China & Diaspora Partner
Partner of Shoresh Center Jerusalem, Israel.
Discovering your roots back to the Holy Land.
"Behold, these are coming from afar. These from the north and the west and these from the land of Sinim." This prophecy, spoken by Isaiah, promised the return of Lost Israelites from all corners of the Earth and from Sinim. Interestingly, Sinim is the Hebrew word for China.
Mrs Odelyah Law
Partner China & Diaspora
When did Jewish people leave their homeland and why did they move to China? From the place names, we can see a history of migration from West to East in a nation thousands of years ago. Anyone who has read history and the Bible knows that Noah had 3 sons in Genesis. Shem is the eldest son, the ancestor of the Hebrews.
4,000 years ago (17th century BC), we meet the descendants of Shem- Abraham and his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. Genesis describes how Abraham was called from Ur of Chaldea to Canaan to create a nation that only believed in God. Abraham left Ur and crossed the Euphrates River. He crossed the Jordan River during his migration and settled in the "land of Canaan". He was called Abraham the Hebrew, which means "he who crossed the river," and thus his descendants were called Hebrews.
3,800 years ago, Abraham's grandson, Jacob (Israel-wrestling with God) gave birth to 12 sons, who became the ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel. In 1656 BC, when famine ravaged Canaan, Jacob (Israel), his 12 sons and his family settled in Egypt. Later, his descendants became slaves. After 400 years of slavery, the ancient Israelites were freed under the leadership of Moses. According to the Bible, God chose Moses to lead his people out of Egypt and return them to their homeland in Israel, (13-12th century BC) promised to their ancestors.
King David (1004-965 BC) established his kingdom as a great power in the region. Later, from the border of Egypt and the Red Sea to the banks of the Euphrates River, his authority was recognized. At home, he united the 12 tribes of Israel to form a kingdom and made Jerusalem his capital.
In 936 BC the kingdom split into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The Kingdom of Israel was comprised of ten tribes and the Kingdom of Judah was compromised of the remaining two tribes. More than two hundred years later, the Assyrian Empire occupied northern Israel and expelled its ten tribes from the land. The regions these ten tribes visited and the countries that had assimilated them has always been a hot topic for debate in history. However, by coincidence, the time when these ten tribes were expelled from Israel in 722 BC coincided with the beginning of the Chronicles of the Chinese Pre-Qin Dynasty Spring and Autumn period.
The earliest and clearest names of Hebrew places recorded in Chinese pre-Qin Dynasty historical records often correspond to "Langyetai", referring to the place where the sun set, i.e the Land of Israel.
In Ancient Chinese records "山” Semites or “塞” Semites have same pronunciation "Shan"-Shem. “塞” Semites were lived in Western Regions of China such as Yutian, Cai, Yenling, Xiye, Pulei.
There was a record in Yao Emperor's era that "山” Semites mainly distributed in Hebei, Liaoning, and inner Mongolian in northern China. According to Chinese researchers’ studies, ancient Semites, Hebrews, Israel, and Jewish came to China in different periods for more than 3000 years.
《晋书》"Book of Jin" records that the post-Zhao Kingdom had Jewish religious teachers taught Torah and Judaism has flourished in North and Central China. In historical record, "Yichileye" was given a name to Jewish people by the emperor of the Northern Song Dynasty, which should be a transliteration of "Israel".
Although historians may differ on the exact beginning of Jewish immigration to China, some dating the first arrival of Jewish people as far back as 220 BCE, what is known is that during the Tang Dynasty, 618-906 CE, a poem and other records confirm the presence of Jews.
In fact, a document, written on paper in a Judeo-Persian language, using Hebrew characters, was found on the Chinese-Tibet border. At that time, paper was only produced in China, so the Jewish trader had obviously been to China. These were Jewish from Persia and Babylon. Kaifeng was then the major metropolis at the beginning of the Silk Road.
At its height, Stone tablets, one dating from 1489, described Kaifeng's first synagogue was built in 1163 and was destroyed by flood in 1461. Although the synagogue was rebuilt, it was demolished by another flood in 1841. the congregation having by then become impoverished and weakened by a general ignorance of its heritage.
Not only Kaifeng, but also Ningbo, Quanzhou, Guangzhou, Beijing, Hangzhou, Ningxia, Yangzhou, Luoyang, Dunhuang, Chang'an and other cities in China have records of Jewish life. The history of Jews coming to China has exceeded 1,000 years.
Today, the Jewish population in Kaifeng is around 1500. It seems that almost all Jewish disappear in China, but the divine sparks of their souls are waiting for Torah - The Sound of Heaven. שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל Shema Israel… every Jewish to hear its call from China.
The rolled Kaifeng Torah Scroll (Kaifeng Torah Scroll. Kaifeng, China, 1643-1663.
Map of the Five Hegemons during the Spring and Autumn period of Zhou Dynasty
Chinese Jewish Reading Torah
The earliest tangible proof of Jewish presence on Chinese soil comes from a fragment of a Judeo-Persian letter dating from the end of the 8th century (British Library Or. 8212/166) and Fragmented pages of Hebrew prayer book found in Dunhuang in 1908 by Percy (right).
Ancient Torah Case in Kaifeng
Silk Road from Rome to China and spread out as far north as Mongolia and as far south as India.
Stone tablets one dating from 1489, described that Kaifeng's first synagogue was built in 1163.
A model of the Kaifeng Synagogue, built around 1163 CE and destroyed in the 1860's. (Source: Asian History)