Irene Shaland’s Lecture: In Search of a Jewish Story in China

An internationally published art and travel writer, and popular lecturer, Irene Shaland has a life-long passion for travel. Together with her husband-photographer Alex, Irene has visited over 50 countries with every trip resulting in a series of multi-format knowledge-sharing events.

As a writer, Irene remains ever attuned to the Jewish story that often seems to be an endless chain of persecutions: from century to century, from country to country. However, when she came to China, she uncovered an entirely different chapter in the Jewish history which Irene has been happily sharing with enthusiastic audiences in Cleveland, New York, and New Jersey.

An engaging speaker, Irene will take the Library audience on a unique journey through six cities in China and 2,000 years of Jewish and Chinese history.

The slide-show/lecture takes about an hour, includes a Q&A and, depending on the audience’s interests, a discussion of Jewish identity, assimilation, and acculturation. The lecture covers the following points:

 What is the Jewish Story of China? 

  • There are two different Jewish stories: The Jews in China (Beijing, Harbin, and Shanghai) and the Jews of China (the Silk Road, Kaifeng, and Luoyang)
  • To us Western Jews, Chinese stories are simultaneously very familiar and very foreign
    • Jewish history does NOT begin and end in Europe
    • It is richly Asian both in origin and in destiny
    • Jews are not Western, but global
  • Jews in China
    • Harbin, “City of Music:” Russian-Yiddish cultural enclave in the north of China
    • Jewish life in today’s Beijing: Kehillat Beijing
    • Shanghai: Rich Baghdadi Jews, poor Russian refugees, and safe heaven during the Holocaust
  • Jews of China
    • How, when, and why did the Jews arrive and settle in China?
    • The secrets of the Gobi Desert and the Silk Road: the oldest existing Jewish prayer found in Dunhuang Buddhist caves
    • The Jewish life in Kaifeng from the 11th century to the present: the stories told by stone stellaes; Mr. Jin’s family tomb; and the story of Esther, the Kaifeng Jew
    • Why did Kaifeng Jews disappear? And did they really?
    • The Dao of being Jewish: People’s historical self-understanding shapes their identity more than history; mere facts are mute
  • Jews never experienced antisemitism in China
  • Acculturation – fitting comfortably into society while retaining one’s own identity
  • Assimilation – the loss of one’s identity as a condition of acceptance

[Go to Lecture Schedule]

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