Old Shanghai was the safe haven for many people, in particular many Russians. They came to Shanghai after the Russian revolution and defeat of the white Russians in 1922 in Vladivostok. Russian nobility fled the country to escape from the Soviet troops, first in Russian influenced Manchuria, then moving down to Shanghai. As the community increased, Russians institutions settled down. Most Russians nobles were very religious and churches were used as a gathering point for the community.
Two Russian Orthodox churches are still standing Shanghai. (I have found picture of a third one, but I think it was destroyed long ago.) Both churches had various fates since China’s liberation, being used as storage and badly damaged during cultural revolution, just like other religious buildings. They were both turned into bar and restaurant, that have been closed since several year now. Both churches are not far from each other, neither from the statue of Puskin on Tao Jiang Lu. In the same area, numerous Russian bakers and restaurants were established (see post on Russian bakeries in the area). This part of the French Concession was often referred as “Little Russia” because of the large Russian community established there. Rena Krasno, a Russian lady who spent her childhood in Shanghai also lived in the area.
The most visible one is at the corner of Xin Le lu and Xiang Yang Lu (used to be Route Paul Henry and Route Lorton ). The Mission Church as it was called, was built in 1934. A part of the action of the novel “The Master of Rain” is taking place there. The outside has been renovated two years ago and given a fresh face. Unfortunately, the next door housing of the priest is still occupied by a restaurant. The Church has now been opened again to the public. No service is taking place as the building is not used as a Church, but as an art gallery. The first exhibition is now open of… Russian painting. The link with Russia is very clearly and I would not be surprised if the actual renovation was paid with Russian money. It is quite ridiculous that the exhibition is only open on Friday’s from 10:00 to 16:30, but at least I got the opportunity to see it.
Unfortunately, the wall paintings have been lost through ages and most of the walls are now painted white. The Church still has an atmosphere though and the biggest surprise is not on ground level… but on the ceiling. Miraculously, the paintings inside the dome have been uncovered and they seem to have survived pretty well. Although they could definitely do with a restoration, the icons betweens the windos and the large dome picture are still clearly visible. The fate of White Russians in Shanghai has often been seen as one of misery, it is nice to find back some Russian beauty in old Shanghai.