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Lessons from China.
Special to the Jewish News
or the Chinese, the "Dao" or "Tao:' is a fundamen-
tal concept of cultural philosophy and signifies the
way or the path to lifelong self-discovery. During
our recent trip to China, our way led us to Henan prov-
ince in the central part of the country. My husband and I
came in search of a Jewish story, and the story we found
was much more than we could have anticipated. It made
us feel overwhelmingly blessed and nourished by the
unique perception and value of Judaism we discovered in
this Chinese culture, a culture much different than ours.
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' GENEALOGICAL RECORD,
Kaifeng, Henan Province
By Chinese standards, Kaifeng is a small town of 600,000
people in a 100-million-people province of Henan, one of
the poorest in the country. There, ancient capitals of the
great civilization rose and fell over many centuries, nour-
ished and ruined by the moody Yellow River. Don't look
for Beijing-style skyscrapers in Kaifeng; deep foundations
for these buildings would destroy ancient cities below. Not
far from Kaifeng, you can find China's oldest Buddhist
temple, White Horse Temple, and one of the world's most
precious collections of Buddhist cave carvings, Longmen
It was in Henan, not far from Kaifeng, that the phi-
losophy of peace — Buddhism and the "Dao" of martial
arts Kung Fu — forged an unlikely partnership and made
the Shaolin Temple the world-famous center of Kung Fu.
Kaifeng served seven dynasties as a capital and became
one of the world's biggest cities during the Northern
Song (10th to 13th century). Kaifeng is also the capital
for Jewish history pilgrims. Many Jewish tours center
on Shanghai as a safe haven during the Holocaust. In
Shanghai, you learn about the Jews in China. To learn
about the Jews of China you find no guidebook to pro-
vide you with a ready-made itinerary. No site survived to
showcase that fascinating aspect of Chinese history, and
modern China does not recognize its Jews as one of the
country's minorities. You have to come to Kaifeng to find
and meet them.
Mr. Jin's Family Tomb
Mr. Jin is a middle-aged man with a shy, kind smile. He
gets into our car on one of Kaifeng's busy streets and in
rapid Chinese, shouts to our driver, "This is the way:'
Away we go.
The smoke-laden city disappears and a narrow bumpy
road brings us into what seems to be a different world
altogether. It is not just countryside, but some silent place
lost in time, dipped in a strange glow; yellow dust on the
road, yellow clay on small houses and yellow grass sur-
rounding them. Dogs and goats slowly cross the street and
join the children playing in the middle of it, and without
moving an inch from an approaching car, all are envel-
oped in yellow light and golden-colored dust.
"This is where:' Mr. Jin says through the interpreter,
"the Jews of Kaifeng, who settled in this city during the
Song Dynasty (10th to 13th century), buried their dead
for centuries:' We arrived at the oldest Jewish cemetery in
34 May 23 • 2013
Mr. Jin and Irene Shaland in front of his marble memorial
Esther Zhao and Irene Shaland at the
entrance to Esther's house; Shema is
visible on the opposite wall.
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The Kaifeng Jewish History Memorial Center in Esther's
ancestral home: This ancient building used to be a part of
the synagogue structure.
China, Guang Zhong Jin's family burial place!
We follow Mr. Jin to the small wooded area surrounded
by fields and come to a black marble stela, about 3-feet
tall, with an engraved menorah on top.
"The First Monument of Jews:' announces the stela in
Chinese and English. Behind it, on a pedestal of cement
is a massive, 5-foot tall, memorial wall, also constructed
of black polished marble. "Jin Family Pedigree" reads
the title at the top. This marble wall is a memorial book,
which presents — engraved in English on one side and in
Chinese on another — the 900-year story of Mr. Jin's fam-
ily within the context of Chinese history. "Chronological"
(narrative) and "Genealogical" (family tree) records, writ-
ten there large and flamboyant, and in stone.
This is what we learned from Mr. Jin and his marble
book. Sometime in the beginning of the 12th century,
Mr. Jin says, his first forebear, a Jewish trader on the Silk
Road, entered China via India, and settled in what was
then called Dongiing or Bianliang (Kaifeng). He was not
a pioneer by any means; there already was an established
small but thriving Jewish community in Kaifeng. A rich
person, that first patriarch bought a family plot south of
the city walls, in a place called Caizhuang. The family's
original name is lost in time. But this was how Jin's ances-
tors, along with other Chinese Jews, got their current
names: The first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-
1644), who liberated China from the Mongols and hated
all foreigners, forced Jews to assume Chinese surnames;
the family's name became Jin. It is an occupational name,
explained Mr. Jin, an equivalent of Goldsmith. Also, at
that point, Jewish men started to intermarry with their
Chinese neighbors and paternity began to determine the
"Here are my immediate family members:' says Mr. Jin,
pointing out numerous unmarked little mounds around
us. "My father is here and my brother is over there:' While