Due to an 1898 Sino-Russian treaty and the goal of escaping Czarist anti-semitism, thousands of Russian Jews immigrated to the Northeastern Chinese city of Harbin. Though Harbin's proximity to Russia eased Jewish assimilation in Chinese culture, because of World Wars I and II the Jewish community more or less vanished from the region.
On March 27, 1898 China gave Russia rights to a twenty-five year lease on the Liaotung Peninsula (Chronology). The premise for this lease of land was for Russia to construct an extension of railway that would pass through Harbin and be named the South Manchurian Railroad (Chronology). To construct this railway much labor was needed, which gave Russian Jews an incentive to move to Harbin. Outside of employment opportunities, Russian Jews also came to Harbin to escape the Czarist restrictions placed on Jews living in the Russia at the time (Chronology). Czarist Russia directed several pogroms against Jews residing within its borders. With their safety and homes in question, Russian Jews immigrated in large numbers into Manchuria, where the Jewish community was able to thrive in Harbin.
During the first half of the 20th century there were almost 13,000 Jews living in Harbin, China. With 13,000 Jews it is no surprise that the Jewish community was able to construct a complete social system. The Harbin Jews constructed schools, synagogues, hotels as well as numerous shops for both Chinese and Jewish consumers. However, the social and economic systems that Harbin Jews formed changed dramatically right before, during and after World Wars II and I.
The Japanese invasion of northeast China in the 1930s resulted in a dramatic decrease of Jews living in Harbin. During the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, almost all of Harbin’s Jews fled to other countries or to two other cities in China, namely Tianjin and Shanghai. After the Japanese invasion and during World War II, there were only 200 Jewish refugees stranded in Harbin while trying to immigrate to the United States (New York Times). After 1949, most Jews emigrated to the United States, Canada, Australia or Israel, amongst other countries.
Today, there are only a few Jews left in Harbin. Despite this dramatic decrease there are still many historical remains left in the city, such as two synagogues and a major Jewish cemetery. The main Synagogue in Harbin can still be seen in Harbin’s Daoli District located on Tongjiang Street (Kenyon). Its foundations were laid on May 3, 1907 and completed in January 1909 (Kenyon). The Jewish cemetery located in Harbin is also still intact. The cemetery boasts somewhere between 500 and 700 gravestones engraved with Hebrew (Kenyon & China Daily). The remains of Jewish culture in Harbin signify that Jews were able to keep and maintain their uprooted culture without completely being affected by the notion of assimilating into Chinese culture.
Unlike Jews in the United States, I theorize the Jewish communities that lived in Harbin, China were unable to successfully assimilate to the local culture. I believe Jews of the past who lived in the United States thrived largely because the majority of the U.S. population was of Caucasian decent. Therefore since most Jews were of Caucasian decent they were able to better integrate and assimilate into American culture. Since Jews living in Harbin were noticeably different then their Chinese counterparts, they were not able to fully integrate into Chinese society.