Jyanni Steffensen Her feet covered many cocoons...
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Hotel Shanghai

Orlando Jones began thinking of moving closer to Shanghai. Her students were writing essays on Schindler's List. She became fascinated by the story of He Fengshan. Sometime between 1939 and 1944, He Fengshan, the then Chinese Consul in Vienna issued 30,000 whole visas to Shanghai to anyone who asked for one. Needless to say most of the applicants were European Jewish people. They queued by the thousand outside the Chinese Consulate (there were no Embassies in Vienna at this time), and were often harassed by the Nazis. He Fengshan was also investigated by his own government - the Kuomintang at the time - who suspected that he was selling visas for profit. As it turned out, he was not. Few, if any, of the other consulates in Vienna were issuing visas to Jewish people. Most of the people who gained Shanghai visas used them to exit Austria, but 3,000 Jewish emigres set sail for Shanghai to join the 20,000 other Jewish people already living there. Orlando Jones did not know from where all of those Jewish residents of Shanghai had came or when. She presumed that they had also been refugees.

In 1996, He Fengshan (he was born and educated in Hunan Province) died. While sorting his personal papers, his daughter, Manali Ho, discovered the paperwork for all of those visas. During his lifetime He Fengshan had rarely spoken of his time in Vienna, and did not speak particularly about his habit of issuing visas to any and every Jewish person who requested one. This did not surprise his daughter who presumed that he did not feel it necessary to mention these acts because he was the sort of person who simply did what he though any human being would do under the circumstances. In spite of evidence to the contrary (no one else was issuing visas to Jewish refugees in Vienna at the time), he nevertheless gave away visas like confetti. Manali Ho began to research her father's life, and managed to trace many of the descendants of the original emigres from Vienna. They told her that the story about the Chinese Consul in Vienna (her father) was indeed true. Furthermore, archival film footage of the thousands of Jewish people lining the street outside the Chinese Consulate waiting to apply still existed. One could still buy fresh bagels daily in Shanghai.

The question that plagued Orlando Jones was whether the Jewish community in Shanghai spoke Chinese. She guessed that they did. There were also several functioning synagogues in Shanghai that explained the scene at the end of Hotel Shanghai when the character who is the doctor put on a hat and disappeared into a doorway during the Japanese bombing of Shanghai. The year was 1937 (she thought). In the film, the spectator next sees him conducting a service (leading a prayer) in Hebrew (prayer shawl and all). The building he entered was a synagogue. This scene startled Orlando Jones because she assumed that this character is Eurasian. Because the video that she watched was in Chinese, which she could not fully understand, she did not know if all of the other characters in the film knew that the doctor was Jewish or even if it mattered to the plot. She suspected not. The reason that this character intrigued Orlando Jones so much was that she could never decide if this actor was Oriental or Occidental - both she guessed. In the film he played a Eurasian Jew. He had a handsome face with vaguely Chinese bone structure, western eyes, grey hair and, in the film, wore those little round spectacles that were so popular in China in the 20s and 30s. Orlando Jones thought, in the circular fashion most familiar to her, of Rosalind Brodsky. Not because of the little round spectacles but because, when RB tried to time travel to rescue her grandparents from the Holocaust, the machine malfunctioned and deposited her on the film set of Schindler's List. Later she discovered that after WW11 (almost) all of the Jewish refugees had been rehabilitated in America. The last remaining member of the community died in Shanghai in 1983.