Spiro Ark

SHANGHAI EXPRESS: FROM THE RIVERS OF BABYLON TO THE WHANGPOO – JEWS IN CHINA

The First Lecture of Dr. Maisie Meyer's Mini Series on the Jews of China.

With the world's attention now focused on Iraq and the expanding Chinese economy, it is opportune to draw attention to a small number of adventurous Baghdadi Jewish merchants who began settling in Shanghai in the mid-19th century and organized a community that maintained itself with distinction.

Shanghai Express takes the audience on an exciting journey, illustrated with some eighty photographs. In this faraway outpost of the Jewish Diaspora, that never numbered more than a thousand people, the Baghdadis accomplished deeds that leave us shaking our heads in wonder.

We are introduced to the customs and occupations of these Jews and made aware of the nature and commitments of the vibrant community they created and nurtured over a century. We learn about their business acumen, and how this enabled Shanghai to become one of the world's leading financial centres. We learn too, with lingering regret, of their participation in the opium trade - in an era, it must be understood, that this was entirely legal and even socially acceptable. We take a glimpse at the institutions they established to safeguard their Judaic heritage in their alien surroundings, and we commemorate their heroic, though unsuccessful, efforts to bring what was left of the ancient Jewish community of Kaifeng back to the Judaism of its forebears.

We observe the relationship between the Baghdadis and the Russian Jews escaping from Czarist persecution who began migrating to Shanghai around 1895, and in time attained a population of 7-8,000. The humanitarian efforts of the Shanghai Baghdadi Jews to accommodate some 20,000 victims of Nazi persecution reflect further credit to the ethos of this remarkable community.

And we end with a feeling of sadness that because of the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in the World War II period and, shortly thereafter, the city's incorporation into the Peoples' Republic of China the Jews of Shanghai were forced to leave the country and scatter across the globe. The Baghdadi Jews of Shanghai stand out as having established one of the most noteworthy communities in the Jewish Diaspora.

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