Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Chinese Jews

On the left is an almanac of a 趙 (Zhao) family in China. Notice some names in Chinese and some in Hebrew.

It was more than 20 years ago when I first learned that there were Jews in China. Rabbi Kirschner of Congregation Emanu-el lent me a book on the topic, Jews in Old China: Studies by Chinese Scholars by Sidney Shapiro. That must have been the first English language book written about the Chinese Jews. Since then, there has been many books telling the tales of Jews in Old and Modern China.

Jewish visitors had been documented as early as 231 BCE. They came via the Silk Road through Central Asia and India, and they traded with merchants in Kaifeng, the largest city at the time. Some time during history, the Jews must have brought the game Mah-Jong back home. So many of my temple sisters play that game, and I would be one of the rare ones who don’t know how. I blame that on my Dad.

Growing up in Hong Kong, many people played Mah-Jong, including my mom. There were several few times when I would stand next to the table to watch all the players shuffle those pretty tiles. Each time, my Dad would tell me to get away from the table because he didn’t want me to be “learning about gambling”. (The game uses these colorful chips as bets.) And no, they never used any game cards.

I hope some day I can visit the different Jewish communities, or the sites of old communities, in Kaifeng, Shanghai, Harbin, and Beijing. I just think that it would be a very interesting trip.

(I am a Jew, by choice.)


Anna Lee said...

Hi Theresa!
Wow, what amazing work you've done in such little time on this great blog. I love your Judaica BTW and I think I already told you that your wire work is just dreamy! Warm welcome to the eSMArts team roster! Looking forward to getting to know more about you...
-Anna Lee H. in Toronto

Anonymous said...

Theresa, those mah-jongg pieces are beautiful! I've seen them in jewelry pieces and they are simply lovely. Now you will HAVE to learn to play before you travel. You can see a story about women playing mah-jongg (like women here might play bridge) in the movie The Joy Luck Club. Welcome to esmarts! Teri

Anonymous said...

Mah~Jong - I too have a friend who plays in two groupd and loves it.

Please visit:

You have ben tagged.


MyGemStoneBox by Diane said...

Hi Teresa,
I'm Diane from eSMArts. I hold the position of Social Marketing Director for the team. I want you to know if I can be of assistance to you...all you need do is ask! Good luck to you and I hope you enjoy the experience with this team as much as I do!! Your work is fabulous...hope to talk to you soon!

ChezChani said...

I hadn't thought of it, Jews in China but I guess it makes sense. We're everywhere! My mom plays Mah Jongg. But according to The Joy Luck Club, she plays Jewish Mah Jongg, not Chinese Mah Jongg.