As the largest metropolis of China, Shanghai was the focus of development of modernity in China, including the development of Universities. Hidden behind Zhong Shang Park (the former Jessfield Park), in a curve of the Suzhou creek stands the old Saint John University, which used to be the most prestigious University in China. Today’s East China Institute of Politics and Law has kept most original buildings from the old times and is still a nice place for a short visit. The best way to access it is probably to walk through the park to reach its back entrance, although it is also possible to follow the Suzhou Creek.
Saint John University was created in September 1879, it was created and supported by the American Anglican Church. The picture left is from 1907, showing one of the reading room. Religion had a strong importance in the teaching, and the university was lead for decades by clergyman Dr F.L. Hawks Pott who also wrote “a short history of Shanghai“. Under his governance, Saint John College became the leading University. Teaching was in English, a lot of faculty was foreign and modern education methods as well as sport took a great place. The University was modeled after the American University system and graduate students could be join American Universities for their post graduate studies, of few of them actually going to Harvard or Yale. Saint John University also formed the elite of China’s societies with many of them becoming high civil servants or joining Chinese and international companies after graduation.
Architecture style of the university buildings have mostly been a mix of Chinese and western. They were actually often western buildings with a Chinese roof and decoration, similar to what was latter called Republican Architecture. As the University expanded, more buildings were created following the style of the time. The main building is much more of western style, quite similar to some of the buildings that were originally on the Bund, and the clock tower has been added later. Si Meng Hall near the River is also of a similar style, with all the original verandas having closed like in most old building in Shanghai. One the of really interesting one is on the right side towards the entrance. The style is clearly much later, probably late 1920’s early 1930’s as it is very similar to Jiangwan Shanghai Civic Center building. The founding stone of the Univeristy (marked 1879, picture left) is still visible. It seems to have been broken in pieces and put toghether later, probably during cultural revolution time.
Detached from the city and protected from noise by the park and the river, the campus feels like an oasis of quiet just a few minutes from busy ZhongShang Park Cross road, probably the most charming university of Shanghai.