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Kimberly Cheng

Close Encounters: Shanghai´s German Jewish Refugees and Chinese, 1937 - 1948


New York University, Graduate School of Arts and Science, New York, NY

August 2015 – Present, Ph.D. Candidate

Joint Ph.D. Program in Hebrew and Judaic Studies & History

Major Field: Modern Jewish History; Minor Field: Modern Chinese History

Advisors: Marion Kaplan, Rebecca Karl

Dissertation: “Between Empires: Central European Jewish Refugees and Chinese Residents in Wartime Shanghai, 1937-1948”


University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education, Philadelphia, PA

June 2013 – May 2015, M.S.Ed. (May 2015)

Penn Boarding School Teaching Residency Master’s Program

Master’s Thesis: “Community Building in the Classroom”


Cornell University, College of Arts and Sciences, Ithaca, NY                                                 

August 2009 – May 2013, A.B., magna cum laude, with distinction in all subjects (May 2013)

Majors:  History and the College Scholar Program in Diaspora Studies

Minors:  German Studies and Jewish Studies

College Scholar Honors Thesis: “The ‘Lost’ Jews of Kaifeng”


Close Encounters: Shanghai´s German Jewish Refugees and Chinese, 1937 – 1948

During World War II, approximately 18,000-20,000 Central European Jewish refugees fled Nazi-occupied Europe for China. While scholarship on this historical moment has centered around questions of state policy and global aid, Cheng’s dissertation focuses on Jewish refugee life on the ground in the multi-ethnic, wartime city of Shanghai. Combining Chinese, English, German, and Hebrew sources, her project examines the range of and limitations to sites of encounter between Jewish refugees and their Chinese neighbors in daily life and public discourse. In specific, she explores the impact that the entangled web of relations between the Jewish refugees, Chinese, Japanese, Europeans, and Americans in the city had on Sino-Jewish relationships. Although Jewish refugees came to Shanghai as destitute refugees, their appearance and background afforded them more common ground at times with the city’s other white contingents, who had colonized the city since the end of the Opium Wars a century ago. Forced to carve out places for themselves within the network of overlapping colonial spheres in China, Jewish refugees found themselves neither colonizers, nor the colonized locals within this system. A third party of sorts, Jewish refugees, nonetheless, adapted to and at times, even prospered from foreign intervention in China at the expense of the city’s Chinese population. With this framework, Cheng’s dissertation ultimately sheds light on Holocaust refugee life in colonial or quasi-colonial spaces, refugees’ shifting notions of home and belonging, and the construction of foreignness, race, and anti-semitism in Shanghai more broadly. In doing so, her dissertation seeks overall to establish a link between Modern Jewish and East Asian historiography that expands the geography of the Holocaust and its effects.