Jewish culture had a strong influence on Harbin, the capital city of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, when thousands of Jewish people lived here between the late 19th century and mid-20th century.
Harbin was the largest political, economic and cultural center for Jewish people in east Asia during that period. At one point, some 25,000 Jewish residents lived here and gradually established a comprehensive social system.
The first Jewish primary school was founded here in 1907. Eleven years later, a Jewish middle school, the only one in the city, was opened. Jewish educators also set up some vocational schools and institutions that emphasized art, accounting and other professional skills.
Various musical performances staged by Jewish artists helped to introduce western music into China. Chinese students who followed the instruction of some famous musicians are playing important roles in present-day art circle in China.
Jewish cultural activities also contributed to the spread of western academic achievements in the field of social and natural sciences and technology, literature and arts in northeast China, said Zhang Tiemin, researcher of Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences.
Jewish people also published an array of newspapers and magazines focused on their culture as a way of maintaining contact with their compatriots all over the world. The Jewish media and publishing business reached a climax in 1930s, which had a powerful impact on East Asia.
China has long endeavored to protect Jewish cultural relics. Old Jewish schools, streets, houses are kept untouched or have been renovated.
The municipal government of Harbin has opened a website at www. hrbjewcemetery.com, to provide information about Huangshan Jewish Cemetery, which was built in 1903 and contains 605 graves.
The cemetery is believed to be the largest and best preserved graveyard in East Asia.
(People’s Daily 02/07/2001)