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China Judaic Studies Association 
Promoting Judaic Studies in China

Articles

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 escorted 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 Kaifeng Judaism.

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 records.
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!