The Chinese government has been cracking down on unauthorized religious activity, closing a number of Buddhist monasteries and churches. It has now directed its efforts against the Jewish community of the city of Kaifeng, which dates back to the Middle Ages and—after fading away almost completely in the 19th century—has recently experienced a revival. Chris Buckley writes:
A few hundred residents had staged a lively, sometimes contentious rebirth of Kaifeng’s Jewish heritage in recent decades, with classes, [prayer] services, and proposals to rebuild the lost synagogue as a museum. Some residents even migrated to Israel. For years, the city government tolerated their activities, seeing the Jewish link as a magnet for tourism and investment.
But since last year, the authorities have come down hard on the revival, in an example of how even the smallest spiritual groups can fall under the pall of the Communist party’s suspicion. The government has shut down organizations that helped foster Jewish rediscovery, prohibited residents from gathering to worship for Passover and other holidays, and removed signs and relics of the city’s Jewish past from public places. . . .
Nobody outside the government seems to know for sure why this tiny band of believers came to be viewed as a threat. But officials appear to have become alarmed about their growing prominence sometime last year as Xi Jinpeng’s government demanded that religious groups and foreign organizations bow to tighter controls. Judaism is not one of China’s five state-licensed religions. . . .
[T]he current clampdown has gone much farther than previous ones, residents said. . . . Even signs of the Jewish historical presence have been erased. An inscribed stone marking the site of the old synagogue was removed from the front of a hospital that occupies the grounds, and workers buried the ancient well [thought to have been the last remaining part of the synagogue]. Two hospital employees said city officials had ordered the changes.
“All this says that there are no Jews here,” one Jewish man said as he nervously looked around during an interview in a teahouse.