The Last Kings of Shanghai: The Rival Jewish Dynasties That Helped Create Modern China

Viking. Jun. 2020. 384p. ISBN 9780735224414. $28. HIST
Kaufman (journalism, Northwesten Univ.; A Hole in the Heart of the World) unearths a hidden history with ties to the current global market in this account of the investments of two Jewish families who form an unexpected foundation for modern-day China. Both the Kadoorie and Sassoon families fled persecution in Iraq, escaping to China. Elias Sassoon arrived in Shanghai in 1850, trading opium. Elly Kadoorie settled in Hong Kong in 1880, as a Sassoon employee but went independent investing in electric power. On the eve of World War II, the families collaborated to procure visas for refugees sheltering over 18,000 Jews in Shanghai. The 1949 founding of the Republic of China saw the assets of both families seized. By the 1960s, a new generation of Kadoories returned to Hong Kong and from their investments became billionaires. The financial and cultural legacy of these families for today’s China is significant. Kaufman succeeds in both presenting a topic with no previous in-depth coverage and analyzing the choices of another era and how they echo the ethical dilemmas of today. Included are a cast of characters, maps, and photographs.
VERDICT This bold blend of personal and political history will reward enthusiastic readers for their time.

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