Ai T'Ien (b. c. 1545)

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AI T'IEN (b. c. 1545)

AI T'IEN (b. c. 1545), Chinese Jew through whom detailed knowledge of Chinese Jewry first reached the Western world at the beginning of the 17th century. Ai T'ien was born in *Kaifeng, Honan province, and obtained his licentiate in Chinese classics as a minor school official (chü-jên) in 1573. In 1605 he went to Peking to seek employment, which led to his eventual appointment at Yangchow. While in Peking, in June 1605, he visited the Italian Jesuit missionary, Matteo Ricci. Ai gave Ricci a detailed account of his own family and the status of the Jewish community in Kaifeng, as well as the relationship of the Jews with the local Muslims and Nestorian Christians. Ricci came to the conclusion that the community in Kaifeng were of Jewish descent and sent this information in a letter dated July 26, 1605, to the general of the Jesuit order in Rome. This was the first report to reach Europe concerning the existence of Jews in China, and a document of primary importance for Chinese Jewish history.


W.C. White, Chinese Jews (19662), pt. 1, 11, 31–37; pt. 2, 144; pt. 3, 110–2.

[Rudolf Loewenthal]