A number of attempts to save the hutong in big cities from noddy-town toilet architecture developments, and to preserve something of the architectural and social history have been going on lately. One in the Shanghai suburb of Hongkou is trying to preserve the large Jewish presence that reached its height during the holocaust.
The first wave of refugees arrived in the 1920s, fleeing the Russian revolution. They settled in Harbin which was home to 20,000 refugees until the mid-1930s. There, the Chinese authorities have just restored two synagogues, a cemetery and a Jewish school and are planning the Harbin Museum for Jewish History and Culture.
“There was no other shelter open to the Jews. It was a unique situation. The Chinese not only let them in, they made them welcome,” Mr Maor said.
The next group came in the 1930s, fleeing from the Soviet invasion of Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. Israel is still grateful to the Japanese consul in Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, who disobeyed Tokyo’s instructions and issued over 2,000 visas to Jews who until 1941 used them to take the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok. From there they took a boat to Kobe, Japan, and then another to Shanghai.
Other refugees fled Germany, Austria and other countries as they came under the Nazi heel. The Chinese consul general in Vienna, Dr Feng Shan Ho, also ignored the Kuomintang’s orders and issued over 20,000 visas between 1938 and 1940.