"You've been living in China for more than 30 years," visitors would tell lawyer-translator Sidney Shapiro, "and you're Jewish, so you must know all about the Chinese Jews. What's their story?"
Shapiro didn't know, but he decided to find out. He dug up all the material on the subject that he could find--it wasn't much--and persuaded a number of noted Chinese scholars to contribute their own articles. Then he translated, condensed, edited and commented upon all of that; unfortunately, he did not tie the material together. Much of the information appears over and over, and on many points, there is disagreement among the scholars. So what else is new?
This is a post-mortem exercise. Today, the Jewish community in China is nonexistent. In the 1980s, all of China showed only 140 "former" Jewish families, including a Buddhist monk. And though Jewish communities did exist in a number of other Chinese cities, including Beijing, this book deals almost exclusively with the Jews of Kaifeng, for several hundred years the capital of China and its most important center of commerce.
The scholars disagree on when Jews first came to China, but most evidence seems to point to about 200 BC. Marco Polo mentions having seen Jews there, and we know that the Kaifeng synagogue was built in the 12th Century. There is less argument on the routes these Jews took to get to China. A 1487 reference to Jews having brought "bales of cotton cloth as tribute" points to sea commerce. Others came via the great silk route via Persia or India.