Friday, July 02, 2010
Dr Xun Shu and the Invention of Kaifeng Jews
When I was in Kaifeng I searched for Jewish descendants and the authorities arranged for me to meet several. Like many before me, I too asked myself what was the connection of these Chinese people to the Jewish people, and if it was not all a hoax invented to promote Jewish tourism and investments, as well as, a way to acquire a privileged ethnic minority status in China's Communist regime.
My conclusions were that definitely there was an element of faking it in the Yuotai (Yehuda) minority, but it well could be because they had no opportunity at all to learn about Judaism and how Jewish descendants that they purported to be should behave. Many full-blood Russian Jews emerging after 70 years of Soviet rule wsere in the very same situation. The Israeli Embassy in Moscow had to train functionnaires able to recognize bona-fide Jewish descendants from pure, unadulterated Russian goys. They asked for Yiddish expression used by the grandmother, special behaviour on Jewish festivities (that they didnt what it was) or old family photographs and so on.
On the other hand, the Yutay are a recognized ethnic minority living in the Muslim (market) quarter of old Kaifeng, where all Western communities had been living for centuries - eating lamb and not pig, enjoying privileges such as to be allowed more than one child, and according to Prof. Xun Shu, also receiving State salaries. Also there was the fact that Marco Polo and other early travellers had written that there were many Jews that had settled in China, and the Jesuit Ricci's description of his meeting with Kaifeng Jews in Beijing, which I believe - is authentic.
Now I have read Dr Xun Shu's essay that he calls the whole Kaifeng Jew business a hoax perpetrated by Westerners (like Ricci) who had some interest in the existence of Chinese Jews, and then, by some Chinese who profited by selling fake manuscripts to eager missionaries.
Although I was one of the first Jews living in Kaifeng after China's opening, I could never form a firm opinion about the Youtay, but one thing is for sure: like the Falasha Jews of Ethiopia, here we a group of clans that may have or not some genetic link to the historic Hebrew nation, but they did spend the last generations considered as Jews by their Muslim and Christian neighbors. They dont pretend to be Jews, what they say is that they are Jewish descendants, and so they believe, so in my opinion, the issue of their being "real" or "fake" is irrelevant - as it is now they want to be Jews. We did not investigate if some other Jewish communities are genetically Hebrew and we do accept converts and always did (like Ruth the Moabite). So let them come to Israel; they will make us stronger, not weaker.