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  • 张铁江. 揭开哈尔滨犹太人历史之谜—哈尔滨犹太人社区考察研究 Jiekai Harbin Youtairen lishi zhi mi: Harbin Youtairen shequ kaocha yanjiu
  • Patrick Fuliang Shan (bio)
Zhang Tiejiang 张铁江 . 揭开哈尔滨犹太人历史之谜—哈尔滨犹太 人社区考察研究 Jiekai Harbin Youtairen lishi zhi mi: Harbin Youtairen shequ kaocha yanjiu (Revealing the Enigma of Jewish History in Harbin: A Survey of the Harbin Jewish Community). Harbin: Heilongjiang Renmin Chubanshe, 2005. 405 pp. RMB 48.00, ISBN 7–207–06317–2.

Escaping political and religious persecution in Europe, many Jews immigrated and settled in Harbin, the northeasternmost Chinese provincial capital of Heilongjiang. Most of them came from Russia, fleeing pogrom, and lived in Harbin for decades during which they played an important role in local development. However, for decades, this distinctive episode was neglected, and related academic publications have been scanty. Zhang Tiejiang’s new book has made a needed contribution to revealing Jewish life in Harbin.

This book contains two strains of material: the first is a collection of articles, twenty-four in total, of which more than half were published between 1999 and 2003; the second is a miscellany of primary documents written between 2000 and 2004. All these deal with Jewish experience in Harbin. Ninety-one halftones illustrate Jewish personages, historical relics, and recent visits by Jewish descendants. A chronological table is attached to show major events concerning Harbin Jews.

In 1894, G. Drizin, the first Jew from Russia, came to Harbin and lived there for decades and eventually died there. The construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway across Northeast China (Manchuria) in 1903 made Harbin a communication hub that attracted more Jewish immigrants. By 1910, their population reached 1,500, and one year later, 5,032. In the 1910s and the 1920s, more Jews arrived. In 1919, about 7,500 lived in the city, and the next year the figure jumped to 10,000. In the late 1920s, the total Jewish population was over 25,000, which means that Harbin begot the largest Jewish community in East Asia.

Zhang devotes the bulk of this book to Jewish elites and their stunning stories. After arrival, the Jews headed down a new path of survival and success. Told with unblinking focus, a lot of articles illustrate how the Jews gradually acquired a firm grip on the local economy. For instance, the Jews held three-eighths of all stock of the Russo-Chinese Bank. The Jews participated in managing the Chinese Eastern Railway and governing Harbin’s municipal council. Many Jews established their own companies. Their investment could be found in many industries: flour mills, distilleries, oil extraction, sugar production, tobacco, printing, timber, mining, hotels, theaters, restaurants, and international trade. Zhang particularly gives emphasis to a few Jewish entrepreneurs, including I. A. Lopato, who excelled in tobacco production; A. Kagan, who succeeded in sugar and flour mills; Roman Kalbalkin, who amassed fortune by exporting local products; S. Soskin, who was [End Page 302] crowned as “the king” for grain trade; and Levin Skidelski, who became a millionaire in timber production. All in all, Jewish influence in the local economy was more than noticeable.

By depicting famous Jewish economic success, Zhang proposes a revisionist perspective on Chinese-foreign relations. He proves that Jewish industrialists achieved because diligence and were not the tools of Russian imperialism, as was previously thought. Under Zhang’s pen, these Jews appear as hardworking entrepreneurs. It was their endeavor that turned rags into riches. For example, I. A. Lopato came to Harbin in 1904 as an ordinary immigrant. He sold tobacco on the street, from which he founded a lucrative business. Soon he started to produce cigarettes in a small workshop. Within a decade, Lopato dominated Manchuria’s tobacco market. Between 1928 and 1930, his net income reached $16 million. The Jews were the most discriminated against in their former homelands, but in Harbin they found freedom in doing business, which enabled them to tap their potential for success.

The Jews in Harbin came from various backgrounds; however, their common belief unified them into a nation. In 1903, Harbin Jews established the Jewish Religious Society, which supervised two synagogues, ran a school, published newspapers, constructed a hospital, oversaw a nursing home, organized a library, managed a dining hall for the poor, and even built a cemetery. All...