Juillet 2021

Suite aux dernières instructions de notre hôte le « Musée Art et Histoire », un retour à la normale n’est pas encore prévu tant que la situation sanitaire n’est pas stabilisée. Toutefois, le musée est actuellement accessible au public.

Au vu de cette incertitude, il n’est pas envisageable pour notre Institut IBHEC d’organiser des cours et activités. Pour ces mêmes raisons, la bibliothèque ne sera pas accessible au public actuellement.

En espérant que vous vivez le mieux possible cette période difficile et que votre santé ainsi que celle de vos proches n’a pas été affectée, nous espérons vous retrouver nombreux le plus vite possible.


The Chinese Jews – the Jews in China :  Three epoches and three places

By Xiujuan Blank


Jews came to China as early as the Tang Dynasty, around the 8th Century. The Jewish community in Kaifeng prospered during the Song Dynasty (960-1127), until the middle of the 19th Century when the old Jewish community in Kaifeng was assimilated, but today they are still descendants of them.  After the Opium War (1839-1842) between Great Britain and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), some Jewish merchants who used their British citizenship came to Hong Kong and Shanghai to do their business; the most famous of them were the Sassoon and Hardoon families.  Because of the Russian anti-Semitism and the Russian Revolution of 1917, there was an influx of Jews into Harbin at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, where they built a large Jewish community. After the invasion of the Northern part of China by Japan in 1937, some of the Harbin Jews moved to Tianjin and Shanghai.  Between 1933 and 1941, more than 25,000 Jewish refugees fled to Shanghai from Europe. After the Second World War, most of the Jewish refugees left China. A small part of them continued to stay in China until Mao took the power in China. Some of them stayed even until the Cultural Revolution in 1966 but then left as well.

The Jews in ancient China – Jews of Kaifeng

Two documents confirm that in the Tang Dynasty Jews had already come to China: In the early 20th century, an English archaeologist discovered an old Jewish business letter in Persian in Xinjiang. The paper on which this letter was written was identified as dating from 718. A French archaeologist discovered a Jewish prayer in Hebrew in Dunhuang. Both documents were identified as relics of the 8th or 9th centuries.

According to historical records, the Jewish people came to China on the Silk Road during the Song Dynasty (960-1127). The Jewish Communities existed in different cities like Hangzhou, Ningbo, Guangzhou, but the Community Kaifeng was the largest and the one that lasted for the longest period. Kaifeng was the capital of the Song Dynasty; it was very prosperous and international.  Historians believe the Jews in Kaifeng came from Persia and India, because they understood very well the Persian language, one of the Steles in the Synagogue in Kaifeng is inscribed with Hindi. It is unclear how many Jewish people exactly came to Kaifeng and when. However, there was a large group. Some historians believe there were 17 clans comprising 70 families, because their names were written on a stele dated 1489 in the synagogue (the first stele in the synagogue).

They brought the tribute for the emperor of the Song. The textiles of western cotton pleased the emperor very much, because at that time, there were mainly silk textiles in China, but no good western cotton made textiles, so the emperor allowed them to stay in Kaifeng.

After they arrived in Kaifeng, they were allowed to live there very free as Chinese people. They could keep their tradition and religious beliefs, they had same right of residence, education, employment and trade as other Chinese. The Chinese people did not know much about the Jewish religion, which they called » Yi si le ye jiao » (一賜樂業教)meaning « the religion Israel », or « Tiao jin Jiao » 挑筋教, religion of the removed tendon, because the Jews removed the tendon of animals when they prepared the food. At the same time, their religious activities increased. In 1163 the first synagogue was built in Kaifeng. In the time of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), the Mongols who ruled at the time showed great confidence towards the Jews. In 1279 the synagogue was officially rebuilt and expanded.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Jewish community in Kaifeng reached its heyday. It included more than 500 families, with a total population about 4 to 5000. The Jews social status continued to rise. Within these few hundred years, some of the Jewish people became government officials through the imperial examination, some had grown very wealthy through their businesses, some became successful artisans, doctors etc.

Discovery of the existence of Kaifeng

For many years, Kaifeng Jews were isolated from other Jewish communities around the world, who did not even know of their existence. Europeans did not even realize there was a Jewish community in China until 1605 when a young Kaifeng Jew named Ai Tian travelled to Peking and met the famous Italian missionary in China – Matteo Ricci.  Matteo Ricci noticed that his appearance was very different from the Chinese. This young man told Matteo Ricci that there was a Jewish community in Kaifeng, and a beautiful synagogue. Three years later a Chinese missionary visited the Kaifeng community and confirmed the existence of the synagogue.

The religious life of the Jewish community was permanently disrupted by war and natural disasters. Kaifeng’s first Synagogue was built in 1163, it was rebuilt and expanded a total of 12 times in its history.  It was destroyed by a flood in 1461. In 1600 a fire burned down the synagogue; it was rebuilt again. When in 1642 the Yellow river burst and flooded the city of Kaifeng, the synagogue was destroyed again. More than 5000 Jewish people at that time moved out from Kaifeng. After the flood only 1000 people came back and tried to restore normal Jewish life. They rebuilt the synagogue and restored their bible, but they never regained their previous prosperity again.  At the same time, fewer and fewer people could read Hebrew. In 1850 the last Rabbi of the community died. Nobody could take over, as the knowledge of the Rabbi ‘s practice had gradually shrunk, and the young people were no longer attracted by faith. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the synagogue was again damaged by flood in 1854. After that, some of Kaifeng’s Jews converted to Islam, and more people were assimilated through intermarriage with local people.

Another reason for the assimilation of the Jewish life was that, with the increasing isolation of China from the rest of the world in the 14th and 15th century, the connection to the other Jewish communities was broken. When the emperors closed the Silk Road to commerce, the Kaifeng Jews were isolated and lost the contact with the overseas Jewish community. At the same time, they were unconsciously becoming assimilated into the Chinese Confucian culture:  they took part in imperial examinations, used Chinese for speaking and studying, and started to intermarry with the Muslim and Han people. They absorbed the Chinese habits and tradition while their own tradition and religion slowly faded away. Pearl Buck described this very truthfully in her book „Peony “.

The names of Kaifeng Jews

Some historians believe that 17 clans consisting of 70 families came to China. For the first few generations, it appears they continued to give their children Hebrew names. First in the early Ming Dynasty, all the Kaifeng Jews accepted also Chinese names.  On the Stele of 1489 in the synagogue,  there appear 17 Chinese surnames. After the 1642  big flood,  there were only 7 surnames left. As regards the meaning of the surnames in Chinese, some followed the pronunciation from Hebrew, some the meaning,  for example the name Gao comes from Gad, the surname Li comes from Levy, Ai comes from Asher, Adam or Ezra, Shi comes from Sheba or Stone, Jin from Gold,  the surname Zhao was also much in use, because this name was the surname of the Emperor of Song.

They gave their children Hebrew names in addition to Chinese names.

Russian Jews in Harbin

Before and after the Russian Revolution 1917, because of anti-Semitism in Russia, the Russian Jews did not feel safe anymore. Some of them fled on the Siberian railway to Harbin and settled there. In 1908, there were already 8000 Russian Jews. In 1909, they finished the synagogue in Harbin. They also built different buildings, hotels, hospitals, clubs, senior homes, schools etc. Between 1918 and 1930 they founded 20 different Jewish newspapers and magazines, all in Russian. They started the first cinema, western food restaurants and hotels, had influence in the music area in Harbin. At that time, Harbin was one of the most modern cities in China, in particular because of the Jewish influence. Today there are still vestiges of Russian architechture of that time in Harbin.

Harbin was also an important part of the Zionist Movement. 3 international Zionist conferences were held there. When in 1931 the Japanese occupied Manchuria, the situation was getting worse, so some of them moved to Tianjin and Shanghai. 

The Jews in Shanghai – three waves

Before the Jews fled to Shanghai in World War II, there were already two Jewish communities in the city. One was Sephardic, originally coming from Iraq and India, and built up since the middle of the 19th century, and another one was Ashkenazy, which originally consisted of Russian Jews who set up in the city since the Russian revolution of 1917.

Therefore, we can say that in Shanghai we see altogether three waves of Jewish immigration. After the Opium War 1842 between China and Britain, Shanghai became one of the five Chinese harbours open for the foreigners. From 1845, some big Jewish families, the most famous ones being the Sassoon and Hardoon, used their English nationality to install themselves in Shanghai for their business activities.  They were not many people, but their influence in the economic area was very important. Their business areas were finance, real estate, silk, and the opium. Some of their buildings in the centre of Shanghai are still there; they are a testimony to the success of Jewish business.

Most of the Jews stayed among themselves, but Silas A. Hardoon was very different altogether: He married a Chinese woman, he liked very much the Chinese culture, he built  schools, orphan homes,  and supported the education of Chinese people. He also built many roads, so there is even a road with his name. He and his wife adopted 13 children, 9 of them were Chinese. He had a good relationship with Dr. Sun Yet-sen, who was the founder and first President of the Republic of China (founded 1911). Hardoon  gave him money to support his revolutionary activities to overthrow the Manchurian Qing Dynasty.

In 1900, the families Sassoon and Hardoon together founded the Jewish society and took contact with the Kaifeng Jewish community. They tried to help them to activate again the Jewish life there. But their efforts were to little and too late.

In the year 1930, the Sephardic community in Shanghai already counted some 700 people.

The Jews during the Second World War

 From the moment when Hitler came to power in Germany until the end of World War II in the Pacific 25,000 Jews fled from Europe to Shanghai. Because of the advantages granted to foreign concessions, the migrant Europeans without entry documents or work permits could enter the city. Shanghai was one of the very few places where Jewish refugees from Europe were allowed in.

At the beginning, the Jewish refugees could come by ship from Italy to Shanghai, but after 1940 when Italy entered the War at the side of Germany, the sea route from Italy to Shanghai was closed. From then on the Eastern European Jews used the Siberian route through Russia and Manchuria to come to Shanghai. Later some of them even went to Japan and then came from there to Shanghai. The life of the refugees was relatively good, as the Jewish organisations in Shanghai and in the USA helped them a lot.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the War in the Pacific started, and the situation got worse. In 1942, the Japanese army established the Jewish Ghetto in Hongkow, a district of Shanghai. Hongkow was an area of only 2.6 square kms. There were already a lot of Chinese people, and with more than 20,000 refugees, life was very hard. At the same time, it was impossible to get help from outside. Despite all this, the Chinese people were very kind to the Jewish refugees and tried to help them.

When World War II ended, the army of the Nationalist party, which formed the government at that time in China, took back the control of Shanghai. Shortly afterwards, the civil war began between the Chinese Nationalists and the Communists. Most of the Jewish refugees left Shanghai to go to USA, Canada and Israel, and very few of them stayed in Shanghai.

Nowadays there is the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum in the Hongkow District. It is housed in the former Ohel Moshe Synagogue, which was built in 1927.


« De Pékin à Hankou: une aventure belge en Chine »

Du 7 mai au 10 octobre 2021

Une exposition d’exception de l’un des plus grands chantiers de travaux publics du début du XXème siècle scénographiée par François Schuiten qui aura lieu à Train World, musée du train à Bruxelles.

Un ouvrage a été spécialement édité à l’occasion de cet évènement. Au travers de documents d’archives inédits, une iconographie agrémentée de dessins originaux réalisés à quatre mains par deux maîtres du 9e art, Li Kunwu (Est-Ouest 371) et François Schuiten, celui-ci vous invite à découvrir une aventure passionnante et hors normes : les aménagements titanesques, prouesses techniques, moments historiques …




L’Institut belge des hautes Etudes chinoises a été créé en 1929 à la suite d’une initiative d’origine chinoise : le gouvernement républicain de l’époque proposa d’affecter une partie d’une indemnité dite  des  « Boxers » – que la Chine devait à l’Etat belge – à des projets  éducatifs sino-belges.  D’une part, des bourses d’études furent offertes à de jeunes Chinois qui vinrent suivre des études supérieures en Belgique. D’autre part, l’indemnité chinoise a permis la fondation de l’Institut dont la mission fût de « promouvoir l’étude de la civilisation chinoise dans ses manifestations les plus diverses ».  Le siège de l’Institut fût fixé à Bruxelles au Musée Art et Histoire. La constitution d’une bibliothèque fût considérée comme le noyau du nouvel établissement scientifique.


Au cours de ses nonante années d’existence, l’Institut a développé trois formes d’activités, la bibliothèque, les activités éducatives comme les cours et les conférences, ainsi que la publication des « Mélanges Chinois et Bouddhiques ».


Le 8 août 1929, l’Institut fut fondé par Bruno Belpaire, Jules Bommer, Fernand Buckens, Jean Capart, Carl Hentze , le général Raoul Pontus, Adolphe Spruyt, Adolphe Stoclet, Marthe Van Bomberghen et Louis Van Hee.



  • 1929 – 1947    Raoul Pontus
  • 1947 – 1964    George Theunis
  • 1964 – 1972     Henri Lavachery
  • 1972 – 1978     Paul Rouffart
  • 1978 – 1984     René de Roo
  • 1984 – 1996     Henry Maertens de Noordhout
  • 1996 – 2000    Pierre Willockx
  • 2001 – 2008    Claire Kirschen
  • 2008 – 2014    Alain Dambremez
  • 2014                 Ilse Timperman
  • 2015 – 2016     Claire Kirschen
  • 2016 –               Bernard Pierre



Article de M. Philippe Paquet paru dans La Libre Belgique, le 27 février 2019.