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.
It’s April 30, 1945, a little over a week before unconditional surrender by Germany and the declaration of Victory Europe Day, ending World War II in Europe. Qiu Fazu, a German-educated Chinese surgeon, is the attending physician at a hospital in the Bavarian region of southern Germany. Suddenly, a nurse calls him to come out to the street in front of the hospital, where Qiu Fazu discovers a group of Jewish prisoners from a concentration camp, guarded by the SS. A death march. Here’s an account from The BMJ:
…Qiu remembered clearly that he was getting ready to operate when a nurse shouted that there were many prisoners from a concentration camp lying outside. He ran out of his room with his operation cap on, as he had already learnt what happened in the camp. More than 40 ragged prisoners were squatting down on the ground in the corner of a street. Sick and weak, they could not move any further. The SS troops standing there shouted at them and ordered them to stand up.
“I was shocked that they were not able to move any further,” Qiu recalled. He summoned up his courage and told the troops, “These prisoners have typhoid fever. Let me take them away.” The prisoners were released, and the doctors led them to the basement, saving their lives with careful nursing.
One of the supporting nurses, a German student named Loni, would become more to Qiu Fazu than just a colleague at the hospital. The two married soon after the war ended and moved to China in 1946, as he missed his homeland. They would have three children together, surviving the hardships of that tumultuous era known as the Cultural Revolution. The BMJ notes, “Qiu had to clean toilets—‘and this was the only time they were really clean,’ he used to joke. The family had to grow its own food, and he was sent into faraway rural areas to provide medical care for peasants.”
Nevertheless, Qiu Fazu rose to prominence in China, pioneering modern organ transplants in China and authoring a classic textbook on surgery still used in the country. Some have dubbed Qiu, who was a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences from 1975 to 1983, “the father of modern surgery”.
Let’s remember Chinese surgeon Qiu Fazu and his German wife Loni, a couple who once helped save precious lives during World War II.
When you’re raising biracial and bicultural kids, you’re bound to have some interesting conversations with them about identity. That’s the case for Susan Chan, author of The Reluctant Brides of Lily Court Lane, who recalls an incident with her daughter, after the little girl told another child about her background. Her daughter said, “Well, I told him, ‘I’m American, I’m Jewish and I’m Chinese. But he kept saying you can’t be three things.”
Read on to find out what happened – and thanks so much to Susan for sharing!
April is an iffy day in New York City-blustery one day and spring-like the next. The morning of April 29, 1989 dawned clear and bright for the Chan family. We were all dressed hours before we needed to be, each of us sporting a touch of red-a lucky Chinese color. Leah had gotten up early every morning for months to practice her speech and now she was prepared and eager to start.
Arriving early at the Temple for Leah’s Bat Mitzvah, we greeted each person as they arrived. It was a serious moment and as her mom, I held my breath, waiting for her to begin. Seated next to her Chinese father, and her younger brother, I held back my tears of pride. We watched her carry out her part in the religious ceremony and then it came time for her personal speech.
I watched my child, now blossoming into a young lady, speak seriously of becoming an adult, as she gave recognition to her cultural and religious background. The years melted away and I recalled an incident that had happened when Leah was a child, probably four or five. She was approached by a little boy in the playground. I had to hide my smile later when she told me their conversation.
She’d said in a very serious tone, “Mommy, he’s so stupid.”
“Leah, you know we don’t use that word.”
“Well, he was.”
“Maybe he just doesn’t know any better,” I said, wondering if I’d need to have a talk with his mother. What had he said to make my child angry?
“He asked me, ‘What are you?’”
“And what did you say?”
“I didn’t know what he meant.”
“Uh huh,” I answered in an encouraging tone.
“He asked me again, and he said, ‘I’m Italian-American and you can be two things.’”
“Oh, so he thinks people can only be two things because that’s what he is.” I realized he was referring to the idea popular then of a hyphenated American.
“Well, I told him, ‘I’m American, I’m Jewish and I’m Chinese. But he kept saying you can’t be three things.”
I knew that Leah wouldn’t let him get away with that.
“Oh, yes, I can,” Leah told me she’d said to him. “I go to American school during the week, Chinese school on Saturday, and Hebrew school on Sunday. Mommy, then he ran away. If I can’t call him stupid, what can I call him?”
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.