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The silk road from the Far East to Asia probably operated from about 200 B.C.E although it was not a direct trading route but worked in stages; so there was no direct contact from say China to Palestine. Marco Polo arrived in China around 1265 C.E. Chazal ascribe Noah's sons as founders of the Greeks etc. There is no reference to Chinese, Koreans or Japanese - so which son takes the honours?

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David L, welcome to Mi Yodeya and thanks for the interesting question, which can, however, be improved by teasing out and separating within it the two separate subquestions its title refers to. (In the body of the question I really only see the second of those.) Also, please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features. –  msh210 Mar 11 '13 at 0:30
    
@DoubleAA Does your comment means that the "honours" of being the founders of the Chinese etc goes to the בְנֵי הַפִּילַגְשִׁים? –  Avrohom Yitzchok Mar 12 '13 at 15:01
    
@AvrohomYitzchok It says he sent them to ארץ קדם = the land of the east. I've heard that means China etc., but have no source. –  Double AA Mar 15 '13 at 15:43
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3 Answers

Torah Meira - page 297 says that according to some Magog the son of Yefes is connected with Eretz Sin - ארץ סין. Although there are other translations of ארץ סין - one of the translations is China. This would indicate - at least according to this translation - that the Chinese are descendants of Yefes.

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Are there people who apply different translations, or you are just listing possible translations from a modern dictionary? –  Double AA Mar 15 '13 at 15:42
    
Torah Meira himself indicates other possibilities. –  Gershon Gold Mar 15 '13 at 15:42
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So... סין meaning China AFAIU comes from the Latin (whence Sino-), which came from the Sanskrit. This is a reference to the Qin dynasty. The Qin dynasty didn't exist until 200BC, long after Sinai, so it is doubtful that the Torah, written in the language of those who received it, would have mentioned a place completely unknown to its recipients. (Note: China in Chinese is written 中国 and is currently pronounced in Mandarin, "zhong guo"). –  Charles Koppelman Mar 15 '13 at 16:19
    
@Charles Koppelman: The Torah says Magog is the son of Yefes. Sefer Torah Meira indicates that the Chinese are descendants of Magog the son of Yefes. –  Gershon Gold Mar 15 '13 at 16:26
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Sorry, that should have been dong guo i.e 東 not 北. It has been awhile ;o) obviously. –  Feral Oink Mar 17 '13 at 8:42
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Well the Zohar Vayishlach 178a makes reference to the "Royal Tusser" which was also the Greek name for the Chinese domesticated silk worm(as opposed to the wild variety which is also mentioned in the Zohar). So it would appear that the Chinese were indeed known.

Considering that China is made up seven main people groups, it would really depend on which specific people group you are talking about. However, if we take the primary people group, the Han Chinese, who are believed to have emigrated north from India, then according to the Table given in the Jewish Encyclopedia based on the various midrashim, they would have been descended from Ham.

Now from a more Arheological perspective, I give you this:

Heth is the father of the Hittite nation. The Hittites were once regarded by archaeologists as a biblical blunder. Archaeologists said the Bible was absolutely wrong when it mentioned the Hittites, for there was no such people. But since that time, Hittite relics have been discovered in abundance, and scholars are now well aware of the great civilization that flourished under the Hittites. The Hebrew form of this word, Hittite, is Khettai and from this comes the word Cathay, which many of you will recognize as an ancient name for China. Certain of the Hittites migrated eastward and settled in China. Also, another name in this list, the Sinites, is linked with China. It derives from a presumed son of Canaan whose name was Sin. The Sinites migrated eastward until they came into Western China, where they founded the ancient Empire of China and gave their name to the land. There is a direct connection between the word China and the word Sinim, the biblical name for China. (I remember reading as a boy of the Sino-Japanese War, showing how the ancient name still persists.) They pushed eastward and toward the north over the land bridge into Alaska. The Sinites are the people who settled the Americas in prehistoric days and became the ancestors of the Eskimos and Indians who, to this very day, betray their Mongoloid ancestry.

By Stedman in his book The Beginnings.

So I'm going to go with Ham. Though there is also possibility that at least some of the people groups in China were descendents of Avraham Avinu's sons that he sent east(see Ibn Ezra Beresehit 26:1, and Genesis Rabba 65).

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So you're saying the Hittites went all the way to Mongolia and Manchuria, picked up Proto-Mongolian and then went east to become the Khitan, after whom Cathay is named? Is there any evidence of this other than a lose connection of names that outsiders use for these groups? –  Charles Koppelman Mar 19 '13 at 15:19
    
And more importantly, how does any of this show that Chazal knew about China? –  Charles Koppelman Mar 19 '13 at 15:21
    
Also, the chart that you link to in the Jewish Encyclopedia says that Asians are from Ashkenaz ben Gomer ben Japheth. For India descending from Ham, it says, "Havilah: India (in Africa, south of Egypt)." Presumably that is not the India in Asia far west of Egypt. –  Charles Koppelman Mar 19 '13 at 15:37
    
Technically, it's Asia (preconsuiaris), whatever that means... I assume it means an Asia that is different than the continent of Asia, but I have no idea. –  Charles Koppelman Mar 19 '13 at 15:43
    
The parantheses incorporate other minor opinions found in the Midrash. In this case that would be South of Egypt. Also Preconsuiaris, was the Roman name for Rome's first African colony. Like I said you have several very distinct people groups living in China, and Midrashim that put the descendants of Ham, Yaphet, and Shem there. So it really becomes a toss up as to which one you are talking about. There is anecdotal evidence that Chazal new of the Chinese, such as the name of the domesticated silk worm, but aside from that, there isn't much of anything. –  Rabbi Michael Tzadok Mar 19 '13 at 16:55
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See all about the destinations of some of the 70 nations in Talmud Yerushalmi Megilla (Artscroll edition 12a,3). They quote R. Aharon Marcus in Kessess Hasofer who holds that the descendants of Magog (descendant of Yefes) may be identified with the Mongols, who lived near China (but who are known to have ranged as far as the Danube River). He notes that Arab writers have referred to the Great Wall of China as the "wall of Magog."

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