A Jew in Kaifeng-- Guo Yan

1. Introduction
Guo Yan (the writer, a Kaifeng Jew descendant), Female, born in the 6th of October 1980. Having graduated from Henan University, she worked as a Chinese literature teacher in a junior high. After her marriage she has decided to undertake research for the preservation of Jewish tradition in Kaifeng.
Yang Wen Jiang, Male, Han race. Free-Lance worker. After marrying Guo Yan in 2008, has invested money to buy back the Kaifeng Jewish Zhao clan’s ancestral temple site, and plans to raise funds to build a “Kaifeng Jews Memorial Room“.

2. The Turning Point
In the year 2008 visited us a Christian tourist, a certain mister A. (I still have not acquired his admittance to publish his full name) and gave me 200 dollars. My husband and I have seen this contribution as a turning point, and decided to start preserving the historical material which lies at our hands. These materials are kept at the moment in a temporal exhibition, which now presents a model of the Jewish synagogue, four Jewish memory scriptures, horizontal inscribed board of the synagogue, prayer tools and more. The most precious artifact is a Torah book in Hebrew, English and Chinese.

3. Meaning
Since their arrival in China during the 10th century A.C., the Kaifeng Jews have lost many of their scripts due to reoccurring floods. Furthermore, due to an almost millennium-long existence as an isolated island in China, they gradually lost the scripts and the ability to read their own alphabet, so that eventually in the 19th century there was no one who could understand the scripts’ content. The language was forgotten, the scripts sold, the faith weaken. It is out of these reasons that people from all over the world believe: the Jews of Kaifeng to be fully assimilated. Yet is that really so?
During my research, I realized that exactly as the old scriptures being sold, they became the material for us understanding ourselves; exactly due to the fact that as our faith got muddled, so were we have come to experience from up-close our surrounding belief-systems – Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, Islam – and furthermore, understand the common and the different between them and Judaism; it is exactly through these events, that I was brought to receive the Torah anew, and to acquire by its reading a unique impression and understanding, and, just like an infant, after the death of a long accumulated culture, breathe in a new, simple spirit.
Having read how Adam and Eve, in order to get God’s wisdom, went against his order and ate from the fruit of knowledge (Genesis, 2: 17 – But as for the fruit of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it you should die; having read how Cain has committed such a heinous crime for God’s love, and was still defended by him after being driven out (Genesis, 4:15 – The Lord said to him “I promise, if anyone kills Cain, sevenfold vengeance shall be taken on him”); having read how god punished man with a towering flood, yet asked Noah to build an ark to save the world’s species; or how he promised to raise the dead from their bones, and to send them back on their own soil (Ezekiel 37). I read all this, and reflect back on a thousand years of experience – the wisdom of the Kaifeng Jews, their forgetfulness, their demise and their return… I dare not conjecture whether these occurrences were all God’s determination.
However, god says he gives Israel as “the light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). I don’t know whether it is for this reason that we have walked a thousand miles to come here, that we have spent a thousand years waiting in this isolated city.
Also I, as every Kaifeng Jew, was instructed from cradle of our “different” social position. As a child, I still have not read the Torah, and still did not know God spoke of all of his children returning to Jerusalem. Yet already at that time, I have felt we shall indeed one day return to our land. Therefore, already as a child I grew to deeply appreciate every day of living in China, and therefore chose Chinese literature as my major. I am left aghast from China’s five thousand years of continuing vitality, and on the other hand, from the opposite wonder of the Hebrew culture, reborn from its ashes. Hebrew culture’s simplicity, untarnished by the invasion of foreign cultures, and China’s culture fearlessly converging, mutual understanding and acceptance, all make me deeply infatuated. Since having begun research and preservation of Kaifeng Jews’ culture, I am constantly pondering how to read out from this culture the immortal essence of China and Israel’s, how to use these various Chinese methods of cultural preservation in order to preserve Hebrew culture.
Kaifeng is actually a city on top of cities; under contemporary Kaifeng are said to be 6 ancient cities buried on top of each other. 3 meters below is Kaifeng of the Qing times, 6 meters below is that of the Ming, 8 meters below is Dongjing (“The Eastern Capital”) of the Song era, all the way down to the Warring States Era Daliang city, 13 meters below.
[1] Why have we lived here, on top of this spiritual intersection for a thousand years? Why did we stay here? Why did we die? Why did we revive our religion?
I do not know, but this bizarre city, changed again and again through floods, sure makes me think: chaotic wars, natural power, endless time, dried-up bones… looking at Kaifeng’s remaining old houses, going over the worn-out material Kaifeng Jews, imagining the city’s destruction, and sighing over Kaifeng Jews dying of solitude, I cannot but constantly worry, cannot but intensely hope that on one world’s edge, in Kaifeng, extremely remote from our homeland Jerusalem, a Torah and a Hebrew culture can be preserved.

4. Making a CD
In the year 1605, after Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit located in Beijing has redirected information from of the existence of Jews in Kaifeng and the shocking news reached Europe, western missionaries started coming to inquire. Yet as reaction to unfortunate events with Christians, Qing emperor Yong Zheng has decided to cut off relations between Inner China and missionaries. Between 1724 and 1850 western missionaries have kept only the most fragile relations with the Kaifeng Jews, which were mainly based on letters, inquiring whether the bible held by the Jews was compatible with the version of the bible in Amsterdam, and regarding the nature of the Kaifeng Jews’ faith. however, today’s solely remaining document is a letter from Kaifeng Jew Zhao Nian Zu to James Finn, dating 20th of August 1850, which was received in April 1870 by Finn.
After 1850 Christians have gradually reestablished relations with Kaifeng and its Jews, and even took two circumcised Kaifeng Jews, Zhao Jin Cheng and Zhao Wen Kui, to interviews in Shanghai. They have saved the Kaifeng Jewish society, which was on the brink , but the program to teach Hebrew was shelved. The situation of the Kaifeng Jews got ever worse, incomplete analects got sold, property rights for the now ruined synagogue were sold, and a stone tablet retelling Jews’ arrival in China was given away… confronting curious visitors, the Kaifeng Jews didn’t have nothing to give other than their existence.
After China’s opening reforms of 1978, visitors of different nationalities, ethnicities and religions came to Kaifeng, bringing the Kaifeng Jews English and Hebrew versions of the Torah, enthusiastic helpers taught Kaifeng Jews Hebrew. My cousin, as well as other middle school students Jews descendants, was granted financial assistance to study religion and language in Israel.
Since I have begun working as a guide to the remnants of the synagogue, I have met diverse visitors, and went through various cultural exchanges, making me understand how special this all is. These days I am beginning to collect their questions, making a cd which with the answers, and retelling the efforts of many people to preserve our culture. At the same time I am working to raise the “Kaifeng Jews Synagogue Memorial Room”, to bring out to the open the wonder of these two ancient cultures’ – Hebrew and Chinese – one thousand years together, and to preserve it for the coming generations.

5. Evidence
Our ancestors came from India to Kaifeng at the time of the Northern Song dynasty came – at that time the world most flourishing metropolis. We have presented the emperor with a cotton cloth, which made him extremely happy, and he promised we could “stay here in my China, keep your custom, and stay in Bianliang (Kaifeng’s former name)”. This respect towards the faith and customs of a people otherwise having to wonder around the world was so important for us, up to the extent that by the time of building our synagogue, we have not adopted by that time ruling Jin dynasty reigning calendar, but remained loyal to the Song dynasty one; to the extent that upon having gotten a honorary surname from the Ming emperor for helping him, they still chose to remain with the one given to them from the Song emperor.

1163 – The Kaifeng Jews found the glorious “Mosque“ synagogue.
1279 – We renovate the age-old synagogue for the first time.
1421 – Kaifeng’s ruler, the fifth son of Ming emperor Zhu Su, granted us with money to rebuild the Jewish synagogue.
1445 – We again renovate the synagogue.
1461 – We return to Kaifeng and rebuild the synagogue on the remains of the flood.

After a flood again deluges the synagogue, we rebuild it, adding a second mail hall, linking it to the first one, and a special place in which to keep the Torah.
1489 – Along with renovating the synagogue, we raise a stone tablet, retelling Kaifeng Jews’ history.
1663 – After Kaifeng was flooded by a man made canal, we again rebuild the synagogue, and again name it “Mosque” in order to distinguish it from the Chinese Daoism. At that time we again petition by a high-rank Chinese official to itself inscribe a tablet, retelling Kaifeng Jews’ history, faith and morals --- this was Kaifeng Jews’ 3rd stone tablet, whose remains were lost in the middle of the 19th century.
1679 – after acquiring an even greater success in China, the Kaifeng Jews have again rebuilt the synagogue, making it more glorious, with the Zhao clan people again rebuilding the synagogue, putting a stone inscription inside the Zhao clan prayer room (which today is my family’s habitat). This was the 4th and last stone tablet of the Kaifeng Jews.
1688 – due to a stronger influence of Zhao Yang Cheng and other Zhao clan families in the Qing court, the Qing emperor has bestowed a house board upon then, with many contemporary officials of the Chinese Qing government contributing to the synagogue, praising the faith and customs of the Judaism and Chinese religion (with both being already mixed-up).
1854 – a flood shatters the synagogue.
After standing for 700 years, the Jewish synagogue exists no more, with only its water well remaining (today inside of the neighboring hospital’s heating room). Having been always well-preserved by the Chinese governments, the water in the well still silently witness the passing time.
(most of the data is based on the 4th Kaifeng Jews Platter, as well as from stories passed through generations of Zhao clan, ever since the first raise of the synagogue).

ומעץ הדעת טוב ורע לא תאכל ממנו כי ביום אכלך ממנו מות תמות)

ויאמר לו יהוה לכן כל-הרג קין שבעתים יקם וישם יהוה לקין אות לבלתי הכות-אתו כל מצאו),
[1] Details regarding Kaifeng are taken from an interview with Mr. Liu Chun-Ying, vice chairperson of Kaifeng Artifacts Supervision Authority, published in the “Zhengzhou Daily” on the 25th of December, 2006.
[2] The above details are taken from “China’s Jews”, written by the French Nadine Perront.