number, and that their number is not significant enough to stir Arab-Sino-Israeli unrest.

It is surprising, to say the least, the close intimate ties that Chinese Jews share with Chinese Muslims, in such turbulent political times of today.  Throughout the various articles that were required to be read on Chinese Jews, the common theme of Chinese Jews finding compassionate brothers in fellow Muslims frequently arises.  When wealthy American Jews arrive in Kaifeng to educate the Chinese Jewish descendants on Orthodox Judaism, they most indefinitely advise their co-religionists to prefer eating Muslim-slaughtered meat over others.  The Kaifeng Jewish descendants started celebrating their Shabbat inside a local Muslim restaurant.  Muslims, likewise, found refuge in their fellow monotheistic brothers, and both communities strove to work together despite the harsh conditions imposed on them by the Chinese.  Both communities were far from co-religionists in the main Muslim and Jewish heartlands, and they both found many core elements of their faiths lost over time.

Jews in China - The similarities between Chinese Muslims and Jews can be seen, such as skull caps and beards for men.

Therefore we see today many Muslims and Jews who have done well in foreign countries strive to revive the two religions in the People’s Republic of China.  Yet the Chinese government, under its full command of communism, has proved to be a great obstacle.  If nothing is done to bring the Chinese Muslims and Jews out of the claws of poverty, they will find their customs and traditions being stripped even further, until the final rounds of assimilation have completely rung.