Judaic Center in China
US & Britain
China Judaic Studies Association
Promoting Judaic Studies in China
Regret -- Relief -- Release
(On the eve of 2nd Anniversary of the funeral of Wang Yisha,
scholar of China Judaism)
By Liang Pingan, the
Chief Secretary of Kaifeng Judaic Acade
No sooner had I returned to Kaifeng, my hometown, after my three year-
mission in Kuwait, than I visited Mr. Wang Yi-sha, the former Kaifeng Municipal
Museum Curator and then the President of Kaifeng Judaic Academy. He looked
well and happy after a new marriage. He was so excited to see me, his first
student of China Judaism and also his youngest friend an age difference
of over 30 years. All afternoon was spent talking about his new researches
on Kaifeng Judaism, the development programs and plans of the academy.
I was encouraged by his ambition and enthusiasm without knowing that his
cancer had relapsed after a interval of three years.
He just had his first book, Spring and Autumn of China Judaism, published
after waiting more than 20 years. It had taken his lifetime savings
and the aid of friends, like Professor Xu Xin of Nanjing University. He
was looking forward for additional financial help for publication of his
works. Then came Zhang Rui, a businessman from Shandong Province, declaring
that he would donate 100,000 Chinese currencies for publishing some of
Wang’s works. He had been touched by the aged scholar’s efforts on the
exploration of China Judaism liturgy. Yi-sha was excited moved by the young
man’s kindness and generosity and spent two days with him.
One month later, I was dispatched to Weihai, a small coastal city of
Shangdong Province, for further talks of cooperation with Zhang Rui, who
entertained me warmly. His personal plan was to discover business opportunities
in Israel. A fashion of Chinese businessmen then was to donate funds to
some poor scholars in order to show that they are different from the other
businessmen who only sought self interests. He said he would send Wang
Feng, his assistant, to Kaifeng for signing the document of cooperation.
Two months later, Yi-sha and Wang Feng signed the cooperation draft, with
a provision that the first 5,000 in Chinese currency would be transferred
to the publication within one month while he was in hospital. This
was never implemented, and Zhang Rui, who declared himself a student of
Wang Yi-sha, never returned to Kaifeng until Yi-sha closed his eyes forever.
Lying in the bed, he read my translation of Peony and made his comments
on the plot, sent by Wendy Abraham of Stanford. A deep regret for me is
that he only finished half of the book because of my shortage of time in
doing the continuous translation.
In April, 1996, his case was under control, and he moved from the hospital
back to his house, where his wife took good care of him during the recovery.
One day, I brought Dr. Joan G. Roland, the history professor of Pace University
and well-known scholar of the India Jewish community and Dr. Alan Roland,
her husband, to his house. He received them while in the bed, which was
against his usual ways. He had always strictly complied with traditional
ways required for Chinese scholars. This behavior showed that he had been
quite sick. They changed their plans and had a short talk. They were the
last foreign scholars he met.
In later October, 1996, one American Jewish tour arrived at Kaifeng
by Prof. Xu Xin of Nanjing University. According to the usual ways, the
local Kaifeng Travel Agency always arranged a two-hour lecture of Kaifeng
Judaism by Wang. I was the interpreter. He had been doing this for almost
20 years without any pay, though he himself needed financial help for his
publishing works. His purpose was to make more people aware of Kaifeng
Judaism. But this time, he expressed an apology for his absence to Xu Xin,
who came to see him as an old friend and who was also quite familiar with
On Nov. 20, 1996, Wang was again transferred to Kaifeng No. 1 Peoples’
Hospital because of a worse relapse. I went to see him every two or three
days. He seemed quite confident about his recovery. He checked with me
about the response from Zhang Rui, the Shandong businessman. I had to lie
that Zhang was abroad and had no way to contact him though I was assured
that had Zhang disappeared forever. And also on the hospital bed, we produced
the Kaifeng Jewish Kosher Menu based on Kaifeng Jewish legends and oral
On Dec. 1, Zhang Xingwang, one of the local Jewish descendants,
a gymnastic teacher in a high school, always earnest to help Yisha as a
volunteer, came to visit me when I was having dinner. He said Yi-sha wished
to see me as soon as possible. It seemed that something was urgent. We
went to the hospital together. The ward was full of doctors and his family
members. Everybody seemed sad. I went to the bedside and he took my hands
in his. He could say nothing any more with and his eyes were full of tears.
Though not even one word fell from his lips, I am absolutely sure what
he would tell me as the final wish. “Have my books published!” Two minutes
later, the doctors ushered me away. The idea that it might be the last
time we met, was realized by a telephone call at 6 am the next morning.
Yi-sha had succumbed to pancreatic cancer at 2 am, Dec. 2, 1996, at the
age of 75. I was entrusted to help the family to deal with matters concerning
the Kaifeng Judaic Academy. Xu Xin, Pan Guang, Gong Shaopeng and
other China Judaic scholars sent their condolences..
An the funeral, the participants included all the members of Kaifeng
Judaic Academy, his colleagues, friends, officials of different levels,
and quite a numver of the local Jewish descendants. Gao and Shi, two of
the aged men (both in their eighties) who had been bed-ridden because of
poor health, were taken to the site in wheelchairs by their sons. “I just
want to keep a last sight on Yisha. He made friends with us during the
interview. We were all impressed by his honesty and contribution to Kaifeng
Judaism Study. If there is a choice, I prefer to die to help his revival!”
they said. Mr. Wang Yi-sha, the founder and pioneer of China Kaifeng
Judaism, Kaifeng Judaic Academy, left us in such a hurry with much Regret,
Relief and Release.
He spent the last twenty years on the research of Kaifeng Judaism, with
huge collections of materials from all the cities where Chinese Jews had
been living. From the local Jewish descendants, he obtained the first-hand
resources including oral stories, legends and some antiquities. Excerpts
from thebook Spring and Autumn of Kaifeng Judaism was published with help
of many people in 1994. Five final manuscripts were still in his private
study because of a financial shortage. Most part of the primitive resource
materials were the only heritage left for his successors. Although
there are still a lot financial problems in the further publications of
his works, his young successors in the Kaifeng Judaic Academy have confidence
in the realization of his last wishes.
According Buddhist and Confucian theories, the real human world
we are living in is miserable. A man will never get released until his
death admits him to the Western Paradise. Wang lost the post of Kaifeng
Municipal Museum Curator because of his persistent study on China Judaism,
though this was denied by the local authorities. He never understood what
his guilt was until his last day. He spent all of his few savings and
pension on travelling to the cities related to Chinese Jews, with accommodation
in the cheapest inns, sleeping overnight on sofas or floors of some private
homes. Strong ambition for profession and simple life has been a doctrine
of all traditional Chinese intellectuals. Might Yisha be released forever!