China and Israel: Chinese, Jews; Beijing, Jerusalem (1890-2018)

China and Israel: Chinese, Jews; Beijing, Jerusalem (1890-2018)

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Aron Shai

Series: Jewish Identities in Post-Modern Society
ISBN: 9781618118943 (hardcover) / 9781618118950 (paper)
Pages: 270 pp.
Publication Date: February 2019

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In the fascinating story of Israel-China relations, unique history and culture intertwine with complex diplomacy and global business ventures—some of which have reached impressive success. China and Israel is a living collage that addresses these issues from a point of view that combines the professional and the personal. This book paints a broad picture of China-Israel relations from an historical and political perspective and from the Jewish and Israeli angle. To tell this story, Shai relies on rare documents, archival materials and interviews with individuals who were active in forming the relationship between these two states. He profiles Morris Cohen who, according to some, served as Sun Yat-sen’s personal advisor; gynecologist Dr. Ya’akov Rosenfeld, who rose to the rank of general in the Chinese Red Army and ended his career as a family physician in Tel Aviv; and international business magnate Shaul Eisenberg, otherwise known as “the king of China,” who executed the first Sino-Israeli military contacts. Shai also covers the attempts of major Israeli companies and business people to enter China, and describes the opportunities and risks involved when China purchases companies that are part of Israel’s national infrastructure.

Aron Shai is Shaul N. Eisenberg Professor of East Asian Studies and Pro-Rector of Tel Aviv University. He earned his PhD from St. Antony's College, University of Oxford. His research focuses on imperialism in Asia, China’s role in international relations, diplomatic and economic history, and Sino-Israeli relations. He lectured at international conferences and served as guest professor at Oxford, Paris, Toronto, New York and in China. Shai authored and edited numerous books in Hebrew, English, and Chinese, including Origins of War in the East; From the Opium War to Mao Zedong; Britain and China 1941-1947; The Fate of British and French Firms in China 1949-1954; Twentieth Century China; and Zhang Xueliang—The General Who Never Fought. He has also written two historical novels.

From Our Blog


Aron Shai ... has packed a tremendous amount of information in a very readable form into this well-researched book. He realizes that the all-important question of the nature of Sino-Israeli relations in the future can only be contemplated with knowledge of the past, which is why the book looks at relations from the ancient Jewish community of Kaifeng to the present.
— Liat Collins, The Jerusalem Post
A small corpus of literature probing the historical relationship between the Chinese and Jewish peoples has accumulated over the years. A very welcome recent addition to this literature is Aron Shai’s comprehensive, illuminating and accessible review of the relationship from its origins to the present day. Shai, a professor at Tel Aviv University and an internationally known Sinologist, manages to weave together nimbly three separate strands of inquiry into a single volume. In alternating chapters, he examines the communal, economic and political strands of the relationship, even sewing in to the fabric of the book his own particular experience with the Chinese people. … This book should indisputably be at the top of the reading list of anyone interested in either the broader Jewish–Chinese relationship or the narrower Israeli–Sino relationship. It is sure to become a core work in these fields.
— David Rodman, Israel Affairs
Shai paints a fascinating picture of Israeli/Jewish–Chinese history and the present relationship between the two peoples. The book is not only descriptive, but also an important piece of academic research, revealing information not widely known until now. … The book is an excellent read that once again demonstrates that Aron Shai is a true expert in the field.
— Shai A. Kivity, Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs
Shai provides an overview of Chinese–Jewish relations from medieval Kaifeng to the present. In 239 pages of text and a ten-page quatro-lingual bibliography, he surveys the corresponding academic field now known as Sino-Judaica. … Shai condenses this vast corpus of scholarship as context for what is the strength of this volume: his profiles of Sino-Judaic personalities. These include Sun Yat-sen’s English bodyguard Morris Cohen (1887–1970) and Chinese Communist Fourth Army physician Jacob Rosenfeld (1903–1952), originally from Austria. Shai also offers vignettes about lesser-known individuals who are arguably of equal historical significance. Drawing upon hard-to-get interviews and the Yad Tabenkin archive of the kibbutz movement, he profiles leaders of the Israel Communist Party (ICP) and their Chinese initiatives. … Shai’s persistent sleuthing about [Israeli businessman Shaul] Eisenberg and the ICP is matched in Sino-Israeli historiography only by Yitzhak Shichor’s startling revelations about Israeli nuclear cooperation with Taiwan.
— Jonathan Goldstein, The China Quarterly, 238
China and Israel are not always considered together, but Aron Shai’s new book shows unexpected and fascinating connections between the two countries. The book highlights how the shifting geopolitics of the wider world have brought these two countries into contact in ways both friendly and more troubled. Showing prodigious research and careful and well-written analysis, Aron Shai tells a story that deserves wide attention.
— Rana Mitter, Director of the University China Centre, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China, University of Oxford
With insider knowledge of both China and Israel, Aron Shai lifts the lid on the transformation of relations between the People’s Republic and the Jewish state from estrangement to alliance. Vividly written with compelling character sketches of the Israeli adventurers, businessmen and academics who paved the way to a special relationship with Asia’s economic giant.
— Eugene Rogan, Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History, University of Oxford
Required reading for those who wish to understand the special story of China-Israel relations from aspects that have never before been expressed.
— Efraim Halevi, former Mossad Director
This book will fascinate all those interested in the complex relations between China and Israel, and in the question of how to approach China’s incredible success of the past few decades.
— Professor (Maj. Gen.-Ret.) Isaac Ben-Israel, Head of the National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and Chairman of the Israel Space Agency
This volume systematically studies the relations between Chinese and Jews, as well as China and Israel. Over the past hundred years, with their unique business skills and courageous pioneering spirit, Jews won the laurel of “World Merchants,” which aroused many Chinese scholars’ study interest in Jews, and the general public’s admiration for Jews. For the first time, the author here vividly depicts many historical figures and describes the twists and turns of the relations between Chinese and Jews and China and Israel in different historical periods, with a huge collection of historical files. The author also captures many fascinating stories, taking advantage of his close relationship with the upper class of China. I firmly believe that this is not only a book with great academic value but also a book that inspires entrepreneurial courage.
— Zhang Tiejiang, Deputy Director and Fellow, Jewish Studies Center, Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences, China

Table of Contents

Preface: My Road to China
Structure and Contents

Introduction: Jewish Communities in China
  The Kaifeng Community
  Judaism as a Popular Religion
  The Harbin Community
  Religious, Cultural, and Social Institutions
  Harbin Jews Following the Japanese Occupation
  The Baghdadi Sephardic Community in Shanghai
  Institutions of the Baghdadi Jewish Community in Shanghai
  The Russian Jewish Community in Shanghai
  The European Refugee Community in Shanghai
  Decline of the Shanghai Communities
  The Hong Kong Community
  Other Jewish Communities in China

Chapter One: 1948 to 1955—The Early Years of Trial and Error
  Mutual Recognition and Establishment of Diplomatic Relations
  Israel Recognizes the People’s Republic of China
  Initial Ties
  Burma, Russia, and India Help Initiate Contact
  The Israeli Commercial Delegation to China
  A Missed Historical Opportunity?

Chapter Two: Moshe and Ya’akov—Two Jews in China
  Moshe (Morris) Cohen
  Jacob Rosenfeld

Chapter Three: 1948 to 1956—Behind the Scenes
  Members of Leftist Israeli Parties Visit China
  Other Israeli Visits to China
  The Parliamentary Front in Israel

Chapter Four: 1955 to 1978—No Contact
  The Israel Communist Party and the Chinese Communist Party: The Great Leap Backward
  View from Afar: “Going Behind the Wall”

Chapter Five: Clandestine Contact—Shaul Eisenberg in China
  Global Business
  Business in Korea
  On the Road to Israel
  One Billion Chinese Await
  Eisenberg’s Influence on China–Israel Relations
  After Eisenberg’s Death

Chapter Six: How to Lose Money in China—The Stories of Four Israeli Companies
  Israeli Business people Try Their Luck in China
  The Case of Sano
  Not Worth Peanuts—The Case of Osem
  Lessons Learned
  A Guide to Losing Money in China: The Next Generation
  David Shield
  Kardan Israel Ltd.

Chapter Seven: 1992 to 2018: Beijing and Jerusalem—The Last Battle?
China, Israel, and Hong Kong
Patience Pays Off: Gradual Establishment of Diplomatic Relations
China–Israel Relations Since 1992
Despite All, a Relationship

Chapter Eight: China, Israel, and Other Spheres
  China, the Palestinians, and the Middle East
  China’s Relations with North Korea
  Relations between Israel and Taiwan (Nationalist China)
  China in the International Sphere
  The Future of Israel–China Relations

Chapter Nine: Me, China, and Everyone Else
  The Confucius Institute: Founding, Crises, and Return to Routine
  Signs of Conciliation
  Disseminating the Chinese Language
  More Questions, This Time from Guangzhou

Chapter Ten: Review So Far, and What’s Next?


Archives, Official Sources, and Sources without an Author
Hebrew and Chinese sources
English sources
Books and periodicals (Hebrew)
Books and periodicals (English and Chinese)