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The existence of Jews in China was unknown to Europeans until 1605, when Matteo Ricci, then established in Beijing, was visited by a Jew from Kaifeng, who had come to Beijing to take examinations for his jinshi degree. According to his account in De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas, his visitor, named Ai Tian (Ai T'ien) (艾田) explained that he worshipped one God. It is recorded that when he saw a Christian image of Mary with Jesus, he believed it to be a picture of Rebecca with Esau or Jacob. Ai said that many other Jews resided in Kaifeng; they had a splendid synagogue (礼拜寺 libai si) and possessed a great number of written materials and books.
About three years after Ai's visit, Ricci sent a Chinese Jesuit Lay Brother to visit Kaifeng; he copied the beginnings and ends of the holy books kept in the synagogue, which allowed Ricci to verify that they indeed were the same texts as the Pentateuch known to Europeans, except that they did not use Hebrew diacritics (which were a comparatively late invention).
During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), a Ming emperor conferred seven surnames upon the Jews, by which they are identifiable today: Ai, Shi, Gao, Jin, Li, Zhang, and Zhao. By the beginning of the 20th c. one of these Kaifeng clans, the Zhang, had largely converted to Islam. Interestingly, two of these: Jin and Shi are the equivalent of common Jewish names in the west: Gold and Stone.