Xiaoming, a new Chinese friend searching for her Jewish roots.

It’s no secret to blog-readers and everyone I know that I have a family tie to China in my daughter-in-law Li Xuebai, aka Amy Li Ansfield. And readers of my first novel, AFTER THE AUCTION, might recall that Lily, my “main woman,” discovered a Chinese cousin, Ruth, in Israel, while searching for the Seder plate looted by the Nazis. And I’ve already hinted that Ruth and China figure prominently in the next novel. Working title: The Lost Torah of Shanghai.

To use a cliché (which I’ve always maintained are only clichés because they’re true!), truth is stranger than fiction. I’ve recently met  a stunning young Chinese woman in San Francisco who’s seeking her Jewish roots. Of course, fiction allows one to tell the story with the blanks filled in. My new friend, Xiaoming, doesn’t have that luxury–yet. I’m hoping to help her, though.

How did we meet?

Publishing AFTER THE AUCTION has led me to speaking engagements from New York to Beijing. Two weeks ago I spoke at a meeting of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society (SFBAJGS). The audience was small, but intensely engaged and supportive (over 50% bought books!). Xiaoming had read my Tweet advertising the talk.

Xiaoming recently learned that her great-great-grandfather was Jewish.

A Shanghai native who moved to the US when she was nine years old, Xiaoming holds a responsible position in a major financial services firm based in San Francisco. Just turned 30, she’s embarked on a quest to investigate who her great-great-grandfather was, how or why he was Jewish. Family records or memories to which she has access now are vague. But she thinks her great-great-grandfather was involved with William Burke, an American Methodist missionary with significant ties to the Soong family which spawned the famous (and infamous) sisters including Mme. Sun Yat-sen, Mme. Chiang Kai-shek and Mme. H.H. Kung. Burke was so close to that family that he and his family were chaperones asked by Charlie Soong, the patriarch, to accompany young Ailing (later Mme. Kung) on her journey to the US to enter college in Georgia. Unfortunately, Burke’s wife, Addie Gordon, took ill along the way, so the family disembarked in Japan (where Addie died), and Ailing finished the trip on her own.

But that’s an aside from Xiaoming’s story.

She wonders if her great-great-grandfather’s connection to the well-connected Burke will lead to discovering that her Jewish ancestor was a well-known businessman or politician. I wonder if her great-great-grandfather was Jewish because one of his parents was married to a Jew from the Sephardic- or Russian-Jewish communities? The timing and likely life span of her great-great-grandfather probably rules out marriage to a Jew who came to China to escape the Holocaust just before World War II. OR was he perhaps a descendant of the Jews of Kaifeng, the “real” Chinese Jews propagated by Silk Road traders?

Xiaoming has begun her own blog “All of A Sudden Part Jew” (in which she’s blogged about my SFBAJGS talk, my presentation to the AJC board on our recent trip to Asia, AND about last week’s Chinese-Jewish mah jongg party here in San Francisco). As grateful as I am for her connection to me (and her promotion), I’m intrigued and delighted by her interest in and enthusiasm for learning more about Judaism and Jewish people. It’s infectious, and I hope to be able to help her trace her Jewish roots in China.

A real life mystery that relates to my next fictional mystery!

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