Spiro Ark

SHANGHAI MILLIONAIRE-SILAS AARON HARDOON (1851-1931) JEWS IN CHINA

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

A monopoly set named "Shanghai Millionaire" highlights how influential Silas Aaron Hardoon was. Numerous photographs, newspaper articles and biographical accounts animate this celebrity. We trace his mercurial rise from a lowly employee in David Sassoon's firm on a pitiful salary of 12 shillings a week to becoming a billionaire. We have a glimpse of the palatial pagoda-roofed home where he lived with his Eurasian Buddhist wife Luo Jialing (Liza). Its forty acre garden incorporated a Buddhist temple and retreats for Buddhist nuns. We get acquainted with his ten adopted children of various nationalities and Hardoon's determination to bring them up as Jews.

Newspaper articles reveal that he was invited by the Chinese Government to visit the Forbidden City, where he was accorded an armed escort and invited to lunch with the boy ex-Emperor and Empress. Intriguingly, Hardoon combined a grand style of living with severe austerity. On a cold day he would sit at his desk bundled in his overcoat.

We discover why Hardoon wa awarded twelve decorations for his philanthropy and that his name passed into Chinese legend as one of the few foreigners in Shanghai who valued Chinese culture. Hardoon donated to the community the monumental Beth Aaron Synagogue at a cost of roughly $3,900,000 in today's value, which in time served as a refuge for students of the Mir Yeshiva fleeing Nazi Europe..

Hardoon died at the age of 80, in June 1931. Although he wished to be buried in accordance with Jewish rites, pictures illustrate that his funeral was a mish mash of Buddhist, Jewish, and Taoist rites. It is difficult to exaggerate the indignation felt by some members of the community when they discovered that Hardoon had left his entire fortune, a staggering 150 million dollars to Liza. His enormous fortune, which included most of the prestigious sites in the Foreign Concessions was coveted. Wires were kept hot with claims by relatives from Bagdad, Basra and Bombay to Shanghai. Newspaper articles bring to life the sensational legal battle in the British Supreme Court for China for Hardoon's 150 million dollar estate, roughly $1,800 million today.

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