For over twenty years Prof. Dan Ben-Canaan (丹•本-卡南 教授), the foremost scholar on Jewish life in Harbin, has called that city home. The close relationships he has forged with a broad array of Chinese government officials and educational institutions, often in collaboration with Israeli universities, has led to the establishment of key academic and cultural organizations dedicated to the research and celebration of Jewish life in Harbin.
The historical scope of his work and that of the organizations he has established, spans the arrival of the first Jewish immigrants to Harbin in the late 1800s via Siberia, who were fleeing pogroms in Russia when Harbin was just a cluster of small villages on the banks of the Songhua River, to the thriving Jewish community it became by the 1920s and 30s, replete with synagogues, Jewish newspapers, hospitals and Jewish schools in what had by then become the northeastern capital of Heilongjiang Province. His work continues well into the modern city that is Harbin today, where architectural landmarks built by the original Russian Jews who settled there over a century ago, can still be seen, and newly renovated synagogues can be visited.
In 2003, shortly after his own move to China, he founded the Sino-Israel Research and Study Center, followed in 2014 with the creation of the Harbin Jewish Culture Association. In between the establishment of those two key organizations, Prof. Ben-Canaan undertook projects which will have a lasting effect on the preservation of Jewish sites in Harbin for decades to come.
Between 2012-2014 Prof. Ben-Canaan headed the reconstruction project of the Old (Main) Synagogue, the old Jewish High School, the Teacher’s Building, and a private Jewish home on what has been called “the Jewish Block” – Tongjiang Street, in the historical Daoli District of Harbin. He has also overseen the renovation, preservation, research, mapping, and photographing of Jewish tombstones in Harbin’s Jewish cemetery at Huangshan, as well as the renovation of the New Synagogue and curation of the “History of the Harbin Jewish Community” exhibition which was held there from 2005-2008.
Most recently, Prof. Ben-Canaan was preparing an exhibition for the Jewish Museum at Eldridge Street in New York, "Harbin, China: Past/Present," which was then to travel throughout the United States. Since the museum had to close to outside visitors as a result of the outbreak of the coronavirus, it has been put on hold. The Museum described it as an exploration of "... the fascinating story of a flourishing Jewish community in a remote Chinese town at the turn of the 20th century. Shaped by industry, politics, culture, and community, Harbin is a singular place that, surprisingly, draws compelling parallels to our own American Jewish enclaves like the Lower East Side.
The exhibition unites personal stories, historic photos, and contemporary art to explore the past and present of this remarkable place. Like the Eldridge Street Synagogue, a grand synagogue stands in Harbin, China that serves as a museum and a relic of a time when it was the center of a flourishing Jewish community. And much like the Lower East Side, many of Harbin’s Jews eventually left the home they had created there."
Prof. Ben-Canaan has almost single-handedly ensured a place for the study and appreciation of Harbin’s Jewish roots within Chinese academia and the Chinese populace in Harbin at large.
Without Prof. Ben-Canaan’s scholarship, tenacity and dedication to seeing these many projects through, it is safe to say that Harbin's Jewish history may never have been brought to life for Chinese and Western scholars, nor for the new possibilities it has opened more broadly for tourism in the city of Harbin as well.
Echoes of Harbin: Reflections on Space and Time
Prof. Ben-Canaan’s upcoming book, Echoes of Harbin: Reflections on Space and Time, uses a special narrative that tailors his own Chinese autobiography with historical studies of the Jewish community of Harbin. The study presents the new “foreign” city in the perspective of its place within Manchuria, arguing that its space and time cannot be separated from those of the overall regional experience.
The book highlights the story of the Jewish community of Harbin through the daily life of its people. It includes statistical data and tables, showing Manchuria as pivotal to the birth of the Chinese nation, and offers a critical view of China’s Jewish history and the Chinese perception of the Jewish people, bringing insight into Chinese anti-Semitism, or lack thereof. It gives a comprehensive and new look to the Jewish experience in China, and to the Chinese awareness of the Jews amongst them.
Echoes of Harbin: Reflections on Space and Time, by Prof. Dan Ben-Canaan.
The Chinese version of this monumental work on the Jewish community of Harbin will be published by Heilongjiang People's Publishing House. The English version and other final publishing details will be forthcoming.
Address:(Must include both Chinese and English):
黄河路 136 号
香榭丽苑 B 座 801 室
Professor Dan Ben-Canaan
No. 136 Huanghe Lu,
Building B, Apt. 801
Nangang District, Harbin 150090
People's Republic of China
On March 6, 2015, Prof. Dan Ben-Canaan and his wife, Liang Yisha, donated one of the largest collections of research materials about the Jewish community of Harbin and Northern China to the YIVO Institute of Jewish Research.
The collection is in electronic format, and is 202 gigabytes in size. It is organized into over 2,400 directories, and contains nearly 40,000 files. Besides digital copies of paper documents and of photographs, the collection includes many film and audio files and spans the early 20th century to the 1990s. The audio materials consist primarily of interviews with former Jewish residents of Harbin and their families.
The Dan and Yisha Ben-Canaan Collection on the Jews of Harbin (Record Group 2030) is one of the largest “born digital” collections acquired by YIVO to date.
The YIVO Institute of Jewish Research. 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011. Phone: 212-246-6080 | Fax: 212-292-1892 | www.yivo.org
Dr. Dan Ben-Canaan (丹•本-卡南 教授) is Professor emeritus of research and academic writing methodologies at Heilongjiang University School of Western Studies and Northeast Forestry University School of Postgraduate Studies, as well as Senior Honorary Research Fellow at the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Studies. His research focuses on the transcultural history of Northeast China, the history of the Jews in Harbin and in China, as well as the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and Harbin.
Since making Harbin his home in 2000, he has founded The Sino-Israel Research and Study Center, in 2003, and the Harbin Jewish Culture Association, in 2014. -- the two most important entities for researching Harbin's Jewish history and strengthening relationships between the Chinese and Jewish communities.
Prof. Ben-Canaan directs an academic exchange program with Heidelberg University (Germany), and is the coordinator of the joint Cluster of Excellence research program, “Transcultural Processes in a Globalized City – Research on the History of Harbin."
Between 2012-2014, he spearheaded the reconstruction of the Old (Main) Synagogue, the old Jewish High School, the Teacher's building and a private Jewish home at what has been affectionately referred to as the “Jewish block” on Tongjiang Street in the historical Daoli District. He has also been instrumental in the renovation, preservation, research, and photographing of Jewish tombstones in the Jewish cemetery at Huangshan in Harbin.
Among his many awards are the International Lions Organization Civic Participation Award (1987), the Israel Journalists & Editors Association's Best Public Campaign Award (1989), the Best Interview Series Award for magazines on the issue of the Labor High Court (1998), Best News Programs – HLJTV China (2004), English News, Outstanding Teaching Contribution Award – Heilongjiang University, School of Western Studies, and the Outstanding Teaching Contribution Award – Heilongjiang University, Literature and Communication College.
Since 2003 he has served as the Editor-in-Chief of the English News International at the Heilongjiang Television and Radio Broadcasting Center, and continues to be a contributing columnist for the Op-Ed pages of the Chinese Global Times. He also serves as special advisor to the governments of Harbin and Heilongjiang Province.
Prof. Ben-Canaan is also the recipient of Honorary Citizen of Harbin Award (2010), and the Friend of China Award, with which he was officially presented by the Chinese Central Government in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, in 2013.
Echoes of Harbin: Reflections on Space and Time. China: Heilongjiang People's Publishing Press. (Forthcoming)
Jewish Footprints in Harbin: Concise Historical Notes. China: Heilongjiang Education Press, 2018.
Entangled Histories: The Transcultural Past of Northeast China. Switzerland:
The Jewish People and Their Place in History: The Jews of China and Harbin. Harbin: People's Municipal Press, 2009.
The Kaspe File: A Case Study of Harbin as an Intersection of Cultural and Ethnical Communities in Conflict 1932-1945. Harbin: Heilongjiang People’s Press, 2008.
A Man of Seasons; General Yohai Ben-Nun. Tel Aviv: Strategy Group – Navy
"Digging Out the Past: Quest to Uncover Jewish Harbin," Asian Jewish Life, A
Journal of Sprit, Society and Culture, Issue 9, 2009.
"A Continuing Quest for a Peaceful Resting Place in Harbin: The Relocating Process of the Harbin Jewish Cemetery to Huangshan," Mizrekh, Volume 2, 2010.
"Diary of the 20th Century - The Hebrew University of Jerusalem: From the
Beginning of the Twentieth Century to the Twenty First 1925-2000," IFHUJ,