My independent research about Central European Jewish refugees in Shanghai has offered me great insight into their cultural exchanges with the Chinese community. The primary objective of my project is to investigate the Chinese people’s perception of and reactions towards Jewish refugees who arrived in Shanghai from Germany and Austria between 1938 and 1945. I also explored the influences of Jewish cultural life on Shanghai by examining contemporary German, Chinese, and English publications and artifacts preserved at the Shanghai Municipal Archive, the archives of Fudan University, and the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum.
My research has revealed that Jews and Chinese had meaningful contacts with each other since the eighth century, thus paving way for mutual support during World War II. For many Central and Eastern European Jews who suffered under Nazi Germany’s persecution, immigrating to other countries was the only way to escape from almost certain deaths in Europe. The city of Shanghai was one of the regions around the world that offered temporary shelter to Jewish refugees. From 1933 to 1950, about 20,000 Jews from Germany, Austria, Poland, and Czechoslovakia lived side by side with about 100,000 Chinese citizens in Hongkew (now Hongkou), an area smaller than one square mile. With mixed feelings of uncertainty, fear, and hope, the Jewish refugees began life in a cosmopolitan city jointly administered by the French, British, American, Japanese, and Chinese governments. During their years of stay in Shanghai, the Jews interacted with the Chinese communities, acquiring bitter and joyful memories, engaging in cultural exchanges, and transforming the Chinese society in unimaginable ways.
Working on this topic has broadened my horizon and taught me invaluable skills in historical research. As a Chinese international student majoring in German, I was able to utilize my language skills and learn about subjects that are related to my ethnic heritage. I also acquired knowledge about how historians conduct archival research. I would continue to engage in research on German history and cultural exchange in the future.