'Profound Love'

Updated: Aug 11, 2021 Women of China Print
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Song Anna [Photo provided to Women of China]

Memorabilia in the Earth, a novel for children, was written by Song Anna. The 68-year-old author and retired journalist has been committed to researching Jewish history in China, especially in the municipality of Tianjin, in North China, for nearly 20 years. The novel has been translated into 15 languages, and it has been published worldwide.

Memorabilia in the Earth, published in China in November 2018, depicts the experiences of a Jewish girl, Sara, who lived in Tianjin during World War II. This was a time when Jews living in China, and who were facing harassment and arbitrary arrest by the Japanese during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-1945), were protected by Chinese.

The synopsis of the story is: Sara's "memorabilia" is for her nanny, in Tianjin, whom she called Amah, which means "mother" in the dialects of Chinese in some regions of the country. Amah played a pivotal role in Sara's childhood, because Sara's mother died shortly after Sara was born. Amah helped hide Sara, so the little girl escaped being arrested by Japanese invaders during their search for Jews in Tianjin. One day, however, Amah left for her hometown, Yangliuqing, a suburb of Tianjin, to see her son, but then Amah disappeared.

Sara searched for Amah. Yangliuqing is famous for the production of woodblock prints, a traditional Chinese work of art. Sara used woodblock prints to distribute drawings and descriptions of her "Amah." Memories about her "Tianjin nanny" remained in her mind. Sara treasured eight hutou dalian, tiger-shaped pendent cloth-ornaments, which Amah had weaved to pray for good luck for Sara. Despite having little to go on, and no clues about Amah's whereabouts, Sara still insisted she would eventually find Amah.

Song is full of emotion when she recalls her story about Sara. "I have conducted research on Jewish culture and history in Tianjin for nearly 20 years, and I have been deeply moved," she says. Song hopes children will read the book and be impressed by the "profound love" described within its pages.

The book has been published in 15 languages in various countries, including Israel, the United States, India, Thailand and the Republic of Korea. Ji Xiurong, Vice-General-Manager of Tianjin Publishing and Media Group, says Memorabilia in the Earth expresses the "profound love and pursuit" of Chinese people, and the book reflects the spiritual value of Chinese culture.

Song Anna poses a photo with children. [Photo provided to Women of China]

Song has written several books, compiled various photo albums and produced some documentaries on Jews' experiences in Tianjin. The Jews in Tianjin, published in 2007, was a large photo album featuring Jewish life in the city. Song spent six years conducting research in libraries in Tianjin, Japan and the US, and she interviewed Jews who lived in China.

Song was once a senior journalist with Tianjin Daily. She spent most of her spare time conducting research about the Jewish community in Tianjin. "I have recorded the history of the Jewish community, hoping the world will remember the kind heart shown by the local people in Tianjin," she says.

Song compares the history of Tianjin's Jewish community to a "melody" of international humanitarianism, and to the cultural and emotional bonds between various ethnic groups.

"During World War II, the city of Tianjin embraced many Jewish people, and helped them survive. I really need to discover and record that shinning history," she says.

Different from other books and prior research, which focused more on Western culture's impact on Tianjin, Song says she wants to research how Chinese helped foreigners, including the Jews, during the war. "The kind heart of Chinese people in Tianjin has been most impressive," she says.

Song Anna poses a photo with children.[Photo provided to Women of China]

Song is pleased that her research has received widespread global support. Israel Epstein, a Poland-born journalist and author who lived and worked in China, and who passed away in 2005, was a keen supporter of Song's work. Song interviewed Epstein three times, and he wrote the preface to Song's photo album featuring Jews in Tianjin.

Teddy Kaufman, head of an association composed of Israelis who have lived in China, has also supported Song. For example, he provided her with many historical research documents. "I looked for family photos for Song to form an album, and I supported her research," Kaufman says. He also encouraged many Jewish people to send their old family photos to Song.

"I saw old glue on the back of the photos, and I believed they were from their prized family albums. They did not request any payment for those valuable photos," Song says. She believes those foreigners consider Tianjin to be their "second hometown," or their home away from home.

(Women of China English Monthly March 2021 issue)

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