Shanghai revives Jewish architecture
By Pan Haixia (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-08-20 01:56

A once-thriving Jewish culture in Shanghai's Tilanqiao area is to be
revived on the site of its former heyday.

Almost 30,000 Jewish refugees settled in the area, around the northern
Bund, during World War II, and set up schools, libraries, cafes,
synagogues and even their own newspapers.

Many of the exiles were highly talented professionals -- teachers,
editors, reporters, writers, painters, musicians and sportsmen.

At the end of the war, they gradually left for Israel, the United States
and Canada.

After nearly five decades ignoring its Jewish legacy, Shanghai is waking
up to this unique part of the city's history and looking at preserving
aspects of the Tilanqiao area, which has been listed as one of the 12
key historical zones in the city.

"To return the old Jewish neighbourhood culture back to Tilanqiao, an
urgent task is to get rid of widespread temporary cabins illegally put
up by locals. It has already ruined the original look of the community
and obscured those nice historical buildings," said Wang Weiqiang, a
professor with Tongji University, at a hearing held by Hongkou District
People's Congress on Monday.

"The famous Ohel Moishe Synagogue, one of the only two surviving
synagogues in Shanghai, built in 1927 by a Russian Jew, has already been
crowded with illegal constructions around, making an unharmonious scene
in the area."

He said the renovation of Tilanqiao should introduce some high-end
businesses to the area. The current rash of low-standard eateries and
food stands not only affects the street scene but also ruins the look of
existing old buildings.

"The renovation should be focused on the protection of historical sites
rather than on exploiting its commercial potential," Wang Fengqing, a
local pensioner, said at the hearing.

Jewish houses, synagogues, parks and cafes still stand in Tilanqiao, but
most have either been converted to other uses or fallen into ruin.

"Although the city in 2002 put forward regulations on the protection of
historical architectural zones, there is still no specific protection
commission or team," Wang said.

Hua Jian, a researcher from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences,
suggested some of the old architecture in the area could be vacated to
attract artists or writers to the area. "It would help in providing some
cultural atmosphere which is important for such historical zones," he said.

Records show that shortly before World War II broke out, doors
throughout the world began closing to Jewish refugees -- leaving
Shanghai as one of the only places they could go to without a visa.
Thousands of Jews poured into Shanghai in the 1930s.

In 1948 the population had dwindled to 10,000, and by 1976, there were
only about 10 Jews left in Shanghai.