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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Last modified: Thursday, February 10, 2011

American Historical Review: an unusual tale of a Baghdadi Jew in Shanghai

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Feb. 10, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Silas Aaron Hardoon was said to be the wealthiest foreigner in Shanghai when he died in 1931, with an estate valued at $150 million. But questions soon arose: Would the inheritance of the estate be subject to the laws and traditions of Britain, the Ottoman Empire or the Jewish Diaspora?

In the latest issue of the American Historical Review, Sarah Abrevaya Stein recounts the extraordinary legal disputes over Hardoon's fortune and examines what they reveal about the place of Jewish émigrés in the shifting early 20th century landscape of empire, colonialism and national sovereignty.

A Jew born in Baghdad, Hardoon grew up in India, where he acquired the status of "British protected person." He spent the last 60 years of his life in Shanghai, where he married and acquired a fortune. Iraqi relatives challenged Hardoon's will, which left his fortune to his wife. But judges of His Britannic Majesty's Supreme Court for China upheld the will on grounds that Hardoon was subject to British law.

In "Protected Persons? The Baghdadi Jewish Diaspora, the British State, and the Persistence of Empire," Stein, a professor of Sephardic Studies in the Department of History at UCLA, concludes that the concept of "protected person" proved to be as malleable as the wax effigy of Hardoon that caused a stir at his funeral -- and as malleable as the project of imperialism itself.

The American Historical Review is the official publication of the American Historical Association. Its editorial offices are at Indiana University Bloomington. Also in the February 2011 issue:

The American Historical Review is published five times a year by University of Chicago Press. More information is available at the AHR website,

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