[KS] Jews in China

Henny Savenije adam&eve at henny-savenije.demon.nl
Thu Aug 24 12:04:17 EDT 2000

REPLY sends your message to the whole list

These two messages came up in another list, together with a number of 
others and I think it is of interest for this list as well.

>I will be very interested in the outcome of the discussions regarding 
>Jacob d'Ancona.  Like others, I found that Selbourne's translation made 
>absorbing reading, and could see nothing in it which would immediately 
>condemn it as a fake.  Could somebody give us the gist of the  criticisms 
>that have been levelled against it ?
>Arabic sources suggest that Jewish merchants had reached China as early as 
>the ninth century, and that at least by the thirteenth century a
>network of Jewish entreports existed across much of the known world.  For 
>those interested, the paragraphs below summarise what I believe is the 
>current state of knowledge regarding the Jews in China.  If anybody can 
>add anything to these notes, I would be delighted to hear from them.
>It was reported by the merchant BUZURG IBN SHAHRIYAR in his "Kitab 'Aja'ib 
>al-Hind" ("Book of the Wonders of India", c. 950) that the
>Jewish merchant seaman, Ishaq bin Yahuda, visited China between the years 
>882 and 912.  After a quarrel with a Jewish colleague, Ishaq left Sohar 
>(in Oman) in poverty to seek his fortune in China and returned thirty 
>years later with marvellous wealth.  After a disagreement  with
>the emir he again sailed for China but his ship and its contents were 
>seized by the ruler of a port of Sumatra and Ishaq was murdered. It is 
>generally accepted that the first Jewish families arrived in China via 
>India during the Sung dynasty (960-1126), although other traditions
>maintain that they arrived via Persia as early as the first century, after 
>the capture of Jerusalem by Titus.  The first mention of Chinese
>Jews (the Tiao-kin-kiao) in European literature is found in the records of 
>the Jesuit missionaries of Peking, although clearly by that time the
>Jews had lost virtually all recollection of their homeland, or precisely 
>where it lay.
>JACOB D'ANCONA, who visited China in 1271-72, reported that there were two 
>thousand Jews in the port of Zaitun (= Quanzhou), and many tens of 
>thousands throughout China.  He stated that they had arrived in the time 
>of the patriarchs, and that only the rabbis could read Hebrew, the prayers 
>and scriptures having been transformed into an unintelligible mixture of 
>Hebrew and Chinese.  The first mention of the Jews (under the name of 
>Chu-hu) in Chinese literature (in which they were often confused with the 
>Moslems, or Hwei-hwei) occurs in the Annals (Yuan-shi) of 1329, and again 
>in 1354.  There is just a passing allusion to the Chinese Jews in the 
>letter of FRANCISCO XAVIER, written from Cochin on January 29th, 1552.
>In 1605, a young Chinese Jew, NGAI, during a visit to the Jesuit 
>missionary MATTEO RICCI, declared that he worshipped one God, and on
>seeing at the mission a picture of the Virgin and child, believed it to be 
>of Rebecca with Esau or Jacob.  He stated that he had come from
>K'ai-feng, the capital of Ho-nan, where his brethren resided.  Ngai stated 
>that there were but ten or twelve families resident at K'ai-feng
>and that they had been there for five or six hundred years.  Ricci sent a 
>Chinese Jesuit convert to K'ai-feng, where it was discovered that the
>Jews possessed a synagogue (Li-pai-sze) orientated towards the east, where 
>they had many books (some of which were published in facsimile at Shanghai 
>in 1851).  One of the tablets found at K'ai-feng stated that seventy 
>Jewish families arrived in China at the court of the Sung dynasty, 
>although another proclaimed the first arrival of Jews via India in the 
>time of the Chou (1122-955 BC).  K'ai-feng was subsequently visited by the 
>Italian Jesuit, NICCOLO LONGOBARDO (1565-1655), on account of his 
>particular interest in the Jewish community there.


>Given the detailed responses the d'Ancona text has raised, I had better be 
>more specific than I was in my first rather general e-mail:
>I am referring to the second edition of 'The City of Light' (1998, Abacus).
>The first was published by Little, Brown and Co, 1997.  Selbourne has 
>added an afterword to the second edition in which he defends himself 
>against what sounds like a barrage of criticism from various quarters on 
>various grounds - linguistic, historical, and not least the fact that 
>no-one but himself seems to have laid eyes on the manuscript, which he 
>says is in the private possession of a Jewish family and cannot be 
>generally accessed for reasons of privacy.  The articles mentioned by Greg 
>McIntosh and cited by the people at Overlee Farm Books are doubtless among 
>the ones Selbourne is referring to:
>THE CITY OF LIGHT does not seem to have met the strict criteria for 
>historical writing.  See the following articles, Nicholas D. Kristof, NEW 
>YORK TIMES (Sept. 21, 1997), p.1; Robyn Davidson, LONDON TIMES (Oct. 2, 
>1997), p. 40; Jonathan Spence, NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW (Oct. 19, 1997), 
>pp. 20-21; Doreen Carvajal, NEW YORK TIMES (Dec. 9, 1997), p. A-9 (New 
>England Edition).
>Martin Torodash
>Selbourne also mentions (p441) that he wrote an article in the Times 
>Literary Supplement, 20 November 1997 arguing for a committee of scholars 
>to critique the text - but not the manuscript.
>I am not in a position to accurately comment on any of the issues 
>Selbourne raises in the afterword.  What Selbourne does not discuss is the 
>rather problematic notion that there were well-established groups of 
>French and English merchants in China when he arrived  there in August, 
>1271.  The particular passages that have aroused my curiosity are:
>"...a man may go about the streets of Zaitun as if it were a city of the 
>whole world...in one separate quarter are the Mohometans, in another the 
>Franks, in another the Armenians, in another the Jews (peace upon 
>them)...and in each quarter separate parts again, as in the quarter of the 
>Franks there is a part for the Lombards, a part for the Germans...and 
>another part for those of our countries." (137-38)
>The last line is taken to refer to people of the Italian states.  The 
>writer elsewhere clearly distinguishes between 'Franks' and Genoese, 
>Venetians, etc.
>"...the city is a mixture of peoples, and each people in the city, of 
>which there are said to be as many as thirty, even those that have 
>inhabited it a long time, has its own language.  Therefore the Saracens 
>speak in Arabic, the Franks in the Frankish language..."  (137).  (French?)
>Further on the same page he mentions hostels, cemeteries, and trade 
>councils run by these trade enclaves.
>"...a man may see in Zaitun merchants from Aragon or Venice, Alessandria, 
>or Bruges of the Flemings, as well as black merchants and English." (127).
>"There...being so large a number of Franks and other peoples in the city 
>who have lain with women of the place, a man may easily see their 
>offspring as he goes about, whom they call 'arguni'...or those who are the 
>sons born of a woman of the city and a Christian." (140).
>If this last section is true, it must be taken as evidence that at least a 
>fair number of Europeans had been in the city for long enough to produce a 
>new generation - Jacob meets one of these 'arguni' who is twenty four 
>(140).  He nowhere precisely specifies how long the 'Franks' had been 
>present in the city or exactly how many there were.  For the Jewish 
>presence, he rates their oldest temple at over a thousand years, and the 
>Nestorian Christian presence at six hundred years.  My estimation that the 
>'Frankish' presence must been over a hundred years old is based on Jacob's 
>account of the 'Arguni', the cemeteries, and the notion that trade guilds, 
>city quarters and cemeteries take time to establish.
>Having qualified my original message, I still find this all very 
>surprising if it is true.  I also still find the text excellent reading 
>and I must admit that I hope there is some validity in it somewhere.  I 
>gather from Selbourne's afterword (which is still the only source I've 
>got) that the text has been dismissed as a literary hoax by some writers 
>and supported as a great historical find by others.
>Andre Engels wrote:
>"In the first place, trade-related documents of this period have survived
>much less than church-related ones. In the second place, I still do not
>believe that there can have been MANY English traders in China at the time."
>Nor do I.  Even a small number seems extraordinary.  What puzzles me now 
>is the fact that this would seem to be quite a clear objection to the 
>validity of the work, but it is not one that Selbourne tries to defend 
>against in the afterword.  Has anyone else raised it?

Henny  (Lee Hae Kang)

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and feel the thrill of Hamel discovering Korea (1653-1666)
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