The documented story of the Jewish presence in China begins in the 12th century. Arriving on China's shores as traders and later as refugees, Jews have made their homes there ever since. They have lived in various cities: Kaifeng in Henan province, Harbin in Heilongjiang, and in the coastal cities of Shanghai, and Tianjin. Their cultural backgrounds have differed one from the other. There were Persian and Iraqi Jews as well as Jews from Russia, Austria, Poland, and Germany. Once in China they founded communities with communal institutions, they built synagogues and established cemeteries. In addition, they founded newspapers in their various languages, and schools. The aim of the project at the Hebrew University is to collect materials on the lives and times of these far flung communities and to make these available to scholars and students for research.
The project of the Jewish communities in China encompasses several areas. Among these are: translations of the Old Testament (Tanakh) into Chinese, the ancient community of Kaifeng, and the modern communities of Shanghai. Several students are presently doing research in these areas, and dissertations and theses are currently under way about Tanakh translations, the German-Jewish exile press, and Yiddish travel accounts in China.
Materials Available at the Hebrew University
- Documentary materials
- Newspaper collections
- Documentary films
- Bibliography (in preparation)
1. Documentary Materials
a. Copies of the Irene Eber Collection, RG 078, consisting of memoirs, personal papers, photographs, letters and diaries. The originals are housed in Yad Vashem.
b. More than 1,500 titles of documents from between roughly 1933 to 1948, largely dealing with the refugees in China.
2. Newspaper Collections
The newspapers are on microfilm and consist of 13 papers in Chinese, Russian, German, Yiddish, and English.
3. Documentary Films
The documentary films include 11 DVD disks in German, English, Chinese, and Hebrew. Most of the films deal with the Jewish refugee communities and there is one feature film.
Interviews were conducted in the 1970s and 1980s with erstwhile residents in China. Most are transcribed and are available in the Institute for Contemporary Jewry. Several on DVD are in the Department of East Asian Studies.
Current and forthcoming publications include:
Cao Jian, "The Chinese Mandarin Bible: Exegesis and Bible Translating," The Bible Translator, Vol. 57, no. 3 (June 2006), pp. 122-138.
Cao Jian, "The Old Testament as Literature and Modern Chinese Protestant Intellectuals (1913-1937)," in Raoul David Findeisen, et. al., eds., At Home in Many Worlds, Reading, Writing and Translating from Chinese and Jewish Cultures, Essays in Honour of Irene Eber, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2009, pp. 215-226.
I. Eber, Voices from Shanghai, Jewish Exiles in Wartime China (University of Chicago Press, 2008)
I. Eber, Chinese and Jews, Encounters Between Cultures (Valentine and Mitchell, 2008)
I. Eber, "Meylekh Ravitch in China, A Travelogue of 1935," in Monika Schmitz-Evans, ed., Transkulturelle Rezeption and Konstruktion, (Synchron, 2004)
I. Eber, "The Jews of Kaifeng: Syncretism as Alternative to Forgetting," (forthcoming)
Lihi Yariv-Laor, "On Biblical Metonymies in Chinese Bible Translations," Translation Quarterly (forthcoming)
Itamar Livni, "Juden in China," Jüdischer Almanach, 1997/5757 des Leo Baeck Instituts, pp. 37-49.
Itamar Livni, "The German Jewish Immigrant Press in Shanghai," in Raoul David Findeisen, et. al., eds., At Home in Many Worlds, Reading, Writing and Translating from Chinese and Jewish Cultures, Essays in Honour of Irene Eber, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2009, pp. 273-285.