In 1605, a Chinese man named Ai Tian visited Matteo Ricci (a Jesuit priest) in Beijing, China. After several conversations, Ricci discovered that Ai Tian was a Jew and that there was a Jewish community in the city of Kaifeng, Henan Province. The Jews first arrived in Kaifeng, via the Silk Road, during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) as traders. They settled in Kaifeng, which, at that time, was the capital of China, and over the centuries they intermarried with the native Chinese inhabitants.
For hundreds of years there was a synagogue and an active Jewish community in Kaifeng. Many of the Kaifeng Jews became government officials and wealthy merchants, and were called �The Religion which Plucks out the Sinew�. Over the centuries warfare, drought, flooding, and intermarriage led to a decline in the community�s status and strength. In 1800, the last rabbi of the community died, along with most knowledge of Jewish practices.
In 1850-51 the Torah scrolls and other religious materials were purchased by Western missionaries, and sent to libraries all over the world. Due to poverty, the ancient synagogue was taken apart and the materials sold to feed members of the Jewish community. War, disease, and poverty have only led to further decline amongst the Kaifeng Jews. Several attempts were made at rescuing the community, but all met in failure. When the Communists took power in 1949, contact was lost with the community until the 1980�s. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) many Kaifeng Jews were imprisoned, and mistreated due to their Jewish identity.
Over the last one hundred and fifty years the community has been asking for help in reconnecting with their Jewish heritage and faith. However, the requests have largely gone unanswered. There are an estimated 1000-2000 Kaifeng Jews, most of whom still reside in Kaifeng.