Travel through Magnificent China-discover Jewish Shanghai


By Carolina Sempere and Jhonny Stathopoulou

Modern China is yin yang; a perfect balance between a rich heritage measured in millennia, and a vibrant, futuristic outlook propelled by a robust economy and an upwardly mobile middle class. The

new China is anything but shy, a veritable business behemoth, Chinese factories manufacture over 80% of many of today’s most popular goods. Despite the speedy expansion of a nation that for over 50 years seemed dulled in the spirit of Maoism, China has not forgotten its ancient roots. From peaceful, breathtaking rural landscapes to the bright neon lights of its exhilarating cities, the magni cence of China enchants the modern traveler.

Perhaps no other large Chinese city embodies the concept of urbanistic yin yang like Beijing. The Chinese capital is a rich urban center where modernity meets ancient imperial palaces, anchored by the splendor of the Forbidden City, home to 24 Chinese emperors. Beijing, an architecture lover’s paradise, contains some of the most unique buildings in the world. Structures such as the ultra-modern Beijing National Stadium, home to the impressive Summer Olympic ceremonies, coexist peacefully with tranquil Buddhist temples, like those at the Temple of Heaven Park. Running along the north hills of the city lies the most popular of all Chinese attractions and its most recognized architectural feat, the Great Wall. With six Unesco World Heritage Sites, Beijing is one site less than the whole of Egypt. As the nation’s capital, Beijing is the political, but also the cultural, center of China. The National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) and the 798 Art District give visitors a glimpse into China’s rich artistic heritage and vibrant art scene, while the Peking Opera o ers a colorful spectacle for fans of musical theatre.

Shanghai Skyline Panoramic at Sunset, China

Shanghai, China’s largest city and its financial capital, is an impressive modern skyline rising above the tranquil waters of the Yangtze River. Dominated by awe-inspiring, glass-covered skyscrapers and the world’s second largest tower, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Shanghai commands a strong first impression. Despite its modern vigor, Shanghai has a much older history, which is evident in its collection of unique colonial architecture, particularly along its popular waterfront promenade, the Bund. Shanghai is home to China’s premier shopping street Nanjing Road, which is not only a top shopping destination offering both modern and traditional merchandise, but also home to cafes and street musicians, enticing lovely evening strolls. But, Shanghai is not all concrete jungle; the 400 year-old Yuyuan Garden, believed to be China’s best classical garden, o ers visitors a tranquil escape from the big city.

Beyond its vibrant urban centers, China is an enchanting land often ignored by foreign travelers. A nation of great contrasts and dramatic landscapes, none is more impressive than its karst mountains, rock formations produced by a combination of quartzite and sandstone. China’s karst landscape is unique and considered of exceptional geographical value. No other region in the world o ers such a diverse collection of these jagged rock formations in a humid tropical setting. One of China’s most striking karst landscape is the spectacular mountain peaks of Zhangjiajie, in northern Hunan province. Its breathtaking pillars reaching 3000 feet inspired director James Cameron to create the landscapes of the movie Avatar. Part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that contains 243 peaks and over 3000 karst pinnacles and spires, the Zhangjiajie peaks seem to disappear into the heavens. From a new glass walkway stretching around a cli on Tianmen Mountain, brave visitors can experience the famed “sea of clouds.”

Another stunning karst destination is Guilin, in Guangxi Province, eight hours south of Zhangjiajie. The surprisingly- at Guilin karst plain, bathed by the serene Li River, is a tranquil land of terraced rice elds and greed- clad peaks, resulting in a beautiful image of traditional China, a mystical land with ancient tales of dragons living in its caves.

Mount Huangshan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in eastern China also known as “the loveliest mountain of China,” features prominently in Chinese paintings and literature and is a major tourist destination for locals. Its imposing peaks caressing the clouds and unique pine trees continue to inspire visitors and artists alike. Huangshan is also known for its neighboring, well-preserved ancient villages, and romantic autumn scenery.

Animal lovers will enjoy visiting Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, where travelers can observe the endangered giant pandas at the famed Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding; a conservation center where giant pandas live peacefully and protected in their natural habitat.

History bu s have endless opportunities for discovery in China. Chinese civilization is over 4000 years old, and travelers can witness rst-hand its rich, ancient culture throughout the country. Xi’an, located in central China, is one of the birthplaces of ancient Chinese civilization. It marks the beginning of the Silk Road and is the site of the popular Terracotta Warriors of the Qin Dynasty. Once the capital city of ancient Chinese dynasties, the history of Xi’an extends almost 3000 years and o ers the traveler an unparalleled glimpse into China’s cultural and historical past.

Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird´s Nest.

China’s magnificence comes from its exceptional variety of settings. Whether seeking the exhilarating energy of vibrant metropolitan areas, exploring its rich cultural heritage, or enjoying its breathtaking natural landscapes, China o ers the visitor countless options for discovery and adventure. Its unique blend of the ancient and the ultra-modern, and its balance between the old and the new, makes China an exhilarating, exotic destination for the traveler seeking countless experiences in just one place.




The history of the Jews in China can be traced back to very ancient times. The Youtai, as Jews are called in China, arrived in di erent immigration waves, and according to Bnei Menashe accounts, they were initially Israelites who moved to Kaifeng in 231 BCE, though most scholars agree that a Jewish community has existed in Kaifeng since the Northern Song Dynasty (960– 1127 CE).
Letters on Chinese paper, written in Hebrew and Judeo-Persian, were found in the Northwestern regions of China, likely written by Jewish traders arriving through the Silk Road around 718 CE, and an ancient poem was found mentioning the urban city of Xi’an, often frequented by Persian merchants who probably were, as scholars believe, the rst Jews to settle in China.

This group is the Kaifeng Jews, the oldest wave of immigration. A second wave arrived to the cities of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Harbin during the British invasions of the 19th century, a third one from Russia at the start of the 20th century, and the fourth and most recent one was the big wave of Jewish refugees eeing Nazi Germany during World War II and the Holocaust, who found refuge in Shanghai’s ghetto.


Jewish presence in Shanghai can be traced to the 1800s, when many Mizrahi Jews from Iraq migrated to the bustling city. The rst Jew to arrive was Elias D. Sasson, who around 1850 opened a branch of his Bombay company. This attracted other Jews from India. A wave of Ashkenazi émigrés eeing repression in Eastern Europe, and Russian Jews avoiding the pogroms under the Tsar, arrived some time later. In 1907, they built the Ohel Moishe Synagogue, and even a Hebrew newspaper was published in the growing metropolis. But the key moment in the history of Jews in China was when thousands of Jews from Germany and Austria ed to Shanghai to escape the horrors of Nazism. In Germany, authorities required migrants to provide a visa to travel to the place of destination. The Chinese consul in Vienna, Ho Feng Shang, particularly emphasized granting “visas certi cates” on a massive scale, saving the lives of thousands of Jews. Until the outbreak of the war in 1939, between 15,000 and 20,000 German Jews ed to China.

The vast majority who arrived in the city had been stripped of their property and settled in the northeast of Shanghai’s international zone, (where there was a French Concession, and the International Settlement), fruit of the union of leased territories to British and Americans, all administered by local businessmen.


In 1941 the Japanese took control of the international zones, and in 1943 decreed that Jewish refugees could only live in a small area of Hongkou District of the Japanese-occupied Shanghai, then the poorest neighborhood in the city. It was designated as the “Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees,” in other words, the Jewish Ghetto.

However, contrary to what happened in European ghettos, the 20,000 Jewish refugees settled in Hongkou lived with people of other nationalities, but in order to leave the ghetto, they needed a special pass. In 1945, after the war ended they were able to move freely around the city again. Most of the Jewish refugees emigrated to the US, The British Mandate for Palestine and Australia, and a few hundred returned to Germany.
Today, this neighborhood, former Shanghai ghetto, holds much of its 1940’s character.


Terry H. Schwadron, born and brought up in the United States, a retired editor for information and news technology at the New York Times and former deputy managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, published his book: Our Journey, A Second Chance. “A memoir of surviving the Holocaust” an inspiring and compelling testimony of his mother’s journey. She was a holocaust survivor who escaped Germany in 1941 to nd refuge in China, alongside 20.000 Jews and other refugees in the Shanghai Ghetto. Forced to spend seven years there until WWII came to an end, leaving China as “displaced person” making it in the United States where she could begin a new life. (Available at Amazon Prime. Publisher


by Dina Szeinblum

Article Published in JW Magazine Fall 2017
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