Under the pretext of “religious infiltration,” the CCP’s crackdown against religious groups has hit again the oldest community of Jews in the country.
by Wang Yichi
Since Xi Jinping took power, the repression of religion has been increasingly vigorous. Religious movements that are non-officially approved or considered to be influenced by foreign forces have been subjected to the government’s heavy crackdown. Even small religious groups like the tiny community of Kaifeng Jews are deemed as threats and thus persecuted by the CCP.
An ephemeral revival
The Kaifeng Synagogue, or what was later indicated as “the Site of Kaifeng Synagogue,” located in South Jiaojing Hutong, Shunhe district of Kaifeng city in the central province of Henan, is the last synagogue in the area. Its fascinating and complicated story has been previously told in Bitter Winter.
Judaism has witnessed a gradual revival in Kaifeng since the 1990s. A woman of Jewish descent in Kaifeng told Bitter Winter that more than 30 years ago, a young Israelite had come over to teach Hebrew and traditional etiquette to the Kaifeng Jews, who had later started to gather to attend worship services, chant the Torah in Hebrew, and circumcise their children ever since. The number of attendees ranged from 40 to more than 80. Their religious activities were tolerated at the beginning, but suppressed after 2015 by the authorities, fearing they would lead to a reawakening of the Jewish faith. Traditional Jewish festivals such as Passover and Sukkot were prohibited. All Hebrew signs were removed.
The destruction of the Site of Kaifeng Synagogue
In 2019, the regime once again targeted the Site of Kaifeng Synagogue on the ground that Judaism was not among the “Five Authorized Religions” that are controlled by the CCP. In April, personnel from the local community forced their way into the Site of Kaifeng Synagogue, and removed all Jewish signs such as signs mentioning that this was indeed the Site of Kaifeng Synagogue and flag of Israel from the doors and windows.
Instead, signs promoting the government’s attacks and repression against religion were hanging everywhere in the site. Among them there was an eye-catching sign that reads “Management of religious affairs should be in accordance with the principle of protecting the lawful and banning the unlawful, boycotting the infiltration and fighting the crime.”
The Site of Kaifeng Synagogue under surveillance
The Jewish community in Kaifeng is the most well-documented Jewish community in China, and the oldest Jewish cultural site in East Asia as well. It has always drawn the attention of the visiting tourists and scholars from Europe, which increasingly disturbed the Communist regime.
To restrict the growth of Judaism, the CCP has set up layers of obstacles to prevent international organizations and foreign visitors from having contacts with the Kaifeng Jews. In the summer of 2019, the government rented a house next to the Site of Kaifeng Synagogue and converted it into “a “Community Comprehensive Cultural Service Center.” From Monday to Sunday, personnel assigned by the government are installed there, taking turns to closely monitor the activities in the site and the movements of the passers-by. A surveillance camera was installed at the entrance to the Synagogue.
“The surveillance camera was intentionally installed out there to monitor foreigners. Basically, [the authorities are] afraid of foreign infiltration, and thus want to stop foreigners from coming here,” a resident in the neighborhood told Bitter Winter.
One day in April, several students from Henan University came to the Site of Kaifeng Synagogue. They wanted to interview some Jews for their homework of a news report. As soon as the personnel of the community office learned the news, they hurriedly rushed to the Synagogue and drove those young people out.
“In the past, many experts and professors from Israel, as well as people from all over the world, came here to have a look. And the street was always crowded with foreigners. Even the personnel from the community office led visitors here, but now coming here has become dangerous,” a woman of Jewish descent said sadly.
Historical site forced to vanish
All signs and sites connected to the history of Jews in the city are being eliminated. The woman added that there had been an old well drilled by Jews near the Site of Kaifeng Synagogue a thousand years ago, which was later listed as a “unit of special protection” by the Kaifeng Cultural Relics Bureau. In the spring of 2018, under the instruction from the government, the Kaifeng Cultural Relics Bureau dug out the stele bearing the words “Unit of Cultural Relics Protection,” and the old well was also buried and sealed in.
“I still vividly remember that the stele with a base was dug out, leaving a pit there. We used to stand there to sprinkle salt and offer prayers. But now hollies have been planted on it, and no trace remains,” she said.