Jewish Wayfarers in Modern China: Tragedy and Splendor focuses on the many extraordinary contacts between East and West in China during the 20th century. Through a collection of short biographies situated in the context of Chinese and Western history, it offers a panoramic view of China as experienced by many different persons of Jewish origins during their sojourn in the Middle Kingdom.
With their Western talents, skills, desires, hopes and expectations they tried to master their individual fates. There is the iconoclastic young woman journalist who enjoys breaking taboos at home in the USA. There is the swindler, the scoundrel known from novels by Mark Twain or Charles Dickens. There is the revolutionary, the man of thought and deed who thinks he knows what the Chinese need better than the Chinese themselves. There is the poetess loyal to her lost Chinese lover, the admirer of Chinese culture. There is the artist, fascinated by the exotic surroundings, portraying them with archetypes that merge East and West. There is the doctor, anxious to help. There is the archaeologist, desiring to make a name by discovering and returning with Chinese treasures. – By showing us these characters in action, working for their own ambition or survival, employing their talents and previous experience, we find a distant mirror of our own society.
One cannot return in a time machine to the past, but literature is a sort of virtual time machine, carrying us to distant periods of the past and exotic surroundings. The present book offers such a magical journey across vast reaches of space and back through time. Our impressions of visits to China have often been biased by sensationalistic journalism, Hollywood films and literary entertainment that have distorted the reality of this vast country. In the present book, we are shown the reality of life in Twentieth Century China for many Westerners through carefully-researched biographies of a wide variety of typical and less typical Western visitors to the Middle Kingdom.
Matthias Messmer was born 1967 in St. Gallen, Switzerland. He received his M.A. in Political Science, Law and Economics (St. Gallen) and Ph.D. in Social Sciences (Konstanz). His research is focused on intercultural subjects and topics related to China and Chinese culture. Dr. Messmer is also affiliated with the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) as Senior Research Fellow and his projects include cultural documentation and criticism in the form of writing and photography. He has previously published books (in German) such as Soviet and Post-Communist Antisemitism (1997) and China–West-Eastern Encounters (2007). In 2013, he authored (together with Hsin-Mei Chuang) the book China's Vanishing Worlds: Countryside, Traditions and Cultural Spaces (Cambridge: MIT Press). In 2018, he published the book China at its Limits: An Empire's Rise Beyond its Borders (Berlin: Kerber) together with Hsin-Mei Chuang.
Preface and Acknowledgments
Names and Orthography
Introduction: Individuals, Biographies and Lifeworlds
Chapter 1. The Long Established: Jewish Old China Hands
I. Descendants: Jews with Sephardi Roots
II. Russian Jews Originating from the Czarist Empire
Chapter 2. Jewish Travelers: Temporarily and Voluntarily in China
II. Couriers, Emissaries and Advisors
III. Adventurers and Lone Wolves
V. Research Travelers and Travel Authors
VII. Independents and Freelancers
Chapter 3. Refugees Driven from Europe to the Far East
Chapter 4. “Foreign Experts” and Supporters of Mao’s Revolution