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The 50 Things You Must Do in Asia

By Hanya Yanagihara - 2013-07-23T16:27:10Z

Photograph by Alamy

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Discover Shanghai's Jewish Quarter: China

You needn't be Jewish to find Dvir Bar-Gal's tour—and the history of Jews in Shanghai—mesmerizing. Although Shanghai found its footing as a commercial city in the 1500s, during the Ming dynasty, it really took off in 1842, when the British signed the Treaty of Nanjing with the Qing government, which gave them access to a number of ports around China, including Canton and Shanghai. People from all over the world came to Shanghai to make their fortune. Some of the earlier and most powerful Westerners to arrive here were the Sassoons, a family of Baghdadi Jews who eventually came to control large swaths of not only the shipping trade but the real estate business as well. More Jewish groups followed, including Russians fleeing anti-Semitism, Bolsheviks, and, in the late 1930s, refugees from the Holocaust. It was estimated that 20,000 Jewish people were living in Shanghai in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

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