Friday, August 14, 2009

China: More for Jews than Christmas Dinner.

Sorry about the bad joke. But it is true, most of us only think that the only connection that we Jews have to Chinese culture is the food (especially on December 25th in the USA). But I was encouraged by my friend Michael to look into the connection further. And so I did.

The Chinese developed the art of paper cutting and it has been used for generations throughout the world. The necessary tools- paper and scissors are nearly ubiquitous. It became an important part of the Jewish folk art during the 1600s. The papercut above made in honor of a 50th wedding anniversary is the work of Deborah Band whose work also includes phenomenal illuminations.

From an Essay by Daniel Elazar
Since the opening of China to Western tourism, there has been a renewed interest in the Chinese Jews; a bit of Jewish exotica which resurfaces in the West from time to time. (Because of its unusual nature, more has been written about the historically insignificant Jewish community of Kaifeng than about the Jewish communities of Chicago or Moscow.) In 1985, Time Magazine even had a full page article on the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng which effectively anointed them full-fledged Jews seeking to preserve their Jewish heritage.
In May 1985, I was in China by invitation to lecture at the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences, the official government policy research institute, on "The Organizational Dynamics of American Jewry". One of my hosts was Professor Gao Wangezhi, whose own principal interest is Jewish studies, especially the study of the Jews in China. I also met with Professor Zhao, one of the vice-presidents of the Academy, himself a scholar of the philosophy of religion and interested in Jewish thought. I talked with Sidney Shapiro, a Brooklyn Jew who settled in China in 1947 to participate in the Chinese revolution and has since become a Chinese citizen and has raised a Chinese family. Since resurfacing in the West a decade ago, he has become a link between China and world Jewry, makes bagels and lox at home; has visited the United States several times since former President Richard Nixon opened Chinese-American relations in 1971; and pursues the study of the Jews of China as an avocation. Lastly I visited with various Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish, stationed in China at the American Embassy.
Needless to say, one of the major questions which I raised was, to what extent are there Jews in China? And, if there are any, who are they? What follows is I believe, the best available answer to these questions; one which accurately reflects the current situation.

I will get back to the postage stamps as art next posting... have a Shabbat Shalom.


marciad said...

Thank you so much for this post. My Chinese ancestor goes back I believe to the 1800s. I must dig out the family tree book and do some research. There aren't any notes about this ancestor.

Studio618 said...

Interesting read. Do you know when the article by Daniel Elazar was written? I wonder what the latest development is on that topic.