German-speaking Jews and the Chinese in Wartime Shanghai: Transnational Encounters through Comics, Memoirs, Films

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: German-speaking Jews and the Chinese in Wartime Shanghai: Transnational Encounters through Comics, Memoirs, Films
Stream: Literature
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Lee Roberts, Purdue University, Fort Wayne, United States (discussant, presenter)
Joanne Miyang Cho, William Paterson University, United States (presenter)
Wenyan Gu, East China Normal University, China (presenter)


This panel is closely related to the conference theme ("Asia at the Crossroads"), since it showcases three important crossroads moments in German-Jewish and Chinese relations from 1938 until just after the Second World War. Each presentation highlights the global transfer of people via a focus on the approximately 17,000 German Jewish refugees who fled to Shanghai in an attempt to escape from Nazis persecution in Europe. The papers in this panel also communicate how these transnational encounters between German-speaking Jews and Chinese people resulted in cross-cultural entanglement.

All three papers look at Jews who arrived in Shanghai during the years 1938-1941, but they focus on different media and occasionally even offer opposing interpretations on one and the same topic. Lee M. Roberts’ paper examines renderings of the Shanghai Ghetto in comics and children’s books to offer a view of how Chinese and German-Jewish refugee families not only crossed paths but also survived side by side in Asia. Joanne Miyang Cho’s paper probes an image of China among the German-speaking Jews, which was strikingly ambivalent. Indeed, despite their everyday contact, their relationship was not close due to cultural and class barriers. In contrast, Wenyan Gu’s paper examines recent Chinese films on Shanghai Jews that point to a different narrative. This paper highlights transnational communication between the two communities through close-ups on the detailed time-space aspect of their encounter as well as the subsequent shift of perspectives.

This panel addresses the conference’s diversity requirements on various levels, since it consists of a German literature specialist, a historian from the US, and a Chinese literature specialist from China, who are all at different stages in their careers. Finally, the panel has achieved the goal of diversity in both gender and also ethnic background.