元朝 Yuan Dynasty

1271-1368

[Minneapolis Institute of Arts]

[Minneapolis Institute of Arts]

 
Kublai Khan (元世祖忽必烈, 1215 – 1294),  founder of the Yuan dynasty,  was the grandson of Genghis Khan.  [Public Domain]

Kublai Khan (元世祖忽必烈, 1215 – 1294), founder of the Yuan dynasty, was the grandson of Genghis Khan. [Public Domain]

Yuan Dynasty, founded by Kublai Khan (元世祖忽必烈), was a relatively friendly time for the Kaifeng Jews. No different from anywhere else in the Mongolian Empire, Kaifeng inhabitants were granted full freedom of religion.

The Mongolians removed the caste system which gave thhe ethnic Han Chinese a decisive advantage in society and impleted their own legislation which would undermine the Han Chinese. Indeed, the new Mongolian caste system divided the population into four ranks:

      I.        Mongolians (蒙古人)

    II.        Semu (色目人) – Descendants of people from Central and West Asia

  III.        Northern Han Chinese (汉人)  – People from the Great Jin Dynasty

  IV.        Southern Han Chinese (南人) – People from the Southern Song Dynasty

With higher nose bridges and lighter hair and eye colour, the Jews of Kaifeng were quite visibly non-Han Chinese and therefore placed into the Semu class, second only to the ruling Mongolians themselves. 

The Mongols distrusted the Han. They ended the civil service examination system that has been used in China for centuries to select government officials. And, in its stead, placed non-Han Chinese, including Jews, into strategic positions in government. The Jews, fluent in Chinese language and familiar with both western and Chinese culture, helped the ruling Mongols in running the country.

However, in 1280 the Mongols banned all Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughters because the Yuan Emperor decided that if pork was good enough for him it should be good enough for any of his subjects.