Kaifeng: the world’s largest city in 1200 AD
Episode #7 of the course “Greatest Cities Throughout History”
Kaifeng was located along four major canals in mainland China during the Jin Dynasty (1115 to 1234), and in 1200 A.D., it had roughly one million citizens. It was sacked by Mongols at the end of the Jin Dynasty, which scattered its population, but today it is home to over 5 million residents. It was one of the Seven Ancient Capitals of China and has been known by several other names, including Bian and Qifeng.
Kaifeng was home to some interesting advances just because of its size. The government created one of the first known fire departments—Kaifeng had 2,000 soldiers that were stationed at 14 locations throughout the city to help fight fires. In addition, because of the high rate of poverty in the city, the government created public clinics, old age homes, and paupers’ graveyards. They also gave out alms to the poor.
Kaifeng is known for being the home to a unique Chinese/Jewish population—notable because most of Chinese people practiced Buddhism, Christianity, the Islamic faith, or Taoism. Jewish people likely arrived in the area in about 1127 from India or Persia, and they only brought about 1,000 people. The first synagogue was built in 1163, but it was destroyed by a flood and then restored in 1279.
It is unclear how many Jewish people live there today, but records indicate that most of the members of the Chinese Jewish community live in Shanghai. Estimates indicate that there may only be about 2,500 total Jewish people in China.
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