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Reviewed by:
  • Shanghai Sanctuary: Chinese and Japanese Policy toward European Jewish Refugees during World War II by Gao Bei
  • Ben-Ami Shillony (bio)
Shanghai Sanctuary: Chinese and Japanese Policy toward European Jewish Refugees during World War II. By Gao Bei. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013. ixi, 185 pages. £47.99.

The saga of the approximately 20,000 Jews from central and eastern Europe who found refuge in Japanese-occupied Shanghai during World War II is one of the fascinating stories of those years. Many books and articles have been written about it but, as the book under review demonstrates, there are always new documents to be tapped. Gao Bei has managed to discover hitherto little-known sources. They include the “Jewish Collection” of the South Manchuria Railway Company kept at the Dalian City Library, the files on “Jewish Zionism” in the archives of the Republic of China’s foreign ministry and the Academia Sinica in Taiwan, documents in the Diplomatic Record Office at Japan’s Center for Asian Historical Records, and the Maurice William Archives kept at UCLA. On the basis of these and other sources, she analyzes the policies of Nationalist China and imperial Japan toward the Jewish refugees who arrived in East Asia in the years 1937–41. She explains these policies in the context of relations with Germany, the Sino-Japanese War, World War II in Europe, and the Pacific War. This wellresearched book contributes to our knowledge of the subject. We learn from it, for instance, about the plans of Nationalist China to settle Jewish refugees in Yunnan Province and Hainan Island, and the efforts of Maurice William, the only non-Chinese and Jewish member of the Guomindang, with Albert Einstein, to find “a new home in China for German Jews” (p. 41). Yet, as China was absorbed in its war with Japan, and Western assistance to the resettlement projects failed to materialize, nothing came out of these grandiose plans.

The author’s claim that “the existing literature on this subject is scarce and essentially Eurocentric” (p. 7) contradicts the book’s bibliography, which lists Chinese and Japanese historians who have written about it.1 But the main problem of the book lies with its nationalistic message. Gao scorns the idea that the aggressive Japanese should be given any credit for saving the Jewish refugees and argues that it is rather the Chinese, the victims of Japanese aggression, who should be credited for trying to do that. Japan’s policy to save Jewish refugees, she writes, “was rooted deeply [End Page 413] in anti-Semitic prejudices” (p. 8). On the other hand, the Chinese plan to do so derived from positive feelings toward the Jews and from a wish to gain the goodwill of American Jews and obtain U.S. support for the war against Japan. In other words, the good Chinese wanted to save the Jewish refugees but could not do so, while the evil Japanese who did not intend to save the Jews actually did it. The evidence for this dichotomy is shaky. Gao points out that China supported the Balfour Declaration, but so did Japan in even stronger terms. She shows that some Japanese intellectuals expressed anti-Semitic views, but she does not mention other intellectuals, such as Uchimura Kanzō, Yoshino Sakuzō, and Yanaihara Tadao, who denounced anti-Semitism and supported Zionism. She states that the Chinese “had traditionally embraced Jews, and there was no record of persecution or discrimination against Jews in Chinese history” (p. 29), but admits the existence of anti-Semitic elements in the “Blue Shirts” society of the Guomindang (p. 19), anti-Semitic outbursts in wartime Shanghai, and an anti-Jewish demonstration there after the war (pp. 133–34).

Actually, there was no anti-Semitism in either China or Japan in premodern times, and it appeared there only in the modern period as a result of Western influence, anticommunism, and close ties with Germany. Gao admits that in the 1930s both China and Japan sought the friendship of Nazi Germany. China wanted to continue receiving military aid from Germany, but Hitler preferred an alliance with a strong Japan to one with a weak China (p. 36). Friendship with Nazi...


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