Angry ass Asian American with a camera.

Posts tagged chinese.

Gentrification and Chinatown

The most disheartening part of DC was the trip to Chinatown. We went into a shop because I was looking for some medicine (long story), and spoke with the shop keeper:
“hey, are there any grocers or stores that carry-“
“no no no… No stores. Just restaurants.”
“no stores in Chinatown any more. No Chinese. We all moved. I live in Alexandria.”

As I walked around the restaurants and past the arch, I was confronted with what DC’s Chinatown has become. American stores, signs in Chinese. Mostly white tourists snapping pics of the friendship arch, and a few faces like mine…

It made me sad to see the effect of the ‘urban pioneers’ and how it reshaped the visible face of Chinatown. It made me wonder if this is the future of Sino-American relations envisioned at the dedication of the friendship arch back in 1986- American companies with Chinese subtitles. I wonder how much this parallels other Chinatowns and other neighborhoods. Will immigrant neighborhoods convert into facades for cultural tourism around the country as gentrification spreads it’s tentacles into new neighborhoods? Is this a good or bad thing? Is this what the ‘great melting pot’ is supposed to look like?

I’m not a resident, and just recording my observations- if I’m mistaken in anything, I’m glad to hear more. Would love to hear more from others more familiar with DC’s Chinatown.

Obama to See Asian American Caucus For the First Time →


I think it’s disturbing that Obama is only meeting with the Asian Pacific Islander caucus now, several months after he began working on his re-election campaign rather than in the first few years when there could have been a stronger difference made on behalf of minorities. Frankly, the GOP has not done a very good job at reaching out to Asian Americans either. Despite the fact that APIA’s are the fastest growing minority in the United States, our voice is still relatively ignored in the immigration reform. 

This is part of why we need to organize more, get more active and raise our voices as a community. And waiting til now is total vote pandering. but then again, watch my surprise…. :-|

The Kaifeng Jews →






Late nineteenth century photo of two members of the Kaifeng Jewish community

When people think about Jewish Diaspora communities, they probably think of Fiddler on the Roof style Jewish communities, inquisitions, and lynch mobs. They forget that the Jewish Diaspora was not one singular event, and that it sent people in every direction across the globe, and not just to Europe. Many went east—there were vibrant, ancient Jewish communities across the Middle East up until the mid-twentieth century. And some went further east, to China.

There are many theories as to when and how Jews ended up in China. In my opinion, the most accurate theory is simply that some Jewish merchants followed the Silk Road as it rose to prominence in the third century CE, and ended up in China.

Two others theorize that the Chinese Jewish consists of the descendants of either those who chose not to follow Ezra back to Judah at the end of the Babylonian Exile, or of the Jews who were expelled from Roman Judea after their failed first century CE revolt against Rome (the one chronicled by Josephus in The War of the Jews). However, it is my view that the latter two theories are not mutually exclusive to the Silk Road theory.

Either way, according to the records available to historians, the first Jews arrived in China during the Han Dynasty period between 206 and 220 CE. There aren’t many records of these people—a Muslim traveler, Abu Zayyd, reported that 120,000 people of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faiths were killed in a massacre during a rebellion in Canton between 878 and 879—and it wasn’t until between 960 and 1280 that the Kaifeng Jewish community—generally know as the premiere Chinese Jewish community—was founded.

We have three primary sources from the Kaifeng Jewish community itself in the form of three inscribed tablets. The oldest of the three dates back to 1489 and commemorates the 1163 construction of the Kaifeng synagogue. It states that the Jews came to China from India during the Han dynasty period—between 200 BCE and 200 CE—and received permission from the government to settle in the central Chinese town of Kaifeng. The inscription also lists the names of 70 members of the community, and discusses the transmission of their faith all the way from Adam to Ezra.


Ink rubbings of the 1489 (left) and 1512 (right) inscriptions

The second tablet dates back to 1512, and lists the details of their daily religious practices. The third, from 1663, commemorates the rebuilding of the synagogue. Many of the inscriptions address the “boundless loyalty” of the Jewish community to the Chinese government. These inscriptions also show the development of a fascinating sort of syncretic faith in which the community attempted to reconcile Jewish beliefs with Confucian philosophy.

The first outside documentation we have of this community is from the Jesuit missionary, Matteo Ricci. In 1605, Ricci met a man in Peking named Ai Tian. Tian saw an image of Ricci’s which depicted the Virgin Mary sitting with the baby Jesus, and believed it to be an image of Rebecca sitting with either Isaac or Esau.

Tian then informed a rather surprised Ricci of the fact that there were many Jews in Kaifeng, and that they had a splendid synagogue. Ricci traveled with him to Kaifeng, and saw for himself a copy of the book known as the Pentateuch, that the people in the community practiced circumcision, and that they refused to eat pork.


1722 drawing of the interior of the Kaifeng synagogue by Jean Domenge

Ricci, of course, responded by trying to convert them all to Christianity, got all pompous at the rabbi about the messiah, and finally concluded that they were heathens. Typical.

Over the centuries, the Kaifeng Jewish community became assimilated into Chinese culture, and has lost a lot of their sense of Jewish identity. Despite this, descendants of this community are still identifiable today. During the Ming Dynasty period, seven surnames—Ai, Shi, Gao, Jin, Li, Zhang*, and Zhao—were conferred upon the Kaifeng Jews, and all of these surnames may still be used to identify members of this community today (they are basically the Chinese Jewish equivalent of the Western “Berg-man-weis-owitz-stein” surnames). Many of them refuse to eat pig products, celebrate Chanukah, and remember being told by their parents or grandparents simply that they were Jewish and would “return to their land” some day.

It is only in recent years that ties have been formed between the global Jewish community and the descendants of the Kaifeng community. In 1985, The Sino-Judaic Institute was founded in Palo Alto, California “for the purpose of promoting understanding between Chinese and Jewish peoples and to encourage and develop their cooperation in matters of mutual historic and cultural interest.” In 2009, a family of Kaifeng descendants emigrated to Israel, and their experiences have been documented by Dr. Noam Urbach in the upcoming documentary, Kaifeng, Jerusalem.


Members of the Kaifeng Jewish community today

There is a bit of controversy from both the Jewish community and the Chinese community about whether the people known as the “Kaifeng Jews” were, in fact, Jewish. In my understanding, these controversies seem to be rooted in theological definitions of what a Jew is, and in post-modern scholarship. As I personally hold that post-modernism and theology are insufficient means by which to judge ethno-religious identity, and as I am not in the business of policing identities, I don’t set any store in said controversies.

*By the beginning of the twentieth century, the Zhang clan had mostly converted to Islam.

Interesting times with the Jewish diaspora.

 This is so cool!

I hereby declare this type of discourse “goysplaining.”

“Celebrates Chanukah” is not a great marker of a Jew.  Chanukah is a relatively unimportant (i.e. it’s not even in the Mishna - it’s what’s called a Rabbinically decreed holiday, like Purim) holiday blown to unsuitably massive proportions by a world in which Christianity is the most followed religion and as such winter is a time for big holidays.  And for the record, the Kashrut isn’t all about not eating pig, and not eating pig doesn’t make you Jewish - by that logic, it also makes you Muslim, since pork is not only treyf but also haram.

The Kashrut is a good marker, saying the Shema is a good marker, Shabbes is a good marker, Pesach is a good marker, Simchat Torah is a good marker, but Chanukah kind of really doesn’t matter much and I am SICK AND TIRED of seeing it used as a Quintessential Jewish Thing when really, it is so beyond minor as holidays go.  Just because that’s what goyim understand of Judaism and have made a symbol out of doesn’t mean that it’s up there with keeping Kosher (which, full disclosure, I don’t do) or — get this — holding a Jewish self-image/identity.  Is Chanukah something that only Jews celebrate?  Yes.  Is it a major component of Judaism, as goyim paint it to be?  No.  Is this inaccuracy perpetuated because people don’t give a shit enough to actually look into our culture and be willing to learn from members of our culture about it?  Absolutely.

That said, the Sephardic Diasporas are interesting and rich and full of stuff that’s often overlooked by a world in which ~80% of the Jewish people are Ashkenazi, and this is a story that should get out.

It is usually not my policy to reblog dissenting commentaries on my posts because this is a history blog. It is based in fact; I say what I have to say and that is that. But I feel that this is something I should publicly respond to.

I am not a goy, and I am not goysplaining. I am an Ashkenazic Jewish woman, and I have been actively involved in the Jewish community for my entire life. I concentrated in Jewish Studies in college, and I will continue on with this focus in graduate school. I recently decided that I’d like to spend my career working with Jewish archival materials. Jewish history is deeply important to me because it is my history, so to speak, and all I seek in my study of Jewish history is to better understand the experiences of my people.

I’m not saying this to like ~shut you up~ with credentials or whatever; I’m saying it because it needs to be said in replying to the content of this commentary.

As for the content which was objected to, I am well aware that celebrating Chanukah is not a marker of Judaism, and I am also well aware that not eating pork isn’t a signifier of Judaism. And in the same vein, I am well aware of the fact that other faiths abstain from the ingestion of said product.

As stated in my post, the Kaifeng Jewish community became so heavily assimilated into mainstream Chinese society that a good deal of Jewish identity was lost. Their celebration of Chanukah and continued adherence to some of the dietary laws were two of the only remaining signifiers of their Jewish identity that they had left. That is a historical fact, hence its inclusion in my post.

Thank you.

I’m not going to lie, I’m fascinated and frustrated by Ashkenazic identity policing. I do identify as Jewish, and am also of Asian descent (not Kaifeng, just mixed family and complicated history). But this sort of debate over who is/can/might be Jewish always, ALWAYS carries a loudly Eurocentric perspective, to the detriment of other segments of the broader Jewish family. and it frustrates the hell out of me. There is so much diversity in the diaspora, and setting the litmus test at the experiences/interpretations/understandings/worldviews of the Ashkenazi community is problematic for me.

Also, thanks for posting this article! Still such a fascinating history.

(via gotochelm)


Replacement for Brotip 14.

1) That’s racist.

2) The rice needs to be uncooked so it can efficiently wick away moisture. Putting your wet phone in bowl of cooked, potentially also wet, saturated, steaming and/or sticky rice is a less than brilliant plan. Dry beans also work. Your phone would only smell like takeout if you couldn’t tell the difference between your dry rice and the entree you ordered. Asshat.

Stand with State Senator Yee calling out Rush →

Thanks to State Senator Leland Yee for standing up against Rush Limbaugh’s racist BS.

Above, watch Rush engage in an impressively offensive rant, offending 2 ethnic groups in 30 seconds. That, combined with the lack of outcry against it, has got to be a record.

I’ve got to say that these mocking impersonations of the Chinese (Mandarin here, but not always) language are one of my personal pet peeves. Right, I’m Japanese-American, so why does it bother me so viscerally? Well, the #alllooksame stereotype here often has the tendency to group us all together, so even I have had this sort of mocking thrown at me- and English is my first language. Besides the personal sense of attack I feel when I hear stuff like this (or Rosie’s episode), is the disrespect it shows to another group of people.

It’s alright, Rush. We get it, you’re a proud monoglot. But it’s worse when you’re a hypocritical monoglot. Over a billion people speak Mandarin. 1,000,000,000+. It has hundreds of years of history, literature, and development. It’s also one of the official languages of the UN. So it’s not unintelligible babble, as he makes it sound. I’m always baffled by the shortsightedness of some people whose own inability to speak another language is a non-issue, but in encountering another person who doesn’t speak the same language, it’s all of a sudden an affront and sign of deficiency. (It’s not just Anglo-American’s I’m leveling this at- I’ve had numerous experiences with different ethnic groups exhibiting this same form of ignorant prejudice. See stfuracists/the riot for why I consider this as prejudice and ignorance as opposed to the Anglo-American version as racist.)

Where’s Jin or others to put Rush on blast for this like he did with Rosie? To be clear, his [NSFW] response to Rosie crossed a lot of lines in a lot of ways, but I stand by my point that racist episodes like this shouldn’t go uncontested.

Maybe I’m just over sensitive. What do you think?