The 2010 animated film “A Jewish Girl in Shanghai” (犹太女孩在上海), the first Chinese movie to take on the Holocaust, puts Chinese-Jewish ties in the spotlight through the heartrending story of a European Jewish girl who flees to Shanghai’s Jewish ghetto with her brother during World War II and finds support through her friendship with a Chinese boy.
This beautifully crafted story offers a rare glimpse of Shanghai’s Little Vienna—the neighborhood where 30,000 Jewish refugees found shelter during WWII. The story centers around the extraordinary friendship between Rina, a feisty and independent European Jewish schoolgirl and A-Gen, a courageous teenage Chinese pancake seller, who teach each other about their different worlds as Shanghai struggles under the harsh Japanese occupation.
According to an interview in Asian Jewish Life with the writer Wu Lin, the film was inspired by his Chinese graphic novel of the same name as well as stories of the Hongkou Jewish ghetto and even meeting a former refugee:
[Wu] was moved by the struggle the Jews endured during that time and saw parallels between their struggles and those of the Chinese against Japan and explains that it was a very hard time for both people in the face of fascism….
“Mutual help and support during the harsh time illustrates the harmony and friendship between the two races,” he says. “Hence I came up with the idea of writing [a graphic novel] to demonstrate this period of history which would also provide more or less positive impetus to the peace of the world.”
AJL: Your Jewish identity is an important part of your story – such as trying to explain to Cai’s parents that you don’t want to eat pork, and having a bris for your son. What was it like navigating a world where people might not always understand what being Jewish really means?
SBK: I really tried to fit in and was worried at first that Cai’s family wouldn’t accept me because I wasn’t Chinese. So I was careful not to draw more attention to my differences. For that reason, I wasn’t so open about my Judaism. In the beginning of my marriage, I only mentioned it in passing. My parents attended a lecture in Chicago by the renowned scholar Xu Xin and brought a couple copies of his Jewish encyclopedia (printed in Chinese) for Cai and his parents. I’m not sure they ever read the encyclopedia and at the time I didn’t want to make a big deal about it, so didn’t discuss it with them. Later when Jake was born, I asked Cai about having a bris for Jake and he agreed. It wasn’t easy for him, and I write about that in Good Chinese Wife.When Jake was a year old, I suddenly felt like it was important for Jake to be raised with a religion. That’s not uncommon for people who aren’t very religious growing up but then change when they have children. So I signed us up for an interfaith group run by the Jewish community in San Francisco. Cai went with Jake and me a couple of times, but then claimed he had no interest and didn’t want to continue going. I took Jake by myself until we left San Francisco. I am happy to say that Cai attended Jake’s bar mitzvah three years ago and was very proud of Jake. This fall Jake is studying in Israel and Cai will visit him there!
During the mid-1990s, Rachel DeWoskin first dazzled audiences as the unlikely star of the Chinese soap opera Foreign Babes in Beijing — an experience she captured in her 2005 memoir of the same title, exploring life and love (both onscreen and off) in a changing China. Foreign Babes in Beijing has been published in six different countries and is currently being developed as a television series for HBO.
More recently, Rachel DeWoskin has dazzled readers with her award winning fiction set in Asia and beyond, exploring themes such as sameness and difference, empathy, women’s relationships and the Jewish experience. Her 2009 debut novel Repeat After Me won a Forward Magazine Book of the Year Award. Big Girl Small, her 2011 novel, received the 2012 American Library Association’s Alex Award and was named one of the top three books of 2011 by Newsday. Rachel DeWoskin was also the 2011 recipient of a three-month M Literary Residency in Shanghai, where she completed the screenplay for American Concubine and was inspired to develop a forthcoming novel to be set in Shanghai.
While Rachel DeWoskin currently resides in Chicago, where she is a faculty member in the Creative Writing Department at the University of Chicago, she returns to China every year and considers Beijing a second home.
Asian Jewish Life sat down with Rachel DeWoskin to learn more about her ongoing relationship with China, her forthcoming novels and screenplay, and her interest in exploring Judaism — including in Asia — through her writing.
Additionally, since the entire interview didn’t make it into Asian Jewish Life, Erica gave me the go-ahead to share those unpublished excerpts with you — exclusive interview extras that you’ll only find here on Speaking of China, which cover more of Anna Sophie’s latest documentary about a gay papercut artist. So without further ado, here they are: Continue reading “Anna Sophie Loewenberg Interview + Exclusive Interview Extras Here”
Anna Sophie Loewenberg, who most of you know from Sexy Beijing, agreed to do an interview with me for Asian Jewish Life. We plan to discuss her current project — a documentary on gay themes — and anything else she’s working on with Goldmines Film. I’d also like to ask about her upcoming marriage to a man from Venezuela, as well as some questions related to being Jewish and living in China.
I know a number of you are fans of her work. So before I interview her (I plan to set something up for the following week), I thought I’d put this question to you — what would you like me to ask Anna Sophie Loewenberg?
I delayed sharing this article to first request a few minor corrections in the online version, but became so busy this month that posting it here on the blog just slipped my mind. Actually, it’s probably a lucky omission since I am currently knee-deep in helping with last-minute checks on my husband’s psychology internship applications and had NO idea what I was going to put on the blog today. (Whew!)
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