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In writing

China’s century-old support for Zionism surfaces in letter

In document that is part of National Library collection, pre-communism leader Dr. Sun Yat-sen calls Zionism ‘one of the greatest movements of the present time’

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Sun Yat-sen, the father of the Chinese nation, whose letter extolling Zionism was recently discovered in 2021 at The National Library of Israel (Courtesy The National Library of Israel)
Sun Yat-sen, the father of the Chinese nation, whose letter extolling Zionism was recently discovered in 2021 at The National Library of Israel (Courtesy The National Library of Israel)

A century-old letter supporting Zionism, from pre-communism Chinese leader Dr. Sun Yat-sen, recently surfaced at the National Library of Israel.

Known as the father of the Chinese nation, Sun called Zionism “one of the greatest movements of the present time.”

Sun’s words were written in a 1920 letter he sent to N.E.B. Ezra, a prominent Shanghai Zionist publisher and author.

Sun was the first provisional president of the Republic of China, established in 1912 following the fall of the last imperial dynasty, prior to the Chinese Civil War and Communist Revolution. His support of Zionism is well-documented and the letter’s text was previously known.

The letter written in 1920 by Sun Yat-sen, father of the Chinese nation, extolling modern Zionist movement (Courtesy The National Library of Israel)

In the letter, Sun said: “All lovers of Democracy cannot help but support whole-heartedly and welcome with enthusiasm the movement to restore your wonderful and historic nation.”

The letter’s recipient, N.E.B. Ezra, was a Jewish scholar, writer, publisher and activist who lived most of his life in Shanghai and was born in Lahore (modern-day Pakistan). In addition to founding the Shanghai Zionist Association, he edited its mouthpiece, Israel’s Messenger, for decades.

Professor Gao Bei, an expert on Shanghai’s 20th-century Jewish community, said the letter is a seminal document that illuminates the Chinese Nationalist government’s early support for the Zionist cause.

Sun and other members of the Chinese leadership had warm relations with local and international Jewish communities and figures, many of them cultivated during years of exile prior to the ultimate fall of the Qing dynasty. Their support of the Zionist movement stemmed from both ideological and practical considerations.

The original signed copy was only now rediscovered, more than a century after it was written, as part of a major initiative at the National Library to review and detail millions of items in its archival collections, including personal papers, photographs, and documents from many of the 20th century’s most prominent figures.

 

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