Within this historical context, Kaufman focuses on family history and portrays some of the more interesting women, such as Rachel Sassoon Beer, owner and editor of two major British newspapers. He does not shy away from less savory endeavors; for example, the Sassoons sold opium. Especially compelling is Kaufman’s at assimilation and how, despite their wealth and power, both families struggled to overcome the anti-Semitism of the British elite to gain true acceptance. A fascinating look at two powerful dynasties as well as a sharp lens through which to view Shanghai’s ups and downs.
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 ... This bold blend of personal and political history will reward enthusiastic readers for their time.
If the author had dug a little deeper, he might have exposed the falsehoods that the Communist Party succeeded in turning into conventional wisdom ... Few histories have been written about the Sassoons and Kadoories in part because the families didn’t welcome the attention. But the Kadoories in 2007 created a library in Hong Kong for the family papers. The Hebrew University in Jerusalem has catalogued, but not translated, some 7,000 Sassoon letters written in Judeo-Arabic. Mr. Kaufman took advantage of these developments and visited an impressive roster of other archives to uncover some new details ... However, the book fails to put the story of old Shanghai and its Jewish tycoons into a fresh context that would make it compelling to most readers. It repeats clichés instead of reappraising the views of past observers. The definitive book on these families remains to be written.
At a time when the US (and the West in general) is re-evaluating commercial and business ties with China, to an extent where they are under threat, it is useful to look back to a previous era when Western-style business took hold in at least two concentrated areas in China to the extent that it affected economic and social development ... Kaufman includes some fascinating side stories ... This is one book that perhaps should have been a bit longer than it is. Kaufmann writes in detail about the various buildings the Sasoons and Kadoories commissioned and names the hotels. One could use this book to tour Shanghai and Hong Kong buildings; there are many in the book that still remain. Yet Kaufman never mentions the names of the synagogues in Shanghai—one of which was built by the Sassoons—when they appear in the book. The only synagogue named is Ohel Leah in Hong Kong, but he does not connect it to the Sassoon family, who had it built in 1901-02. For a book about prominent Jewish families in Shanghai and Hong Kong, it’s a curious omission.
From the book’s Introduction, it is clear that the reader is in sure, seasoned hands ... Kaufman doesn’t disguise, excuse, or sugarcoat the way the Sassoons made their first Chinese fortune ... Understandably, and unavoidably, the narrative loses some momentum after the 1949 Communist victory, in which the Sassoons lost an estimated half a billion dollars in seized assets.
The author digs deep to unearth their personal histories, creating an absorbing multigenerational saga ... Both families’ fortunes were decimated with the Communist takeover, and while their wealth overshadowed the enormous poverty of the Chinese, Kaufman argues persuasively that their entrepreneurial drive built a lasting capitalist legacy in the country. While acknowledging the official Chinese version of history, the author does a service by examining 'other truths' as well ... An engaging addition to Chinese history that offers many insights for general readers.
... eloquent and well-sourced ... Kaufman writes with style and strikes a careful balance between holding the families accountable for their 'colonial assumptions' and celebrating their accomplishments. This richly detailed account illuminates an underexamined overlap between modern Jewish and Chinese history.