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Meyer, Maisie J. (1994) The Sephardi Jewish Community of Shanghai 1845-1939 and the Question of Identity. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25501/SOAS.00033901

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Abstract

From 1845 Baghdadi Jews settled in Shanghai via India and, over a century of existence, their numbers possibly never exceeded eight hundred. During this period they were exposed to great changes in their social, economic and political environment. Traditionalists believed that loyalties to the customs of their Baghdadi forebears, and occasionally even to Judaism itself, were being threatened. In this thesis the actions the Baghdadi Jews in Shanghai took to preserve their Jewish identity is examined, and changes in ethnic identity in Shanghai between 1845-1939 are analysed. Particular attention is paid to: their choice and the significance of the label 'Sephardi'; the religious and communal institutions they established in order to preserve their identity; their contribution to the economic development of the International Settlement; the reasons for their tenacious endeavours to be accepted as British subjects while remaining loyal to their religion; their reluctance to identify with the Zionist movement and their demonstration of solidarity with their co-religionists who sought refuge in Shanghai from Nazi persecution. Notwithstanding the obstacles encountered in consulting documents preserved in the Shanghai archives, this thesis draws on a wide range of primary material, notably: the Shanghai Police Department Records, Foreign, Colonial and India Office Files, the Central Zionist correspondence with Shanghai, American Joint Distribution records, and newspapers printed in China, and in India. Particular use has been made of the Israel's Messenger, the first Jewish periodical and the only Sephardi journal to be published in China. Factual information rather than the opinions of its editor, Nissim Ezra Benjamin Ezra, has been taken into account. Despite a widespread search the communal records have not come to light. Consequently emphasis has been placed on the available documentation and on interviews with people who once lived in the community. These data have been particularly useful in understanding such phenomena as value systems and modes of thought. Of course, memories fade or become coloured over time. Nevertheless, frequently there has been a consensus among informants, or information given by any particular individual has been logically consistent, so that confidence in the data would appear to be justified. It will be shown that the hopes and beliefs of the founding fathers, as expressed by David Solomon Sassoon - that the traders who left Baghdad to settle in new countries would remain true to the tenets of the Jewish religion and to the traditional observance of Baghdadi Jews in particular - were partially fulfilled. This demonstrates nevertheless the flexibility achieved by so many Jewish communities in the Diaspora, which remained faithful to their essential beliefs and values, and in so doing, assured their survival. It is hoped this addition to the considerable body of literature which documents the history of Jewish communities in the East, will promote an understanding of the economic development and social transformation of the Shanghai Sephardi community, and will also contribute to the history of foreign communities in China and Shanghai.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier): https://doi.org/10.25501/SOAS.00033901
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2020 17:23
URI: https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/33901

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