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|Wednesday, September 27, 2000, updated at 11:34(GMT+8)|
Jewish Heritage Untouched in ChinaMost of the heritage left by Jewish people half a century ago still exists in China despite conclusions from Western scholars that it was destroyed after the founding of New China in 1949.
A recent survey in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang province, shows that hundreds of buildings, which were built by Jews in the early 20th century, such as banks, residences, shops, synagogues and beadhouses have not changed in appearance.
The biggest Jewish cemetery in the Far East spreads calmly in the city. People can easily identify names and biographies inscribed on 700 tomb tablets in Hebrew, as well as Jewish hexagrams, now the symbol of Israel.
The Harbin Archives has preserved 5,000 Jewish files written in different European languages. To the disappointment of archivists, the files have not been noticed by Western scholars.
"Westerners know little about Jewish people in China, creating a vacancy for the study of Jewish history in the world," said Zhang Tiejiang, a scholar with the Heilongjiang Social Sciences Academy.
European Jews first entered China via a business route in the 11th century and many of them settled down in the former capital of Kaifeng in central China's Henan Province.
At the beginning of last century, some 60,000 Russian Jews came to northeast China to help construct railway networks.
They soon became the operators of China's first banks, shops and cinemas in Harbin, the largest Jew inhabited city in Asia at the time.
During World War II, Shanghai became an asylum for European Jews who fled Adolf Hitler's hands. The city still preserves a synagogue and some other Jewish sites. The municipal government and universities have recently set up a Jewish museum and two research societies.
Besides staying in China as permanent citizens, many Jews left the country during World War II. It was reported that a Chinese envoy to Berlin had signed dozens of thousands of visas for Jewish people.
"There was a harmonious relationship between Jews and Chinese half a century ago. After the Jews left China, the Chinese people have been voluntarily protecting their heritage. The government has this year issued an order to ban the destruction of Jewish sites as their offspring would one day visit them," said Gao Yingxiang, deputy secretary-general of the Harbin City People's Government.
The majority of Jewish people left China after World War II ended. Jews with a Chinese background and their offspring now mainly live in the Middle East, Australia, Europe and the United States. Many of them are political and financial celebrities.
In Israel, they established a "Harbin Jews Society". A number of Jewish people began visiting their parents' old residences in China in the late 1990s.
In April this year, Chinese president Jiang Zemin who was visiting Israel said that Chinese and Jews have formed friendly ties since ancient times and that China will do its best to push forward the peace process in the Middle East.
China and Israel have increased cooperation in the fields of technology, agriculture, aviation and telecommunications. Trade volume between the two countries reached 600 million U.S. dollars last year, more than 20 times that of 1992 when they established diplomatic relations.
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