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Promoting Judaic Studies in China

Articles

Possible Chinese Ancestry

by Warren S. Levine

Li HuaLun / Ze'ev Aryeh ben Chai'im

Bellingham, Washington USA

Warren S. Levine is a freelance journalist whose articles have been published worldwide. The author lives in Bellingham, Washington, and may be contacted at mrwallen@qwest.net.

When my two children were born with what our pediatrician described as Mongolian Spots, neither my wife nor I knew what to think. This was quite rare among Caucasian babies, and since we knew my wifeís ancestors were Czech and Hungarian, and that my ancestors were, to the best of my knowledge, all Russian, I began to do some research.

We had ruled out African or Native American ancestry as a possibility, but when I looked back at some old pictures of my fatherís side of the family, it became obvious to me that both he and his eldest brother had some facial features around their noses and eyes that were typical of Asians, specifically Chinese.

There was not too much information available on this side of my family because, although my father is still alive, that side of my family had, for the most part, passed on before I ever had a hint that there may have been Chinese in what I thought was a 100% European Jewish background. My ancestors, as far back as my great-grandparents, emigrated to the United States between the late 1800s and the early 1900s.

In the late 1970s, I found my career in international trade and transportation, and in April of 1988 I took my first trip to Asia, spending an extremely educational ten days in Hong Kong and various parts of Taiwan.

From the first time I visited Asia, I felt strangely at home and comfortable amongst the throngs of Chinese people, although every time I have been to China, a total of nine times, and to over a dozen cities, I traveled alone. For some reason, I knew I had a strong attachment to the people and the country. Although I traveled to Asia on business, I always took care to step out of my managerial role and communicate with and learn about the people, from clerk to CEO, with whom I did business. I had an underlying but tangible sense of fraternity, of sharing something with them that originated from deep within myself.

When I started doing business with China, in the early 1980s, a colleague in Taipei gave me the Chinese name "Li HuaLun." The characters mean "Chinese ethics" or "Chinese morals." The surname Li, I've learned, is one of the seven common Jewish Chinese surnames, and could be the root of "Levine" in English, or "Lyevin" which is an approximation of the Russian pronunciation of my family name. In order to assist me in my career, and also to get closer to my Chinese roots, I began to study Mandarin Chinese.

Although a Singaporean friend had told me about an ancient Jewish community in China years ago, and I had heard somewhere else in my travels that some Jews and Chinese shared a common origin, I had no specifics Ė just a vague idea of someoneís theory. Business having been the paramount concern in my life (before I was rather ruthlessly downsized), I was more focused on the business aspects of my trips than in genealogy.

I had not thought about that part of my background in a number of years, until a couple of weeks ago, when I met a Chinese friendís classmate who had recently enrolled in a graduate program at an American university. When I mentioned in conversation that I was Jewish, she told me about the Jews of Kaifeng.

Upon returning home, I immediately set out to research this connection. In doing my research, I came across your website, and an entire new world of information was opened up to me.

I look forward to learning more about the Jews of Kaifeng, and about the existence of Jews in China; and I would very much like to encourage other Jews who think they might have Chinese ancestry, or Chinese people who believe they might be of Jewish lineage, to further explore their roots.