Not just Muslim Uighurs, Kaifeng Jews in the Henan province of China face systematic suppression from the Kaifeng authorities and denial of basic rights ahead of the upcoming Jewish festival Hanukkah, according to reports. Last year, while China blamed the US for religious intolerance during a United Nations panel on human rights, the Chinese authorities have quietly removed the remnants of a 12th-century synagogue in Kaifeng and put pictures of Chinese President Xi Jinping in the place of Kaifeng’s Jewish heritage in a local museum.
Kaifeng is situated along the southern banks of the Yellow River and lies southwest of Beijing. It has been home to Jews who have migrated to the place around the 7th or 8th century CE or even earlier. Most of the Jews from the Kaifeng community have assimilated with the Chinese community over the years because of inter-marriages with the local Chinese population with a small part of the existing Kaifeng Jews shrugged off by the Chinese as Han Chinese.
Notably, China recognizes only five religions in the country including Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam and Protestantism which are highly regulated. The Kaifeng Jews who numbered around 1000, with only 1 out of 100 practising the religion have been severely restricted. Apparently, the crackdown started one year after Xi Jinping had declared a revolutionary era for the Chinese citizens in February 2018 as per reports. Government agents have allegedly destroyed a metal Star of David from the entryway and scrapped Hebrew scriptural quotations from the walls. A well that had served as a Jewish mikveh (ritual bath) was filled up with dirt and stones with all foreign plans to organize Jewish Community support of Kaifeng cancelled.
In 2019 US Sen. Tom Cotton at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC said, “The Chinese government is spending tens of billions on facial recognition software, electronic spying, and coercive DNA collection, to create a database capable of tracking a person’s every move. This is the definition of a totalitarian system – one that exercises total control of your person, down to the very strands of your DNA.”
Last year, one man from Kaifeng under the assumed name of Amir told the Telegraph, “Every time we celebrate, we are scared,” adding, “Whatever we do, we’re always very careful to make sure the authorities don’t find out.” Another man said, “It’s government policy. China doesn’t want to recognize us as Jews,” noting “Their goal is to make sure the next generation doesn’t have any Jewish identity.”
However, then, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied such allegations in a written response to the Telegraph. As per reports, even though persecuted Jews could return to Israel, the Kaifeng Jews do not satisfy the official criteria needed under the country’s Law of Return with additional financial troubles.