This Day in Jewish History / An American Journalist Dies in China

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The Chinese grave where Ruth F. Weiss is buried.Credit: Jax Stumpes/Wikimedia Commons

On March 6, 2006, Ruth F. Weiss, an Austrian-born journalist and editor, died in her adoptive home of China, where she had moved for what she told her parents would be six months. That was in 1933. Remaining in China rather than returning to Europe, which became increasingly dangerous for a Jew in the period that followed, Weiss spent World War II in Shanghai, was a witness to the communist revolution, and became a respected “foreign adviser,” holding a number of official positions as translator and writer.

Ruth F. Weiss was born in Vienna on December 11, 1908. She studied German and English at the University of Vienna.

It was in 1929, while working on her PhD, also in Vienna, that Weiss met Timo Mar at the International Students Club. He was Chinese and had recently earned his doctorate at the London School of Economics. He played the violin, she played the piano, and after he walked her home one evening, they began a romance. He soon proposed marriage.

Weiss accepted, but, soon after, Mar returned to China to begin a diplomatic career. The plan was for Ruth to follow, after she completed her doctorate in philosophy.

Three years later, she did just that, and set off for Shanghai, where, she told her parents, she planned to work for six months as a journalist.

The reunion did not live up to expectations, and the young couple split. It was 1933, however, and for Weiss, as a Jew, returning to Austria did not seem like a good option. Instead, she decided to pursue her original plan of working as a journalist.

When news of her parents’ death, apparently in 1939, in the Holocaust, reached her, Weiss decided that China would become her permanent home.

She also took a job teaching at the Shanghai Jewish School, which the Jewish community of that trading city had established in the 19th century.

Gradually, a communist

During World War II, the Jewish population of Shanghai famously expanded, with the arrival of some 22,000 European refugees, who were given permission to settle in a ghetto there by the Japanese occupying forces. During this period, she also became friends with, and moved in the cosmopolitan social circle of, Song Qingling – the widow of Sun Yat-sen – who remained an important figure in China both before and after the revolution. Weiss gradually became a supporter of the communist movement.

During the war years, Weiss moved around the country, teaching English at the university in Chengdu, in Sichuan province, and working with Song Qingling at several pro-communist organizations she had established. During a stay in Chongqing, she became friends with Zhou Enlai, later the People’s Republic’s first premier, and his wife.

In 1938, Weiss began a relationship with a Chinese engineer, Yeh Hsuan. They married in 1943, and later moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he studied at MIT. For her part, Weiss worked in New York at the radio division of the United Nations.

After the revolution back home in China, in 1949, they agreed to return there with their two children. But after Weiss had made the journey, in 1951, Yeh Hsuan informed her that he would be staying in America.

By now, though, Weiss – who had taken on the Chinese name Wei Lushi – was well established. She was, for example, among a small group of foreign-born residents, 100 in number, who, in the mid-1950s, were given Chinese citizenship.

The same group found themselves persecuted during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, but Weiss survived.

By the 1980s, she was back in favor, being appointed a “foreign expert” in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – an advisory body that serves as something like an upper legislative house – in 1983. Two year later, Weiss published an English-language biography of the great Chinese novelist Lu Xun (1881-1936) and, in 1999, a German-language memoir of her own eventful life, “At the Edge of History: My Life in China.”

Ruth F. Weiss died in Beijing on this day in 2006, at the age of 97.

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