Shanghai Bishop Jin Luxian’s Legacy

This mostly dormant blog was started in 2007 with almost no agenda beyond plans to expand on my just-published profile of Shanghai’s Catholic bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian in the July/August 2007 issue of the Atlantic. I did that, and over the years I kept up with Jin – though I didn’t publish anything much beyond what the Atlantic piece contained.

Meanwhile, over the weekend I received the very sad news that Jin had passed away at 96. At that advanced age, no death can be called unexpected. But Jin was a man of unusual intellectual and physical vigor (he was traveling internationally, carrying his own bags, as recently as his 88th year), and it came as a bit of a surprise to me, and to many others who knew him, even though he’d been ailing for some time. He was just that kind of man – full of life, thoughtful, and – it can now be said – very, very funny.

On the occasion of his passing, I’ve written a short remembrance and biography that tells the tale of how I acquired Jin’s first passport in an online auction. Matt Schiavenza at the Atlantic’s new China channel was kind enough to publish it, here. As a very minor supplement to the piece, entitled, “Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian’s Legacy for Religious Freedom in China,” here is the first page of the passport, as described over at the Atlantic.

page2 001



Another Side of Dylan, China, and the nature of “Protest.”

A little Shanghai Scrap pop quiz for the weekend.

The following two verses were sung in Beijing on April 6, 2011:

Jesus said, “Be ready
For you know not the hour in which I come”
Jesus said, “Be ready
For you know not the hour in which I come”
He said, “He who is not for Me is against Me”
Just so you know where He’s coming from

There’s a kingdom called Heaven
A place where there is no pain of birth
There’s a kingdom called Heaven
A place where there is no pain of birth
Well the Lord created it, mister
About the same time He made the earth

Q. Where, in Beijing, were these verses sung?

A. an underground church in downtown; B. a Mormon house church in an expatriate compound in the suburbs; C. a Bob Dylan concert at Worker’s Stadium.

The correct answer, as the title of this post surely suggests, is the last one. That is to say, those verses are the last two of “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking,” the song with which Dylan opened his concerts in Beijing, and Shanghai. They are preceded by verses that include an apocalyptic vision of hell, and this rather key passage: “So much oppression/Can’t keep track of it no more.” Bluntly: this is an undeniably Christian protest against earthly materialism and oppression, from 1979’s Slow Train Coming album (the last first of Dylan’s oft-dismissed Christian period).

And yet, if you were to take even a passing glance at the criticism and opprobrium that Dylan has received for not playing “protest” songs in Beijing and Shanghai, much less speaking out in favor of artistic freedom (something that he’s never done in the past), you might – like the ever-lame Maureen Dowd of the New York Times – conclude that:

… the raspy troubadour of ’60s freedom anthems would go to a dictatorship and not sing those anthems is a whole new kind of sellout — even worse than Beyoncé, Mariah and Usher collecting millions to croon to Qaddafi’s family, or Elton John raking in a fortune to serenade gay-bashers at Rush Limbaugh’s fourth wedding.

Curiously, those few Chinese who attended, much less cared about, Dylan’s concert, have not – best as I can tell – joined the chorus of mostly affluent foreigners claiming that a failure to sing “The Times They Are A-Changin’” in Beijing is tantamount to performing for Qadaffi’s family. Continue reading

Build, Demolish, Rinse, Repeat: A Shanghai Scrap Carmelite Update

Way back in January 2009 the staff of Shanghai Scrap told you about the demolition of Shanghai’s (then) 135-year-old Carmelite Convent  on the edge of the expensive, rapidly re-developing Xujiahui neighborhood (part 1, complete with historical background, here, and part 2, here; background on Carmelites, here).  The building wasn’t anything special – except for the fact that it was one of the city’s oldest structures, foreign or Chinese. But what made this demolition so egregious, so patently ridiculous, were the stated intentions of the (re) developers to build a 20% smaller replica of the convent just a few meters south of the original one. [UPDATE: also see comment #1, below, left by Lisa Movius, on why the destruction of the convent “was criminal – literally”] This struck me as stupid and wasteful, but I’ve been here long enough to know that it should also  strike me as one more thing: typical. That is, the Carmelite Convent is not the only historic structure in Shanghai to be demolished in favor of a replica that – for whatever reason – is more in the interests of the developer. In fact, in the case of some dilapidated slum dwellings, this might often be a good thing. In others, less so, to put it lightly.

Anyway. I’d mostly forgotten about this sorry Carmelite episode until this weekend, when I happened to pass the site of the old convent in a taxi and saw that it was being rebuilt. I returned a couple of days later, with a Benedictine, to photograph it. Here, from January 2009, is the historic convent in the last stages of its demolition.

Take note of the roof, and the close proximity of the remaining structure to the fence. And then, have a look at the photo below. The arrow points to the roof of the new convent. The white buildings in place of the old convent are dorms for workers building the replica convent and the highrises that will surround it.

After the page jump, a before and after view from the development’s gate. Continue reading

Being Jewish in Shanghai

Ten days ago I had the distinct privilege of attending the first bat mitzvah ever held at the 83-year-old Ohel Moshe Synagogue (now, the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum) in Shanghai’s Honkou District. And today, on the occasion of the Jewish High Holidays, the Atlantic is publishing my dispatch from the event, Being Jewish in Shanghai. And take note: the dispatch includes some terrific photos by my friend and colleague, Sue Anne Tay, author of the outstanding Shanghai Street Stories blog (and the really good @sueannetay twitter feed). Shanghai Scrap readers will be hearing more from Sue Anne in the near future … so, for now, her portrait of new bat mitzvah Sophie Rosen.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about religion in China (long-time readers know that it’s a deep interest), and I’m very glad to be returning to it, albeit modestly. In fact, I’ve never written about Chinese Judaism before, though it’s a subject to which I’ll be returning at some length in the future. In 2006, I did write about the city’s World War II refugee community for the now-defunct Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine (article available here). And on Shanghai Scrap I’ve written about the ongoing demolition of historic Hongkou.

L’shanah tovah tikatevu.

Expo 2010 has a little bit of everything, but it sure doesn’t have one of these.

I was working up an article on Expo 2010 (World’s Fair) a few weeks ago when – by accident – I came across (and then purchased) this vintage postcard showing the Vatican City pavilion from the 1964/65 New York City World’s Fair.

And the back side (click to enlarge for text).

No surprise, despite signs – once again! – of warming Sino-Vatican relations, Vatican City won’t be exhibiting in Shanghai. And frankly, that’s a pity. After all, in 1964, they not only had a pavilion, they had Michelangelo’s friggin’ Pieta exhibited inside of the pavilion (fyi: no longer impressed that the Danes have lent the Little Mermaid to Expo 2010). So, unlike Expo 2010’s tacky exhibits, promotional films, and endless rounds of 4-D programming (wind! rain! in your face!), that’s something (an artistic masterpiece of the very first order) that might’ve been worth waiting in line for three hours to see. Continue reading

Orphans and Woodcarvers: Shanghai’s Prodigal Memorial Gate Returns Home.

The upcoming Expo 2010 Shanghai (World’s Fair) is an un-apologetically forward-looking event, intended – at least in part – to solidify Shanghai’s place as the Next Great World City. This is all fine and good. But lost in all of this talk of the future is scant acknowledgment of Shanghai’s relatively brief but fascinating past. So, last night, when I received an invitation to attend the unveiling of a restored early 20th century Chinese memorial gate, built and carved for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition (ie, the 1915 San Francisco World’s Fair), I didn’t hesitate to cancel my morning travel plans. Here it is:

Now you may be thinking: he canceled travel plans for this? And I answer: yes. Because what makes this gate blog-worthy – what makes it formal-unveiling-worthy – is the illustrious history of the mostly forgotten Tushanwan orphanage and workshop responsible for carving it. I’m going to use the remainder of this post (and a train ride to Hangzhou) to explain why. Almost all of the information that I’m going to recount comes from the wonderful ‘Zikawei in History,’ a multi-author history of Shanghai’s once-Catholic Xujiahui neighborhood published by Shanghai Culture Publishing House (a must if you’re interested in Shanghai’s pre-liberation history). The book contains some rough English translations, and I’m going to draw upon – and polish the English where appropriate – along the way. After the jump, we’ll start in the mud hills … Continue reading

Italians painting Byzantine icons in Shanghai.

Yesterday afternoon I was invited to visit the almost-completed new fresco in the 150-year-old Dongjiadu Catholic Church (aka, the Jesuit-built St. Xavier Church) in Shanghai. The church is 150 years old, and it’s in the midst of what was once one of Shanghai’s most Catholic neighborhoods (now, mostly demolished – more on that in the next day or so). Anyway, the fresco project is privately funded, and very quickly accomplished: according to Juan Pablo Civíl, the leader of the team of one-dozen artists commissioned to do the work, it required a mere four days of drawing, and nine days of painting (and affixing of gold leaf). That’s quick, I’d say, and proof perhaps that – at least when it comes to frescoes – the Europeans can compete with Chinese production rates.

The fresco is an authorized copy of a design by Kiko Argüello who, I’m told, passed through town recently to inspect and sign it. The design is unapologetically Byzantine (Russian Byzantine, in fact), with a few Chinese characters inserted into the Book of Life (held by Christ in the center of the painting), for obvious reasons. Anyway, not the sort of thing one sees happening in Shanghai (or anywhere else, really) very often. A few more photos after the jump … Continue reading