In the early Middle Ages, China was home to a small but thriving Jewish community centered in the city of Kaifeng. In later periods, assimilation and isolation from the rest of the Jewish world caused the community to dwindle; by the mid-19th century, organized Jewish life had ceased. Still, a number of today’s residents claim Jewish ancestry and are interested in exploring their identity. Michael Freund, whose organization Shavei Israel opened an educational and cultural center for Chinese Jews in 2010, reports on a recent anti-Jewish crackdown by the Communist government:
The center operated until 2014, when local authorities raided it during Passover, ordering that the mezuzot and all signs containing Hebrew words be taken down immediately. Since then, other worrisome measures have included the closure of the site of the well that had served as the community’s mikveh as well as periodic interrogations of Kaifeng Jews by local police. In some instances, Jewish tour groups from abroad have even been prohibited from visiting the city altogether. . . .
The first Jews are believed to have settled in Kaifeng, which is located some 600 kilometers southwest of Beijing on the southern banks of the Yellow River, in the 7th or 8th century CE. They [hailed] from Persia or Iraq, traveled along the Silk Road, and received the Chinese emperor’s blessing to reside in Kaifeng, which at the time was an imperial capital of the Song dynasty. . . .
All told, there are now an estimated 1,000 people in Kaifeng who are identifiable as descendants of the city’s once-thriving Jewish community. Many have great reverence for their ancestors, . . . and several hundred have shown an interest in learning more about the ways of their forefathers, their history, and legacy.