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.”
While doing some research for a recent article about Rachel DeWoskin’s new book “Someday We Will Fly”, which highlights Shanghai’s Jewish settlement during World War II and Japanese occupation, I discovered there was also a musical drama set in the same era called “Shalom Shanghai“ (苏州河北 in Chinese). It centers on a love story between a Jewish woman and a Chinese soldier, and the complications they faced in the tumultuous times. Here’s the short description a few years back from China Daily:
A Chinese Casablanca, a difficult moral dilemma. 1943, in a Cafe run by a Jewish father and his daughter, came Jewish refugees escaping the Holocaust, Japanese officers in love with western food and beauty, and underground Chinese fighters getting medicine for their comrades. Suzuki pursued Shana, who couldn’t afford to offend him but had in her heart only Song Yao, a Chinese resistance fighter. She had to decide whether to follow her heart or sacrifice herself to save her father. Song Yao was drawn to Shana, but he had a mission he could never overlook. And there was also Ying, a childhood friend and comrade… The story unfolds in English and Chinese, integrating popular Jewish, Hollywood and Chinese melodies from the period.
The only other English-language article I uncovered about this drama appeared in Shanghai Daily, with the title ‘Shalom’ delves into romance during chaotic era. Here’s an excerpt:
Based on a script written by William Sun, a professor with the Shanghai Theater Academy, the bilingual show portrays a love story between Jewish girl Shana and a Chinese soldier. Things become more complicated when a Japanese officer also courts Shana.
Sun says the drama’s scenes are set in a Jewish-run cafe along Suzhou Creek. It explores the intersection of Jewish refugees, Japanese officials and Chinese people co-existing in Shanghai during World War II. It also depicts the life and friendship between local people and the Jewish community during a turbulent period of history, despite differences in language and culture.
Of all the memoirs by Western women who loved Asian men (and wrote about it), The House on Dream Street by Dana Sachs remains one of my favorites. The writing is exquisite, but more importantly she shares her own vulnerabilities on the page and becomes one of the most delightful narrators I’ve ever encountered.
So imagine my excitement when I discovered that Dana came out with a new novel this year called The Secret of the Nightingale Palace featuring not one, but two stories about Asian men and white women falling in love. The romance at the heart of this novel — which relates to its intriguing title — just stole my heart away. Plus, the book explores a side of World War II that we all too often forget — the US internment of Japanese Americans.
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!)
I had only met Arnold a few times, but I felt he was as familiar as the soy cafe au lait I held in my hands. He and I bonded over China one evening at the gym, and pretty soon we went from lifting weights to lifting coffee cups over at the Starbucks just down the street from me. I liked Arnold because he was this huge espresso shot of an African-American, the kind of guy who wasn’t afraid to say — or ask — anything.
“Are you Jewish?” he asked me, after I sat down.
“No, I’m not, actually. I was raised Catholic. Why do you ask?”
“Because you have a Chinese husband. You usually see Jewish women married to Chinese men.”
“Really? How would you know?”
I was so stunned, I still I can’t remember what he said. Maybe it was because he had lived in this city (which I like to think of as Jewish as Woody Allen) his whole life. Or maybe he heard it growing up.
But later, when I left Starbucks, I wondered if I really was out of the mainstream, as a shiksa with a Chinese husband, Was it true? Were Jewish women more likely to marry Chinese men?
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.