A tale of two churches

Breaking down Union Church
Breaking down Union Church

Various religious organizations have long been interested in expending in China.  A large number of foreigners in old Shanghai came to try and convert millions of Chinese. Missionaries were crossing the country, delivering their “true”  faith and building churches. Old Shanghai was the center of all this activity, counting many churches, as well as offices of many religious oriented organizations. This post is about the opposite fate of two historic Churches near the Bund.

The Union Church was built in 1885 on South Suzhou Road, just behind the Bund. This protestant Church was a prime gathering point for the community, being located close to the English Consulate and the business center of Old Shanghai. It was confiscated  in the 1950’s  and used as an office building.

Shanghai Union Church 2007
Shanghai Union Church 2007 (picture from Shanghaiist website)

Like many other churches in Shanghai, China’s history took a heavy toll on the Union Church and the building passed its prime shape long ago (see picture from 2007 on the hand side right). Until destruction, the church tower could be seen from the motorway bridge over the Huangpu river. In 2007, the church was seriously damaged by fire. According to a well documented article from Shanghaiist at that time, the church was not used anymore and scheduled for renovation. From the picture above taken in February 2009, it seems that the renovation was canceled and demolition took place instead. I guess the fire  saved cost of renovating this historical relic and in the same

Giving way to progress
Giving way to modernity

time freed some very valuable land on this part of the Bund. I’m sure there are some very good reasons to do this, but seeing the last bit an historical building being teared down in central Shanghai is never a joyfull sight. Picture left quite an ironic view with Shanghai 2010 advertising on the wall covering the destruction site.

At the same time,  another church near the Bund is seeing a new life. The English Church, later called the Anglican

The Cathedral's tower is back
The Cathedral's tower is back

Cathedral, at the corner of Hankou lu and Jiangxi lu is nearly at the end of the restoration process. Apart from a fresh painting, the most visible change is surely that the Church spike is back on the tower next the the main building. The spike was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, the Xu Jia Hui Cathedral and the union Church among others were similarly damaged. Renovation is not finished yet, but it definitely seems to go in the right direction. The tower looks very much like the original that can be seen on old postcards.

A Church near the Bund disappears, while another one gets its tower back and a good renovation. We can’t have it all and both could well have been destroyed. Like the Chinese saying  “you win something, you loose something”.

5 thoughts on “A tale of two churches”

  1. My great grandfather, John Vivian Stevens, was the minister at Union Church between 1890 and 1899. I was studying my family history and trying to understand what Shanghai must have been like at that time when I came across your web pages. It would be great if you could point me in the direction of any relevant English language sources (text or photos). If it would be helpful, I could supply some more details of my great grandfather.

  2. Walking past this site today (Sept. 21, 2010), I found that the Union Church had been completely rebuilt in the same location as the old one, complete with bell tower and steeple. However, it’s a completely brand new structure, all remains of the original one having been previously torn down. The doors were closed and it does not appear to be a functioning church at all. This is yet another piece of the nearly completed Waitan Yuan urban renewal project which includes the former British Consulate compound behind the church, as well as the two nearby streets of Yuanmingyuan Lu and Huqiu Lu.

  3. I have been in Shanghai for an American university’s study abroad program, and I have been teaching a course on the history of Christianity in China. The “Old Shanghai” as ground-zero for Western missionary/ colonial history i.e. these stories related to original church buildings, St. John’s University, Roman Catholic and Protestant histories, and the YMCA buildings is fascinating. Do you have other similar stories, photos, links? I would be in your debt.

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