By: Daniel Otero
Something happened strangely, when letters began to mix between Hebrew and Chinese.
Speaking with one of the highest authorities here in China on Judaic Studies, it felt like being transported back to Israel. However, it wasn’t! It was in this Department of Philosophy at Nanjing University’s Xianlin Campus, there were this feeling of ‘Jewish-ness’ coming across the air: amongst Yakamas, Torah Scrolls and Menorahs in a temple like room where there was a wavering presence of the blue and white-Jewish flag. With the ever constant symbol of the Star of David in unison with the Chinese flag.
There was this connectivity, like being closer to ancient Jerusalem. Immersing in the wonderful strangeness, as Professor Xu Xin spoke.
Professor Xu Xin is the foremost scholar here in Nanjing and maybe in the whole of China. And a constant traveler to and fro across the world, imparting the knowledge of Jewish and Chinese culture with their similarities.
A man who came from humble beginnings in Shandong, China and he later moved to Nanjing at the age of 14 and permanently made this City his home by the age of 24.
He began taking to Jewish culture since the 1970s, but immersed himself further when he lived in Chicago, (U.S.A.) for two years in the 1980s.
He lives a lifestyle almost Jewish, producing his own kosher wine in a sweet Manischewitz style to drink with friends during the Sabbath. When he speaks proudly, there’s a sparkle of passion in his eyes about the Hanukkah or celebrations like the Passover!
Teacher Xu understands what Jews have been through and like Chinese, much of these two-cultures history is burdened by a very-real and unforgettable cruel past.
He begins with the Kaifeng-Jews, 1,000 people and growing here in China. After all, the Jewish merchants have been coming to China and doing business since the 9th Century.
Comparing both tragedies, the Nanjing Massacre (1937) with those which transpired in Europe during the Holocaust (1939 – 1945); how his studies have taken him across China to learn/teach how the Jews came to survive, thrive, prosper, get educated, be observant of their religious beliefs and have the opportunity to grow in the business world.
He explains further on how Jews ended up in Harbin because of the Russian Czar’s Pogroms and later mentioning how this fascinating community expanded into places like Shanghai, as they escaped from the horror back in Europe of WWII. These 40 thousand plus people who came to live in cities like Beijing and they went further south as Hong Kong.
Through his insight he explained how to identify if a building is Jewish in origin [especially in the old Shanghai neighborhoods], looking meticulously for the Star of David somewhere along the floor, rooftops, columns or tiles of the structure. They would also show in the architecture a menorah with some Hebrew letters.
The Professor even recommended a nice Jewish-kosher restaurant called Dini’s, in Beijing.
This scholar has learnt Hebrew, Yiddish and traveled 10 times to Israel.
His career has spanned 40 years with a deep sense/interest in the ‘whys’ and ‘how’ of Jewish history.
He understands this is a culture that goes as far back as the Chinese, for a better part of five millennia.
Publishing over 20 books and a great number of essays nationally and around the world, he has set the path for the discovery of Jewish culture here in China. Here are just a few of his greats: Legends of the Chinese-Jews of Kaifeng (1995), Anti-Semitism: How and Why (1996), The Jews of Kaifeng, China: History, Culture and Religion (2003) and A History of Jewish Culture (2006).
The man has been a visiting scholar and lecturer in Universities throughout China, Israel and the U.S.
This foremost leader is the ‘go to guy’ to learn about the Jews here in China. Learning from him is a lifestyle, especially for some of us who are devoted to the expanding of knowledge of the Jewry Community across China. Shalom (peace)!