China may be of even older date—Is. 49. 12, 'And these from the land of Sinim.'"
Marco Polo speaks of the Jews as sufficiently numerous in China to exercise political influence, A.D. 1286. Kaifeng Fu (fourteenth century), called by the Tartars Pien-liang, was a city six leagues in circumference. Many Jews came thither by way of Persia and Khorassan. They won the Emperor's favour by presents of cotton or cloth. In course of time the city suffered from inundations of the Yellow River, and frequent conflagrations sadly reduced its importance. The Jewish quarter, 500 feet from the river embankment, was specially prone to damage by flood.
In 1642 the city was besieged; the embankments were demolished, 100,000 people perished, and many Hebrew manuscripts were destroyed. The synagogue was successively rebuilt in 1279 and in 1489, and at the commencement of the seventeenth century and in 1653.
The site covered a space 300 to 400 feet by 150 feet. There were four courts proceeding from east to west. The synagogue proper faced west, the direction in which Jerusalem lay. The synagogue proper was a building 60 feet by 40 feet. In the centre of the building was the so-called chair of Moses. From the dome above were suspended the words in Hebrew: "Hear, Israel, the Lord our God! The Lord is one!"
The Sabbath was observed with great strictness; the food was prepared on the day preceding. Their customs were similar to those of the Rabbinitic Jews of the present, with the one exception that they regarded the New Moon as a festival. In 1723 the Chinese Government put a stop to the efforts of the missionaries on behalf of the Jews. It was only gradually that the existence of a Jewish colony in China came to the knowledge of the Jews in Europe. In 1842 Mr. James Finn, who subsequently became British Consul at Jerusalem, began to interest himself in Chinese Jews. A letter composed both in Chinese and Hebrew was sent to the Jewish community. Mr. Finn received a pathetic reply in 1870. The colony seems to have been rapidly declining, their teachers had all died, and there was no one left who could read Hebrew.
"Daily with tears in our eyes we call on the Holy name; if we could but again procure ministers, and put our house of prayer in order, our religion would have a firm support."
Out of 70 clans only 7 remained, numbering about 200