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Sephardi Jews in Shanghai

Time:2015-07-04 19:07 Source:未知 Writer:cjss read:

Sephardi Jews in Shanghai

Jewish Horse Racing in Shanghai
[The following is excerpted from From the Rivers of Babylon to the Whangpoo: A Century of Sephardi Jewish Life in Shanghai, by Dr. Maisie J. Meyer, with the author's permission.]

Baghdadi Jews were fond of gambling.  Much adult social life centered around card games and mahjong.  Backgammon, on which they had been nurtured, remained popular with the older generation.  Horse racing was a suitable venue in which prominent Sephardi families were able to display their wealth and compete for prestige.  The racecourse, a typical and fundamentally British institution, was the hallmark of the British colonial system and an integral part of Treaty-port culture.

Several Sephardim, notably Marcus Aaron Sopher (1883-1908), were enthusiastic members of the Race Club.  As a tribute to him its flag was lowered to half-mast on the day of his death in September 1908.  "The doyen of racing men in the Far East," the exchange and bullion broker Raymond Toeg, dubbed "Sir John" by his club friends, was a member of the Shanghai Club, the Hong Kong Jockey Club, and Qingdao Race Club.

Wealthy Baghdadi Jews, who could afford to pay handsomely for better-bred horses, raised the standard of the sport in Shanghai.  Sir Ellis Kadoorie was a prominent figure at Hong Kong and Shanghai race meetings.  He was the owner of the famous "Chief" stables and his mounts had many victories to their credit.  Sir Victor Sassoon reputedly claimed that the Epsom Derby (England) which he won four times, was the only race greater than the "Jewish race."  His uncle David Elias Sassoon (Nunky) (1866-1938), a fine horseman, maintained the "Morn," a large racing stable in Shanghai, and his horses, among them Hero, won many famous races.  Sir Victor and the Ezra brothers, Cecil and Denzil (grandsons of Isaac Ezra), were prominent racehorse owners.

The life of the early settlers would have been dreary indeed were it not for the various social and sporting clubs in the foreign enclave.  Preeminent among them was the Shanghai Club, established in 1864, which practically became "The Exchange of Shanghai," where merchants transacted many important business deals "within its spacious hall or bar," between noon and one o'clock.  Wealthy Sephardim who were British subjects were not barred from British clubs in Shanghai, as they were in India.  Indeed, in this class-ridden society, wealth and social prominence were probably the major criteria for acceptance.  This may explain why Silas Hardoon was a member of the elite Shanghai Club despite his flagrant disregard of British social values.


Dr. Maisie Meyer has lectured wdely on Baghdadi Jews in the eastern Diaspora and earned her PhD from the London School of Economics in 1994. Her first book, From the Rivers of Babylon to the Whangpoo: A Century of Sephardi Jewish Life in Shanghai, was published in 2003.  Book reviews have considered it a definitive history of the Baghdadi Jewish merchants who settled in Shanghai in the mid-19th century. Her second book, Shanghai's Baghdadi Jews:  A Collection of Biographical Reflections, a compilation of twenty-six biographical accounts, documents the larger-than-life personalities who witnessed the Sino-Japanese War, the Occupation of Shanghai and the Communists' rise to power.  Contact:

David Sassoon (1792-1874), leader of the Bombay Jewish community after Baghdadi Jews emigrated there, was a leading trader of cotton and opium in China. He sent his son Elias David Sassoon to Canton, where he was the first Jewish trader (with 24 Parsi rivals). In 1845 David Sassoon & Sons opened a branch on the Bund to cash in on the opium trade in what would soon become Shanghai's British concession.