Israel Epstein

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Israel Epstein
Chinese name
Chinese 伊斯雷尔·爱泼斯坦
Russian name
Russian Израиль Эпштейн
Romanization Izrail’ Ėpštyejn
Israel Epstein

Israel Epstein (April 20, 1915 in Warsaw, Poland – May 26, 2005 in Beijing, China, Chinese: 伊斯雷尔·爱泼斯坦. ..pinyin]]: Yīsīléi'ěr Àipōsītǎn; Russian: Израиль Эпштейн) was a Jewish Communist politician in the People's Republic of China. He was one of the few foreign-born Chinese citizens of non-Chinese origin to become a member of the Communist Party of China.

Early life and education

Israel Epstein was born on April 20, 1915 in Warsaw, which was at the time under Imperial Russian control (now the capital of Poland). His father had been imprisoned by the authorities of czarist Russia for leading a labor uprising and his mother had been exiled to Siberia. Epstein's father was sent by his company to Japan after the outbreak of the World War I; when the German Army approached Warsaw, his mother and Epstein fled and joined him in Asia. With his family experiencing anti-Jewish sentiment in several places, in 1917, Epstein came to China with his parents at the age of two and they settled in Tianjin (formerly Tientsin) in 1920.


Israel Epstein began to work in journalism at age 15, when he wrote for the Peking and Tientsin Times, an English-language newspaper based in Tianjin. He also covered the Japanese Invasion of China for the United Press and other Western news agencies. In the autumn of 1938, he joined the China Defense League, which had been established by Soong Ching-ling, Sun Yat-sen's widow, for the purpose of publicizing and enlisting international support for the Chinese cause. In 1941, he faked news about his own death as a decoy for the Japanese who were trying to arrest him. The misinformation even found its way into a short item printed in the New York Times.

After being assigned to review one of the books of Edgar Snow, Israel Epstein and Snow came to know each other personally and Snow showed him his classic work Red Star Over China before it was published.

In 1934, Epstein married Edith Bihovsky Epstein, later Ballin, from whom he was divorced in the early 1940s. In 1944, Epstein first visited Britain and afterwards went to live in the United States with his second wife Elsie Fairfax-Cholmeley for five years. During this time, he worked for Allied Labor News and published his book The Unfinished Revolution in China in 1947. His book was enthusiastically reviewed in The New York Times by the influential U.S. State Department adviser, Professor Owen Lattimore of Johns Hopkins University. In 1951 Communist defector Elizabeth Bentley testified to the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee that "Israel Epstein had been a member of the Russian secret police for many years in China."[1] Many years later, his wife, Ms. Cholmeley, would become known to a generation of Chinese language students in China and around the world as a contributor to one of the most widely used Chinese-English dictionaries published in the PRC. After Ms. Cholmeley's death in 1984, Israel Epstein married his third wife, Wan Bi.

China Today magazine

In 1951, Soong Ching-ling invited him to return to China to edit the magazine China Reconstructs, which was later renamed China Today. He remained editor-in-chief of China Today until his retirement at age 70, and then editor emeritus. During his tenure at China Today, he became a Chinese citizen in 1957 and a member of the Communist Party of China in 1964. In 1955, 1965 and 1976 Epstein visited Tibet, and based on these three visits in 1983 published the book "Tibet Transformed."[2]


During the Cultural Revolution, on charges of plotting against Zhou Enlai, he was imprisoned in 1968 in the north of Beijing in Qincheng Prison, where he was subjected to solitary confinement. In 1973, he was released. Zhou merely apologized. His privileges were restored.[3] Despite his 5 years imprisonment, he remained loyal to the ideals of Communism until his death. Israel Epstein was elected as a member of the Standing Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body, in 1983.


During his life, Israel Epstein was honored by Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and current Chinese President Hu Jintao. His funeral was held at the Babaoshan Cemetery for Revolutionaries, in Shijingshan District, Beijing on June 3, 2005 at 9:30 A.M. The ceremony was attended by many officials, among them President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao, as well as Politburo Standing Committee members Jia Qinglin and Li Changchun. After the service, his body was cremated.

Published works

  • The People's War. [An Account of the War in China to the Fall of Hankow], V. Gollancz, 1939, 384 p.
  • I Visit Yenan: Eye Witness Account of the Communist-led Liberated Areas in North-West China, People's Publishing House [Bombay], 1945, 94 pp.
  • Notes on Labor Problems in Nationalist China, Garland Pub., 1980, 159 pp.
  • My China Eye: Memoirs of a Jew and a Journalist, Long River Press, 2005, 358 pp.
  • History Should Not be Forgotten, 五洲传播出版社, 2005, 286 pp.

First published in English

  • The Unfinished Revolution in China, Little Brown and Company (1947), hardcover, 442 pp.

Published in Chinese, translated into English

  • From Opium War to Liberation, New World Press (Beijing, 1956), hardcover, 146 pp.
  • Tibet Transformed, New World Press (Beijing, 1983), trade paperback, 563 pp, ISBN 0-8351-1087-7
  • Woman in World History: Soong Ching Ling, New World Press (Beijing, 1993), hardcover, ISBN 7-80005-161-7

See also


Sources and external links