< Back

The Jewish presence in Imperial China

Michael Loewe

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The Jewish presence in Imperial China* MICHAEL LOEWE Historians of China are fortunate in being able to call on a far more voluminous variety of source materials than those who work in other fields. Quite apart from the officially sponsored dynastic, or standard, histories, they may consult local gazetteers, family records and archival documents, whose value is brought to bear most fully from about iooo CE. But, as may well be expected, such writings are largely and often exclusively written from a Chinese point of view, In the case of the dynastic histories the compilers were working at the direction of their imperial masters; and they were charged with the duty of producing a record which would reflect the glory of the empire and its superiority over those less fortunate parts and peoples of the world that lay beyond imperial jurisdiction. As a result those histories refer to the presence, activities or faiths of other peoples only in so far as such matters required official recognition or affected the administration of the land. For a record of the infiltration into China of alien peoples or faiths, be they Jewish, Buddhist, Islamic or Christian, further sources of information are needed, and these may sometimes be found in the travelogues or correspondence of non-Chinese writers; such references and accounts may be supplemented in Chinese sources when the arrival of these groups required official recognition, stimulated social disturbance or threatened Chinese sovereignty.1 For the history of Jewish communities in China we are even less fortunate than those who are concerned with the peoples of other faiths. It was only by way of exception that Jewish persons or activities were of interest to Chinese officials or men of letters. There are no specific Chinese monographs on the Jews, as there are, for example, about the Tibetan or Turkish groups with whom the imperial government perforce came into contact. In the absence of chapters which might have described Jewish customs or beliefs, the dynastic histories may perhaps include stray references when imperial institutions, official practice, taxation or legal matters came into question. In addition the written evidence that survives from the hands of Jews settled on Chinese soil is minimal; there are scraps from the great finds of manuscripts and printed matter at Dunhuang; there are the remnants of religious texts from Kaifeng. In sum, the great majority of information about the Jewish presence in China comes from European visitors with whom Jews were in contact, in particular the Christian * A revised version of a paper presented to the Society on 21 May 1987. I</page><page sequence="2">Michael Loewe missionaries of various denominations. As will be seen, the interests of the missionaries were aroused somewhat intensely, largely on account of their own internal conflicts and difficulties. From about 100 BCE trade routes that have been termed the Silk Roads started to convey merchandise from East Asia that would eventually reach the Mediterranean world.2 West-bound caravans of camels or yaks, laden with bales of silk, were matched by parties who imported horses, furs, woollens and certain manufactures into the China of the Han empire. In time these routes were to act as an instrument of major cultural exchanges. The indigenous music of Central Asia would travel to Syria and Turkey on the one hand, and to the capital cities of China, and then Japan, on the other. Buddhist devotees brought their faith and their Sanskrit scriptures across the Pamir and around the Taklamakan desert to found monasteries in East Asia. Other east-bound travellers included Nestorian monks, in flight from the persecution of heretical sects in Constantinople; Muslim Arabs, due to settle and to build up expanding populous communities in western China; or merchants from the Mediterranean world and the Middle East, with their merry bands of musicians who feature as subjects of Chinese pottery in the eighth century. But for long there was no direct evidence of Jewish travellers whose feet plied these long roads, likely as their participation may have been. It was only at the beginning of the present century, with Sir Aurel Stein's discovery of manuscripts and printed material at Dunhuang?at the extreme west corner of the Chinese sphere of influence? that certain evidence was forthcoming. This included a Judaeo-Persian text, in Hebrew characters, of 718 CE, written on paper. Such material was not yet known in the West, and the text concerned the sale of sheep. In addition the Dunhuang caves yielded part of the Selihoth, written perhaps in the eighth or ninth century.3 There is a further hint of a Jewish presence in China, this time on the south coast. In 878 CE the prosperous commercial city now known as Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton) fell into the hands of Chinese rebels who were challenging the Chinese government of the Tang empire. Within some three decades Ab? Zaid of STr?f was writing of the massacre of the non-Chinese community that took place on this occasion; the total community, which may have amounted to 120,000 persons, included Muslims, Jews and Christians.4 As yet the Chinese themselves were hardly venturing on the high seas, and it is likely that most members of this population of aliens had been brought to settle in China in Arab vessels. We pick up the trail, at first in a negative way. Benjamin of Tudela (c. 1170) does not refer to Jews in China, but he does mention their presence at points that were within reasonable access. In a more positive way, Marco Polo (c. 1280) whose exaggerated accounts of the Song empire earned for him the nickname of II Milione, refers to Jews in China,5 and there is no reason why he 2</page><page sequence="3">The Jewish presence in Imperial China should have embroidered or manufactured this detail in the record. In the fourteenth century there are a few references, still in Western sources, to contacts and discussions with Jews and perhaps to abortive attempts at conversion on the part of Christian dignitaries. At much the same time, and here at last we may draw on Chinese sources of information, the Standard History of the Yuan, or Mongol, dynasty mentions Jews in connection with the years 1329, 1340 amd 1354.6 But the items that interested the official historians had no connection with a Jewish faith or way of life; Jews are simply mentioned in the context of the taxation to be levied on certain types of non-Chinese merchant, whether Jew, Christian or Muslim. Much fuller documentation is available for the next stages of the story, which included a number of dramatic incidents. These must be considered within the context of the Counter-Reformation and the missionary activities of the Jesuits, and attention must fasten on Matteo Ricci.7 This remarkable man first set foot in China in 1583, at a time when he had already formulated his ideas of a grand long-term strategy for winning the souls of the Chinese. First he would set about earning their admiration for the intellectual powers of the Westerner; simultaneously he would impress them with the familiarity that he and his colleagues had acquired of Chinese history, literature and philosophy. By these means he would be able to discuss religious subjects with educated Chinese on their own terms and within their own traditional heritage. As a second stage Ricci and his colleagues would deliberately try to win the hearts, minds and souls of the Chinese with whom they came into contact. At first these would in all probability be members of the official and literate classes of society; and it was hoped that where such eminent personages set an example, lesser mortals of town, village and country would be only too willing to follow. The degree of success that attended Ricci's endeavours is not our concern, and he enters this story almost by chance. In 1605 a Chinese official named Ai Tian undertook the journey from Kaifeng to Beijing, capital city of the Ming empire. This was no small undertaking. Kaifeng was at this time the capital of Henan province. The city lies close to the Yellow River and has on several occasions suffered from the floods that that river inflicts on the surrounding countryside; it is about 600 kilometres distant from Beijing. The reasons for Ai Tian's journey are not stated; possibly his visit was connected with his official duties; possibly he may have undertaken it in the hope of securing promotion in the civil service, at the time the only recognized and reputable profession in Chinese society. In the course of his visit Ai Tian sought his way to the quarters of certain foreign visitors who, he had heard, had come from the West and taken up their abode in the city; in this way he went to see Father Ricci, leader of the Jesuit mission. Ai Tian introduced himself as a member of a congregation, 1000 strong, who conducted their worship in a hall of prayer that had recently been 3</page><page sequence="4">Michael Loewe rebuilt. The sacred treasures that were reverently preserved there included several scrolls of Scripture, one of which was 600 years old. The congregation, he reported, maintained the rite of circumcision; they kept certain religious festivals; and they refrained from eating pork. Ai Tian told Father Ricci that his brethren were members of the house of Yicileye, or Israel. The misapprehensions which arose in this situation were alternately tragic and comic. Ai Tian believed that he was visiting some of his own co-religionists. When Ricci showed him the chapel in which he and his colleagues celebrated the mass, Ai Tian looked at the figures painted by Italian artists and now proclaiming the Christian story among the alien corn; and he identified them not as the madonna, child and St John, but as Rebecca, Jacob and Esau. For his part Ricci was equally at sea, believing that his visitor was a descendant of a Christian community that had made its way to China long before his own time and without leaving a record in the Catholic world. Truth dawned on both parties when the talk turned to the golden age. Chinese scholars and officials brought up in the Confucian tradition could hardly turn their minds to the idea of a paradisal age that was due to dawn on earth; they had been educated to hark back to the golden age of the mythical past, when sage rulers governed mankind in perfect amity, justice and prosperity. But however deep his training had been, Ai Tian had his own ideas on the subject, believing that the days of the Messiah were yet to come; his host was insistent that such a figure had appeared on earth some 1600 years previously. Compromise was no longer possible. Matteo Ricci duly reported an account of this visit to Rome, and told of his attempts to make contact with what was exceptionally, as it seemed, a surviving Jewish community. In 1613 Ricci's successor, Father Longobardi, took steps to pursue the matter by sending Giulio Aleni, a member of his own mission, to return Ai Tian's visit. Aleni was competent at reading Hebrew, possibly to a greater degree than those with whom he made contact in Kaifeng; and he was anxious to examine the scrolls of the Law that had been preserved in this remote part of the world. For reasons that we may later be able to infer, permission to do so was refused. When Longobardi himself visited Kaifeng the welcome that he received was no more forthcoming. A curious situation was arising, with ingredients that would give rise to considerable confusion. An isolated community was living deep in central China, adhering to something of its own religious faith and practices, and backed by its own sacred scriptures. Doubtless the community had been settled in Kaifeng for generations, denied the refreshment of contacts with its brethren from the West, and becoming more and more assimilated to the surrounding Chinese way of life; probably its members had been practising intermarriage. There is no evidence of a reaction to any attempts that they might have made to impose their beliefs on Chinese officials and it is unlikely that they would have 4</page><page sequence="5">The Jewish presence in Imperial China wished to do so. Chinese officials for their part were well accustomed to dealing with enclaves of settlers who were of different ethnic origins or cultural traditions, and there is no reason to suspect that, in respect of this community, they had departed from their usual policy; this was to live and let live, so long as there would be no danger of civil disturbance or threat to Chinese authority. Suddenly, in 1605, a member of the community of Kaifeng makes contact with non-Chinese individuals, of different ethnic and cultural origins from his own; nonetheless they are thought to be of his own persuasion. It is when reasons for doubt arise and cannot be disregarded that the surviving Jews of Henan province make their first acquaintance with the Roman Catholic Church. From the Chinese point of view there is little that is problematic; the community of Kaifeng may be regarded as being no different, and deserving of no other treatment, than that given to the many groups of Muslims; these had been settled in China for centuries, sharing some of the practices of the Jews of Kaifeng, such as abstinence from pork. To the Jesuits, however, who were highly trained and dedicated churchmen, educated in the latest advances of European astronomy, mathematics and science, the Jews of Kaifeng were an enigma. They could have been only of Western origin, but they were cut off from Western contacts; their familiarity with European civilization was non-existent, as was their knowledge of Christianity; and the command that they had of the language of their own Scriptures was questionable. But possibly they could perform a valuable service in the mission's great work of saving the souls of the most populous nation of Asia. News of the discovery of the community of Kaifeng reached Europe quite soon, with the publication (in 1615) of Ricci's diaries De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas suscepta ah Societate Jesu. By 1648 these had been reproduced in French, German, Spanish and Italian, and copies were circulating widely. At much the same time a further report of a Jewish community in China was percolating to Europe; this was in Alvarez Semmedo's account of a community of Jews in Nanjing, situated further south, on the Yangzi River. For reasons that will be considered shortly, the Jesuit missionaries were anxious to maintain their slender contacts with the Jews of Kaifeng, and, if possible, to remove one of the copies of the Torah that they possessed. A series of visitations that followed the early attempts of Ricci, Aleni and Longobardi bore some interesting consequences. In 1704 Father Gozani was sent to Kaifeng. His knowledge of Hebrew was not of a high standard, and it was perhaps for this very reason that at last the members of the community acceded to the familiar request and allowed him to examine the thirteen Sifre Torah that they held. In the course of his inspection Gozani evidently compared the texts that he saw with his own copy of the Bible, presumably the Vulgate version. It was Gozani who first made use of the term Tiao jin jiao, 'The sect that excises the sinew', as ? name for the community. 5</page><page sequence="6">Michael Loewe Fig. i. A view of the synagogue of Kaifeng, as drawn by Father Domenge SJ (1722) and copied by Father Brucker (1722). N0.2 denotes the chair of Moses on which the Torah was erected for reading, and no. 8 the Ark. N0.4 is a tablet in honour of the reigning Qing dynasty. 6</page><page sequence="7">The Jewish presence in Imperial China Fig. 2. The reading of the Torah; drawing by Father Domenge SJ. Somewhat later, in 1720, Father Domenge found himself in Kaifeng, and like his predecessors was unsuccessful in his bid to remove one or more of the scrolls for the edification of his masters. He did, however, make a set of drawings of the hall of worship and of some of the rituals that he observed therein; these included the reading of the Torah directly from its own case, mounted on a low dais; these drawings were later reworked by Father Brucker (see Figures 1 and 2). By the time that they were first made, the Ming dynasty had long given way to its successor, that of Qing, which had been founded in 1644. Those shown in the drawings as conducting the worship, wear the robes and distinctive headdress, with insignia of rank, that were the privilege of officials who served that house. Domenge reported that there were no major discrepancies between the scrolls that he saw and whose reading he witnessed, and the received text. Finally one of the most distinguished of the missionary scholars, Father Antoine Gaubil, took a part in the story. Gaubil is best known for his Correspondance de Pekin of 1722-59, and the significant part that he played in the Christian mission. As part of his charge, he developed the original ideas of Ricci by trying to demonstrate the existence of a basic relationship, or even identity, between the Catholic and the Confucian attitudes. For this purpose, Gaubil set out to show how the basic elements of Christian teaching lay 7</page><page sequence="8">Michael Loewe embedded in the scriptural texts and ethical precepts of the Confucian tradition. During his visit to Kaifeng in 1713, however, he was no more successful than his predecessors in his attempt to gain possession of one of the scrolls. Being somewhat better versed in Hebrew than some of his colleagues had been, Gaubil judged the Jews whom he met to be wholly incapable of comprehending their own Scriptures, able as indeed some of them were to transcribe part of the text. Possession of such a skill need occasion little surprise; the custom of making exact replicas of rare books by tracing them, and of taking rubbings from engraved inscriptions, had been practised by Chinese scholars long before the Jesuits had set foot in China. Father Gaubil is also on record as expressing his disapproval of the manner in which the Shema was recited; history does not relate the comments that his hosts made on his own pronunciation of Chinese. From now on the part played by the Catholic missions in this affair was being brought to a -close for various reasons. Chinese authorities had become less tolerant of missionary activities and were tending to control their movements. The great controversy about the Rites?to which reference will be made below, and in the course of which the practices of the Jews had been deliberately invoked by one party to the dispute?was deliberately ended in 1742, with the publication of the papal decree Ex quo singularL In 1773 the Jesuit Order was suppressed, and although missionary work continued at the hands of others, such as the Franciscans and the Dominicans, these saw little reason to maintain contact with the Jews of Kaifeng. The question remains why the Jesuits had set such store by doing so, and what other motives they may have had other than those of making Jewish converts. Three reasons may be suggested. First, ever since the second century the charge had been levelled against the Jews of tampering with the text of the Old Testament. This had been voiced by Justin Martyr (c. 100-c. 165), who accused the Jews of expunging all passages which specifically referred to the advent of Jesus of Nazareth.8 The mud was flung, and some of it stuck for too long a period for the reputation of the intellectuals of the Middle Ages to remain intact. The force of the charge was sufficiently strong to persuade the University of Mainz, in 1510, to advise the Holy Roman Emperor to destroy copies of the received text of the Hebrew Bible; for this was regarded as defective and corrupt, and despite the rebuttals of the sixteenth century the accusation was not silenced. Then the Christian world heard of the existence of the community of Kaifeng which, as Ricci believed, had been there for 800 years. It had thus been free, it was supposed, of the pernicious influences of those Rabbinical exegetes who had done their worst to the texts circulating in Europe; any copies of the Bible that the community possessed would be free of this taint. The possibility of examining the Sifre Torah of Kaifeng, with this ulterior motive in mind, was brought to the fore by the Jesuit missionary Alvarez Semmedo in 1642. Some 8</page><page sequence="9">The Jewish presence in Imperial China sixty years later a scholar of no less distinction than Leibnitz urged the same cause. We may ponder on the disappointment of Gozani, Gaubil and others, unable to gain access to the evidence that they hoped would prove their case. The second reason derived from the Rites controversy, to which attention has already been drawn. This was a dispute that arose between the Jesuits and other Orders, notably Franciscan and Dominican, and which involved questions of doctrine and professional rivalry. The strategy of the Jesuits was essentially long-term; they were prepared to wait until the Chinese would accept them and treat them on an equal footing before striving to convert them; they were willing to show extreme patience in waiting until the intellectual climate was such that they could act with some measure of confidence. Initially, then, they were ready to tolerate certain practices on the part of potential converts, so that by accommodating to their beliefs and customs they would not risk an immediate and irrevocable refusal to hearken to Christian teaching. By contrast, the other Orders were, or claimed to be, outraged by the Jesuits' toleration of heathen practices that they regarded as idolatrous. The immediate point at issue, where Jesuit contact with the Jews was concerned, lay in the traditional Chinese ceremonies of reverence, obeisance or sacrifice in memory of their deceased ancestors. Chinese society is nothing if not paternal and hierarchical, and has always set great store by the performance of these rites; for they symbolized the degree of kinship between the deceased persons and their relicts. The rites were carried out in the memorial shrines of the family or clan, where the ancestors were represented, in strict order of precedence, by wooden tablets that bore their names and details of their lives. Similar acts of reverence were also performed in honour of deeply honoured teachers such as Confucius. Ricci and his followers were prepared to raise no objections to converts continuing with these ceremonies, which they regarded as matters of social duty rather than as acts of worship to a godhead believed to be immanent in the shrine; others, such as the Dominicans, rejected this attitude out of hand, and it has been suggested that the Jesuits were hoping to show that other communities, such as that of the Jews of Kaifeng, found no difficulty in reconciling their own monotheistic faith with the maintenance of the traditional family rites of the Chinese. The controversy between the different Orders was duly referred to Rome, and in 1645 Pope Innocent X decided in favour of the Dominicans. However, this was by no means a final ruling; the decision was reversed in 1656, and the controversy re-opened once more some forty years later.9 Neither pope nor emperor was willing to see his own authority impaired, and the freedom allowed to missionaries to preach the gospel in China depended partly on the absence of any threat to imperial prerogatives. Eventually in 1742 Rome condemned the rites as evil, and 9</page><page sequence="10">Michael Loewe prohibited converts from practising them. Whatever the attitude of Ai Tian and his colleagues may have been?and it is likely that they followed traditional Chinese convention and maintained the rites?it did not help the cause of the Society of Jesus. A third reason which may explain the Jesuits' interest in the community of Kaifeng may again lie in a question of doctrine that had aroused differences of opinion. From the outset of their discussions with the Chinese the missionaries had needed a term with which to render Deus or Dominus. The Jesuits' adoption of Tian, 'Heaven', or Shangdi, 'Superior Power', was in line with their principle of trying to demonstrate how Christian teaching had existed within the Chinese tradition.10 Both of these expressions had been in use to define the supreme object of worship by Chinese sovereigns since time immemorial; their identifica? tion with the Supreme Being of Christianity could therefore be suggested without fear of immediate rebuttal. But again the Dominicans saw fit to protest. They challenged the use of the terms on the totally correct grounds that to the Chinese they did not, and hardly could, signify an essential, characteristic monotheism. During his journeys Gozani was delighted to find that the Jews of Kaifeng used these terms and saw no reason why, by so doing, they were compromising their own principles. In both of these respects?the rites and the use of terminology?the Jesuits were perhaps being disingenuous; on the one hand they complained that the Jews were evidently not fully conversant with their own sacred language or its message; on the other they were glad to invoke precedent from that community as a means of bolstering their own cause against their rivals. Somewhat exceptionally we hear of interest in the community of Kaifeng expressed not by a Christian but by a Jew, and by one of renown at that. Shortly after 1644, the year that saw the fall of the Ming dynasty and its replacement by that of Qing, Manasseh ben Israel heard a tale from Antonio Montezinos which excited his curiosity.11 Montezinos was a Marrano from Portugal who had been travelling in the New World; and in the land which is known today as Ecuador he came across what he believed to be remnants of the lost ten tribes. Manasseh ben Israel had already learnt of Ricci's discovery of some forty years previously; and he evolved a theory which connected the two communities. In his view those ten tribes had first made their way to China, where a remnant had just come to light at Kaifeng. Some had proceeded thence to the West Indies, a feat of transport of which Magellan might have been proud. Manasseh ben Israel saw proof of this theory in Isaiah's reference to 'those in the land of Sinim' [Is. xlix: 12), but an identification of that name with China is unfortunately not tenable. In the time of the Second Isaiah (sixth century BCE) the sub-continent of East Asia was not known by a term that could be related to 'Sinim'; and we may note that the Dead Sea Scrolls carry a different version of the text which reads, in place of Sinim, Sevaniyyim (i.e. Syene, in South Egypt). io</page><page sequence="11">The Jewish presence in Imperial China One final incident of interest may be reported for this early stage of contacts with the Jews of Kaifeng in the eighteenth century. Ever anxious to find evidence with which to support his cause and to discover more about the community's beliefs, in 1704 Gozani asked its members whether they had ever heard of Jesus. Had they done so, proof would surely exist that his name figured in the uncorrupted text of the Scriptures which they held. Gozani's eyes doubtless lit up when he heard the reply that they had, indeed, heard of Jesus; but he was doomed to disappointment; for his interlocutor had in mind not Jesus of Nazareth but Jesus ben Sira, and Gozani found himself obliged to add this name to the list of sacred writings held in Kaifeng. Ben Sira's book, known in Greek and Latin as Ecclesiasticus, was seen by Saadya Gaon in the tenth century, but not by Maimonides in the twelfth century. Nor, as far as may be known, was the Hebrew text seen by anyone in the West until Solomon Schechter retrieved fragments from the Geniza in Cairo, in 1896.12 The Jesuits' reports about the community in Kaifeng not only roused the interest of Manasseh ben Israel; they also provided Voltaire with an opportunity to indulge his bitter satires with particular relish against both the Jesuits and the Jews, as may be witnessed in an allegory that he wrote in 1776. Thereafter the scene shifts, moving away from the interest taken by Catholic missionaries and evoked elsewhere by their reports. For the Chinese had been growing distrustful of their activities and were imposing restrictions on their movements; we must await new conditions before the story can be resumed. Such conditions were taking shape towards the middle of the nineteenth century in two ways. First, the Protestant and Nonconformist Churches were enthusiastically inaugurating new attempts to convert the heathen in various parts of the world; much of the energy and moving spirit behind this work came from Great Britain. Secondly, Europeans were receiving different types of treatment in China itself. The comparative freedom of movement and privileges that they enjoyed followed China's defeat in the Opium War of 1839-42 and the Arrow War of 1858-60, the reluctant admission of European specialists, engineers and bankers, and the import of consumer goods into certain specified areas. Again it was the British who took a leading part in showing the flag, establishing trading connections and sending clergymen and their families to initiate missionary work in the cities of the interior. It was in this context that James Finn took part in investigating the Jews of China, being himself dedicated to the work of converting Jew or unbeliever to the Anglican Church. He seems to have studied the subject of the community of Kaifeng avidly, producing his own pamphlet on the subject.13 On his appointment as British Consul in Jerusalem, in 1845, Finn was hoping that he would receive information from China directly, and there is a long and persistent tale of his attempts to communicate with Kaifeng. He penned letters in Hebrew, hoping that they would be delivered, but delays intervened and it 11</page><page sequence="12">Michael Loewe was not until 1849 that he received any response. This came not from a member of the Jewish community as he had hoped, but from a Chinese informant; it was only in 1870 that Finn received news directly from that city. It was Finn's misfortune that he received nothing but depressing reports of the decay and disintegration of the community. By 1849 this had consisted of 1000 organized in eight clans. Their physiognomy was hardly to be distin? guished from that of the Chinese population, enriched as this had been over the centuries by varied ethnic elements. In general the members were ignorant of the Hebrew language, and many had intermarried with Muslims. The letter Finn received in 1870 had actually been written some twenty years previously; it told of a synagogue that needed rebuilding, of a faith that was atrophying through a lack of teachers, and the inability of the community to understand the surviving canonical texts that they possessed. The tale proceeds. It includes accounts of the interest expressed by travellers to China; of meetings that took place; of photographs that were taken. While a number of varied reports reached the West through such means, we also learn of attempts that were made to contact the community by some of those who were playing a prominent part in the history of China's relations with the Western world. These included W.H. Medhurst of London, W.A.P. Martin of the United States of America, and William White, first Anglican bishop of Henan. At the same time occidental Jewry was at last taking a hand in these enquiries, and here we encounter the names of individuals who were taking a leading part in Jewish life, such as Henri Hirsch of Paris, Nathan Adler of London, Isaac Leeser and Samuel Cohen of the United States of America. In addition, in about 1900 the community of European Jews who had settled in the prosperous and busy city of Shanghai were interesting themselves in the question. The motives behind these enquiries may be understood easily enough. As the decades went by and foreign travel in China became easier, Christian missionaries of all denominations, whether Jesuit (whose Order had been re-established in 1814), Protestant, Baptist or Seventh Day Adventist, were pursuing their vocation with ever greater zeal and intensity. A Jewish desire to reach the community, in the hope that reputable teachers could be sent to restore a knowledge of Judaism before it was too late, need occasion no surprise. In one instance there was a motive which was comparable with, but diametrically opposite in purpose to, that of the earlier Jesuits. Isaac Leeser was looking for evidence in the documents of Kaifeng that would support his own case. He hoped that the version of the liturgy that was preserved there would be identical with his own, and that he could use such evidence to show how misleading the Reform Movement's ideas could be. Ricci's successors had hoped to find in Kaifeng a perfect Old Testament, which would expose the defective nature of the received text and which could be used as an argument against the intellectual integrity of the Jews; Leeser hoped to 12</page><page sequence="13">The Jewish presence in Imperial China prove the continuity of a living tradition and its value as against those who wished to introduce innovations. The failure of Jewish attempts to make contact with the community of Kaifeng was due to a number of reasons. On the whole such attempts were made by interested individuals rather than by communities or other bodies with larger resources at their command. In addition to a lack of funds, there was a conspicuous absence of a Chinese-speaking Rabbi. While the Christian missionaries had established the means of travelling in China, equipping themselves with a knowledge of the language and authorizations from provincial authorities, there is no record of Chinese-speaking Jews until the end of the nineteenth century; nor do any Jews appear to have mastered the art of extracting the requisite facilities for travel from Chinese officials. Today there are many Western Jews who have been trained to speak Chinese' and who have travelled in different parts of China. Reports of various sorts come through, such as the one of a Miss Jin who discovered recently, and by accident, that she was of Jewish ancestry from Kaifeng. The decline of the community is demonstrated in no clearer way than in Miss Jin's realization of her origins; she had been brought up under the misapprehension that she came from Muslim stock.14 Attention has focused so far on the accounts of visits paid to the Jewish community and the reports emanating largely from Catholic missionaries. We have noticed the rarity with which Jews appear in the pages of the primary sources of Chinese history, and the lack of contact by Jews of the Western world until comparatively late. We may now consider the material evidence?of four types?that testifies to the presence and activities of the Jews of Kaifeng or elsewhere in China: Sifre Tcrah; stone inscriptions; a Megillath Esther; and a sepher zikkaron. The earliest accounts of the community of Kaifeng mention its possession of thirteen scrolls, and we have observed the frustrated attempts of some of the Church fathers to obtain possession of some of them. In about 1850 Miss Jane Cook of Colchester, the very same lady who was responsible for building the Anglican Church of Jerusalem, left ?500 to the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity among the Jews; she laid upon her beneficiaries the precise charge that they were to use the sum to search out the Jews of China and convert them to Christianity. The good lady's intentions were pious enough for a devout Christian, but her bequest might well have been completely abortive, but for one highly significant, and not altogether relevant, incident. It fell to an Anglican clergyman named George Smith, Bishop of Victoria, Hong Kong, to carry out the terms of Miss Cook's bequest. He did so by sending two Chinese to Kaifeng; and in choosing Chinese rather than Europeans for his purpose, he may well have realized that by so doing he would have a greater chance of success than his Jesuit predecessors. Certainly his tactics paid a 13</page><page sequence="14">Michael Loewe dividend, as his emissaries succeeded in buying a not inconsiderable volume of material. This included eight manuscript copies oiParashioth and Siddurim; and, above all, six Sifre Torah, on parchment and unpointed. At a later stage two more scrolls were acquired from Kaifeng, and we may well seek to know the subsequent destiny of all eight. Three are held in Great Britain, at the British Museum, the Bodleian Library and the University Library, Cambridge, respec? tively; some of the others are in the United States of America, and some may have disappeared. At a later stage three more of the original thirteen scrolls of Kaifeng were taken thence to Beijing; these have been studied by Michael Pollak. At the time when the University Library of Cambridge received the scroll Solomon Schiller-Szinessy was engaged in cataloguing the Hebrew manuscripts preserved there. He wrote as follows in his comment to Add. MS. 283: One does not know what to say of this copy, so marvellous a production is it in the sense of human ignorance, coupled with imprudence N1? TTfcn K1?!1? Ttt?NH I am compelled to exclaim. Is it possible that people who seem not to have the smallest notion of what a jewish 'Sopher' or 'Sepher' ought to be, can sit down and fill the space of 239 columns of beautifully prepared goatskins with the Pentateuch, which they do violence to on almost every column? Why, one of the numerous MSS-hunters, folks anxious to establish 'varias lectiones' need only get hold of this or a similar copy and we shall be blessed with important discoveries! jrQ 12 However, let us see what this copy contains and is in fact, without allowing the sentiments of indignation to get the better of our understanding. Well then, 1) The whole is to the best of my knowledge and conscience only a copy of the Pentateuch read by somebody to the scribe, or the numerous interchanges between N and H, X and V, n and n, n and D, n and 57 etc. could not be accounted for. See later. 2) It is, certainly, the ugliest character that ever I have seen and represents, in the jewish field, the adumbrations of Chinese crookedness and violence of nature. 3) This copy exhibits the coupling of the latest invention of polish genius (in commencing every column with a \ called D'HIDBH Tl in a way of witticism) with absolute eastern indolence and ignorance in accepting everything as found, without taking the trouble of further investigation.... As a footnote to these remarks, and as a final comment on the feckless hope that the scrolls from Kaifeng would prove the charge that the Jews had manipulated the text of the Old Testament, the following citation may be quoted from the North China Herald of 16 August 1851: 'As to accuracy, they [i.e. the scrolls] form another testimony to the accuracy of our Received Text: for although there are variations, yet they are not such as to affect the sense of reading. In the main the Jews at K'ai-feng were faithful guardians of the oracles of God.' It is pleasant to record that William Charles White, Anglican Bishop of 14</page><page sequence="15">The Jewish presence in Imperial China Henan, 1909-33, thought fit to include these remarks in his monograph Chinese Jews, first published in 1942.15 Since the first century before the present era the Chinese have been accustomed to engrave inscriptions on stone, in the hope that this medium would be long-lasting. The texts chosen have included authorized versions of the Confucian classics, as commanded by imperial governments; and, with a greater degree of variety, commemorative epitaphs in honour of a revered teacher or an official of state. In addition, stone stelae were often set up to record the history of a notable building and its connections, which might be with an emperor or a local family, whose honour had been enhanced by contributions towards its erection. The texts of three such inscriptions which concern the Jews of Kaifeng are available for study. The earliest of these stelae, of 1489, bears a secondary inscription on the reverse side, which dates from 1512. The text of 1489 records the reconstruc? tion of the synagogue in 1461, following the destruction wrought by the Yellow River and its floods. 16 The text traces the origin of the community to India; it notes that a synagogue was first built in 1163, and states that seventy clans of Jews, of whom seventeen are named, had first arrived during the Song dynasty (founded 960). Had they indeed reached Kaifeng before 1127 they would have found themselves in the capital city of one of the most sophisticated regimes of China, whose cultural achievements include some of that country's most delicate, noble and creative attainments. The caption to the inscription, cut with special attention to decorative calligraphy, reads: 'Record of the rebuilding of the hall of worship of pure truth [Qing zhen]\ Lest visitors to China today may be led astray into the belief that there is now abundant evidence for the survival of Jewish premises denoted by that term, they should perhaps be warned that it is also applied to the Muslims. The text engraved on the reverse side in 1512 records that the Je ws of Yangzhou, a city lying on the Yangzi River, had presented their brethren with a Sepher Tor ah; it thus suggests the existence of communities elsewhere in China at this time. In tracing the transmission of Holy Writ from Adam to Ezra, the text may be compared with the first chapter of Pirke Aboth. The second stele, of 1663, again records the rebuilding of the synagogue after destruction. On this occasion, however, the damage had not been due to an act of nature but to man; the synagogue had been ruined during an insurrection of 1642, in the final years of the Ming dynasty. The inscription tells us that it had been rebuilt by 1663, and a number of members of the congregation are named. Parts of the scrolls that had been damaged had been retrieved and their parts formed into a single copy; and twelve new copies had been written out and placed in the Ark. The third stele, dated in 1679, has been badly damaged and tells us little that is new. 15</page><page sequence="16">Michael Loewe The copy of the Megillath Esther, which came into the possession of Cecil Roth and is now held in Toronto, is described by Roth in his edition of White's monumental study of the community of Kaifeng.17 Roth judges that the Megillah had been written in Sephardic calligraphic style, being decorated and illuminated by several Chinese hands. The embellishments include motifs drawn from native Chinese religion and mythology. As some of the figures are shown clothed in robes of the Ming dynasty, those illustrations can presumably be dated before that dynasty's fall in 1644. There are some signs of work which had been added later, and it is probable that the scroll as we have it consists of pieces of two documents made up into a single and complete copy of the book. Roth cites reason to show that the Jews of Kaifeng paid particular attention to Purim, but he also points out the conspicuous absence of a Megillath Esther in the documents reported to be in the city or removed during the nineteenth century. The origin of this Megillah must remain shrouded in mystery. Finally there is a document of an apparently unique type. This is a list of names, written in Hebrew and Chinese, from which it is possible to draw up a genealogical table for the community of Kaifeng.18 The document appears to have been made in the seventeenth century as a register which would ensure that Hashkavoth (memorial prayers) were being recited correctly and in full recognition of the family relationships that were concerned. Attention to such relationships and to the correct degrees of affinity has always formed a cardinal feature of Chinese society and may be matched by the importance that a Jewish community would attach to keeping the memory of their forbears green. The persons whose names feature on the list, both men and women, were members of seven clans, who lived from the start of the fifteenth to the end of the seventeenth centuries. A distinction is drawn between Jewish wives (described as hath Israel) and non-Jewish wives, who amounted to perhaps one third (bath Adam). This register of names includes that of Zhao Yingcheng, or Moshe, who was perhaps one of the most distinguished members of the community (see Figure 3). He is also mentioned in the stele of 1663, and we know of his achievements because of the part he played in the public life of the Qing empire. This had merited notice in two of the local gazetteers that were regularly drawn up to record and display the attainments of a particular family and the glories of its notable members. Zhao Yingcheng is the subject of biographical accounts in two of these gazetteers; the one, for Henan, concerned the province in which Kaifeng lies and was Zhao's own place of domicile; and the second, for Fujian, on the south-eastern seaboard, where Zhao served as an imperial official. In 1646 he gained the degree of advanced learning (i.e. jinshi), thereby starting on the long, competitive and arduous path of public service. He was appointed to a provincial post in an area that was subject to dissidence and to the protests that were being directed against the newly arisen Qing dynasty. Zhao Yingcheng 16</page><page sequence="17">Fig. 3. Entries from the Book of Memorial; below the name Moshe, in the fourth line, there is written the term Jinshi, i.e. Doctor of Advanced Learning. 17</page><page sequence="18">Michael Loewe was successful in two respects, traditionally the hallmarks of a provincial official's merits; he put down banditry, thereby restoring local law and order; and he proceeded to promote the cultural advancement of his region by building a public lecture hall. How pleasant it would be if we could record that Zhao Yingcheng had had his lecture hall built as a means of expounding his faith, but unfortunately there is no evidence that can justify that assumption. It is only too likely that the hall was used for inculcating the lessons of the Confucian classics and their call for loyalty and service to the reigning dynasty. When he returned to his native city in 1653, Zhao contributed to the funds needed to rebuild the synagogue, and he took part in the work of reconstituting the scrolls that had been damaged. He died in about 165 7, enjoying the privileges of a senior post in Hubei province. He was not the only Jew known to have risen to office, either in a civil or a military capacity. Jews formed no more than one of many groups of foreign peoples whose settlements were included within the Chinese empires. Their presence there and the part they played in public life remain largely uncharted. We gain no more than a glimpse of the story of one community, covering several centuries, situated in a single city; and we may never light on hard factual evidence of regular Jewish activities there or in any one of the other cities where they may have found a resting place. Nor are there any recognizable traces of a Jewish cemetery that dates from the imperial age. In view of the strength of China's own cultural achievement and the jealous pride with which Chinese historians guarded its reputation, it is hardly surprising that Jews left no discernible mark on native Chinese institutions or ways of life. Any interest that is expressed in the Jewish presence in China derives now from the Jewish point of view or from Western historians bent on tracing Chinese relations with the West and the Western intellect. As has been seen, in the past greater interest was expressed by Christian than by Jewish enquirers. Potentially there were unavoidable occasions for conflict between Jew and Chinese; polytheism, service to ancestral shrines, and the rites of obeisance to a Chinese emperor were activities which a Jew would resist; circumcision was a practice which the Chinese would find abhorrent; and while they would accept the existence of dietary restrictions, as with the Muslims, Chinese could hardly be expected to see why these could constitute an article of faith. Some of these considerations applied with equal or greater force to practising Christians in China, involving as they did the claims of imperial authority and leading to restrictions on missionary activity. But the reasons why these considerations could not fail to affect Christians from the West did not apply to Jews, encapsulated in Chinese territory for some centuries. Firstly, despite Ricci's careful and longsighted attempts to avoid conflicts of principle with the Chinese authorities, his successors and colleagues of the other 18</page><page sequence="19">The Jewish presence in Imperial China Orders were unable to do so. Secondly, there is a long history of Messianic movements in China, reported for at least two thousand years.19 These were often organized by secret societies which could constitute an acutely dangerous threat to official authority. For while espousing the enthusiasm that is usual to evangelical movements, and requiring some form of corporate discipline, the leaders of such societies often possessed political ambitions and posed a threat of dissidence. By the eighteenth century the Chinese had discerned the possibility of just such a threat in the Jesuit and other orders, and had taken steps to thwart it. No such fears had arisen in respect of the Jews, who never set out to proselytize and did not organize themselves into a secret society; nor did their faith cut across imperial sovereignty. There is no story of a Chinese persecution of the Jews. NOTES 1 For a list of writings on the Jews in China, see Rudolf L?wenthal, 'Jews in China; an annotated bibiliography', in Chinese Social and Political Science Review XXIV (1940) 113 234; and D.D. Leslie, The Survival of the Chinese Jews: the Jewish community of Kaifeng (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1972) 225-37. A selection of some of the more important articles on the subject has been published as Studies of the Chinese Jews: selections from journals east and west, compiled with preface and introductions by Hyman Kub lin (New York: Paragon Book Reprint Corpora? tion, 1971). 2 For the Silk Roads, see Ying-shih Y?, Trade and expansion in Han China: a study in the structure of Sino-Barbarian economic relations (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of Califor? nia Press, 1967); and L. Boulnois, The Silk Road, translated by Dennis Chamberlain (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1966). 3 See Mm. Ph. Berger et M. Schwab, 'Le plus ancien manuscrit hebreu' in Journal Asiatique, series XI, vol.11 (July^-August 1913) 139-75; William Charles White, Chinese Jews: a compilation of matters relating to the Jews of K'ai-feng Fu; second edition, with an introduc? tion by Cecil Roth (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1966) Part 1,139-40; and Leslie, Survival (see n. 1) 165. 4 See Gabriel Ferrand, Voyage du marchand arabe Sulayman en Inde et en Chine redige en 851 suivi de remarques par Abu Zayd Hasan (vers 916) (Paris: Editions Bossard, 1922) 76. 5 See Aldo Ricci, The travels of Marco Polo (London: George Routledge and sons Ltd, 1931) 69. 6 See Yuan shi (Peking: Zhonghua shuju, 1976); 33, P 732; 40, p.858, and 43, p.915. 7 For a recent assessment of Ricci and the work of the Jesuits, see Jacques Gernet, China and the Christian impact: a conflict of cultures, translated by Janet Lloyd (Cambridge, CUP 1985). 8 See A. Lukyn Williams, Justin Martyr: the dialogue with Trypho (London: Society for Pro? moting Christian Knowledge, 1930) 15of. 9 For the thrust and counter-thrust in the Rites controversy, see Julia Ching, Confucianism and Christianity: a comparative study (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1977) 2if., and Ken? neth Scott Latourette, A history of Christians in China (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1929) chapter VIII. 10 The question was discussed at length by Ricci in his Chinese work Tianzhu shiyi ('The true meaning of the doctrine- of the Master of Heaven'). 11 See Michael Pollak, Mandarins, Jews, and Missionaries: the Jewish experience in the Chinese Empire (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1980) 39f. 12 These are now held in the University Library, Cambridge; see S.C. Reif, A guide to the Taylor-Schechter Genizah collection (Cambridge: Cambridge University Library, 1973; reprinted 1979) 31. 13 James Finn, The Jews in China: their 19</page><page sequence="20">Michael Loewe synagogue, their scriptures, their history etc. (Lon? don: B. Wertheim, 1843); and Pollak (see n. 11) i3if. 14 See The Guardian, 20 April 1981, p.7. 15 See White, Part II (see n. 3) 159. 16 For texts, translations and photographs, see White, Part II (see n. 3). 17 Roth obtained the megillah from the Hertz Library in 1946. His description, together with a colour plate of part of the scroll, is included at the beginning of the second edition of White's works (see n. 3). See also C. Roth, 'An Illuminated Scroll of Esther from China', Oriental Art I (1949) 176-81. 18 For the latest study of this manuscript, see Donald Daniel Leslie, The Chinese-Hebrew Memorial Book (Belconnen: Canberra College of Advanced Education, 1984). 19 For an account of such a movement that took place in 3 BCE, see Michael Loewe, Ways to Paradise: the Chinese Quest for Immortality (Lon? don: George Allen and Unwin, 1979) 98-101. For a late example, which involved inter? national intervention, see John K. Fairbank and Kwang-ching Liu (eds), The Cambridge History of China 11, pp.nsf. 20</page></plain_text>