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out against the forces of Li Tzu-ch'eng for more than six months,
the city learned that imperial forces were coming to raise the siege.
But then disaster struck. Both the imperial forces, afraid of the
rebels, and the rebels themselves, on their way to safety in the
mountains, cut through the dikes of the Yellow River. The resulting
flood devastated the whole region, including the city of Kai-feng.
It is believed that some 200,000 people perished in the waters.
The city was laid waste. The synagogue, which had stood since 1193,
was destroyed. Many of the Jewish community were drowned, with just
a remnant managing to escape to the north of the Yellow River.
In the words
of the 1663 inscription: "The members of the religion who seized
the opportunity to cross to the north bank of the River, hardly
numbered more than a couple of hundred families, and there they
wandered about, separated the one from the other. The crisis of
the calamity had hardly come to an end, before they made plans to
recover such Scriptures as might remain. Kao Hsien, a member of
the religion, and scholar of selected licentiate grade, on the order
of his father Tung-tou, entered the synagogue and recovered the
Scriptures. He went and returned several times, and by clever devising
was able to fetch out several rolls of the Scriptures of the Way,
as well as twenty-six items of miscellaneous scriptures.2
As soon as possible,
a house was rented where the salvaged scrolls could be stored and
religious services could take place.
At this point,
there came back to the city a Jew, Chao Ch'eng-chi, an officer of
the regular army who had risen to the rank of major and who had
been assigned to Kaifeng to restore order to the area after the
retreat of the waters. "He restored order, rebuilt roads and bridges,
built a surrounding wall to the synagogue, and induced the adherents
to return to the city and take up their former occupations. He contributed
generously himself.3 Through his efforts and
that of others the synagogue was rebuilt to its former glory. In
1663 an inscription was erected to commemorate the restoration of
the synagogue. Chao Ch'eng-chi would later rise to the rank of Lieutenant
flight of the rebels from Kaifeng, the war continued unabated for
another two years. The Ming dynasty was overthrown, not by the rebels
themselves, who were destroyed, but by the Manchus, allies the Ming
rulers had called in to help them.
who had escaped the flooding of Kaifeng were the indomitable Li
Kuang-fien and his son Li Luan-chieh. Li Kuang-fien left the devastated
city and settled in Nanking.
eventual fall of the Ming dynasty, Li Kuang-tien's deeds were not
forgotten by the new dynasty. Citations and awards were made in
his praise. Though not a scholar, he was awarded the licentiate
degree of the Kung-sheng grade and he was appointed to the rank
of district magistrate. Even Li Jung, his father, was not forgotten
and, for his son's achievements, he was appointed posthumously as
a Supervising Censor of a provincial circuit. Li Kuang-t'ien was
honored by a Chinese poet with the following Eulogy:
of the flowing beard Rebirth of Sui-yang, Again saves the fateful
town; Men's trusted chieftain.
Ming reign extended, through merit of velour. Who is this Gentleman?
Only a Scholar! 4
Note how Li
Kuang-fien's honorary title as a scholar becomes the essence of
his achievement in this poem.
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