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Book Review: The Jews in China

China Intercontinental Press has just published a striking pictorial about Jews in China, with both text and captions in Chinese and English. Entitled The Jews in China, it ranges over their entire history, from the first documentary evidence of a Jewish presence in the Tang Dynasty to the last departure from Shanghai of World War II Jewish refugees.

Particularly well done are the sections on the 19th century Sephardic Jews from Baghdad—the Hardoons, Sassoons, Kardoories…who settled in Shanghai and Hong Kong and amassed fortunes; on the Russian Jews who escaped from Czarist oppression and Whiteguard pogroms and made their homes in Harbin and Tianjin; and especially on the Jews who fled the Nazi slaughter in Europe only to meet Japanese harassment in occupied Shanghai.

The section on ancient history is less satisfactory, since it fails to deal with the question the editors themselves pose, namely: When did the Jews come to China, and Where did they come from? This is surprising. An impressive amount of excellent treatises by Chinese scholars has been published in Chinese, and in English and Hebrew translation, on these questions, as well as on why the Jews came, the routes they followed, how they lived, their relations with their Chinese hosts…etc., etc.. Nor are most major Chinese specialists on the Jews even mentioned the Bibliography.

To strike a personal note, it seems to me one individual is very much over-mentioned. Namely, Sha Boli (Sidney Shapiro). I have no doubt the editors meant it kindly, but THREE pictures of me is entirely out of proportion to my small efforts in the study of Chinese Jews.

Despite these shortcomings, The Jews in China is a commendable production, with a plethora of intriguing pictures and photographs, and informative texts. I am sure the book will be appreciated and enjoyed by readers, both Chinese and foreign. It is in hardcover, has a large, handsome format. Layout, paper, print and photo reproduction are all first-rate.

The editors and publishers are to be congratulated.

(By Sidney Shapiro December 7, 2001)

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