Abstract: This paper examines how the Shanghai Municipal Council and the French Municipal Council defined policies on death and the management of burials in Shanghai from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the settlements. These policies defined territories to which various privileges were attached when it came to burial. The establishment of cemeteries sprang out of an objective need, but it became very soon a municipal matter. Cemeteries reflected the diversity of foreign and religious communities in the city as well as the unusual course of Sino-foreign relations. Some were created out of expediency, as for soldiers, but most disappeared for lack of attention. Some received the local residents and became permanent burial grounds. Cemeteries were places of inclusion/exclusion (especially toward the Chinese). Because they took up land, they also created situations of tension and contestation. Finally, they formed a challenge for urban development.
論文摘要 : 本文章探讨从19世纪中期到租界截止， 上海公共租界公部局以及法租界公董局如何制定当时上海死亡以及殡葬政策。这项政策決定帶有不同殡葬特权的划區。公墓爲了適應客觀的需要，由私人自願設置，但是很快地变成一項市政的要事。公墓不僅體現各种外国和宗教社區的不同，而且同時顯示了中外關係的不尋常變遷。有些公墓是根据当时的緊急情形 – 如士兵屍體– 而出現，不過由於無人管理的緣故，這些殯葬地域的大部分逐漸消失。有些公墓接受很多当地市民，因此成为永久安葬的目的地。當時的墓地成为有容纳或驱除 (特別是對於中國人) 作用的地区。由于它们占用地盘，公墓同时在地方社会内形成压力和爭議。显而易见， 这些公墓也对当时上海城市的发展构成了一种无形的挑战。
With the signing of the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, the fate of Shanghai took a new course. The establishment of foreign settlements – originally conceived as no more than foreign enclaves where ‘barbarians’ would be kept at bay by the Chinese authorities – opened a new space that ultimately led to the emergence of three separate towns within the same city. Although land remained the property of China – except in the case of Hong Kong – the foreign enclaves in treaty ports, especially in Shanghai, Tianjin, and Canton developed as quasi-colonial territories. Due to their size and role in the city, the two foreign settlements in Shanghai became the epitome of foreign rule on Chinese land.
The original plan of limiting residence in the foreign enclaves to foreign settlers (except for their Chinese servants) was probably illusory. With the civil war that ran havoc Central China after the mid-1850s, streams of refugees sought safety and protection in the foreign settlements. Extraterritoriality and gunboats offered a relative haven from the raging war between the Taping and imperial forces. This was the first population onslaught that put an end to the ‘foreigners only’ rule. Natural disasters and subsequent warfare in the lower Yangzi area through the late imperial and republican period fed a constant surge in population.
The economic success of Shanghai also brought increasing numbers of foreign immigrants. Westerners figure most prominently in the early decades, but with them actually came along a mixed lot of colonial subjects, especially in times of crisis. The armies on the British and French side were made up of large contingents of troops drawn from their colonies. The Japanese came much later, but their community soon overshadowed all other foreign communities altogether. Finally, there were a few cases of refugee-seeking Westerners – Russians in the 1920s and Central European Jews in the late 1930s – who came in sudden waves.
The composition of the population in Shanghai became truly international. At the same time, there was more at stake than a too often glamorized cosmopolitanism. Two major areas of the city were run by foreigners who ruled, administered, regulated, and sentenced on all matters of urban life. But as much as on life, they had to regulate on death or more precisely on the management of death. Foreigners came with all kinds of creed, belief, and religion. It meant a lot when it came to death. The urban space was fragmented as much as the social landscape was segregated. Depending on their nationality, people did not enjoy the same rights, dead or alive.
In this paper, I shall concern myself with the issue of the management of space for the dead. This is a curious angle from which one can also get a sense of how ‘colonialism’ operated in Shanghai. I shall concentrate on the foreign settlements since both had to deal with the issue of mortality among its increasing population. It is not a general study of how death was managed in Shanghai, but of how the Shanghai Municipal Council and the French Municipal Council defined policies on death and defined territories with various privileges to accommodate the dead. A central aspect of this study is about cemeteries as spaces of inclusion/exclusion, tension/contestation, and urban transformation.
Cemeteries as colonial markers of death
The constraints of biology: deaths do occur
The reading of Western imperialism seizing Chinese territory with a ready-made blueprint to parcel it out and conquer more land over time – a conventional view in Chinese Marxist historiography and Western studies – certainly requires some revision. This is not to deny that land and privileges were obtained by force and preserved against all evidence in violation of Chinese sovereignty. The establishment of “settlements” (technically ‘leased territories’) was a concrete manifestation of this process. The creation of these enclaves in treaty ports was conceived by both sides as an expedient, for foreigners, to have a foot on Chinese territory with a large degree of autonomy and, for the Chinese authorities, to manage an alien population by conventional means of setting them apart and making them responsible for their own kind. Within these enclaves, especially in Shanghai, foreigners acquired far more autonomy and power than was written in the treaties, while the settlements evolved into full-blown towns with millions of residents. As it happened, while the Chinese and foreign authorities had probably foreseen problems with the living foreigners, the dead ones also had to be taken care of. And as the Chinese moved into the foreign enclaves, they also became part of the social and human equation.
The extent to which death requires the attention of the authorities depends first on population growth. The more people there are, the more will die and require one form or another of burial. Unfortunately, Shanghai population data is very sketchy. Each territory kept its own records and conducted its own five-year census with different criteria. The most painful difficulty for the demographic historian, however, is the lack of proper vital statistics. It was not after 1949 that a systematic coverage was designed and implemented. For the whole republican period and before, one can only hope to make some partial reconstruction and educated guess. If we follow the classic study by Zou Yiren, Shanghai’ population grew from around 540,000 in 1852 to 5,400,000 in 1948, a ten-fold increase over a century. In the foreign settlements, prior the first census in 1865, the population numbered from a few hundreds in 1853 to 20,243 in 1855 in the British Settlement (no figure for the French settlement). Between 1865 and 1942, the population in the two areas grew from 92,884 (IS) and 55,925 (FC) to 1,585,673 (IS) and 854,380 (FC) respectively. This does not take into account the sharp fluctuations of the war period.
Foreigners, except in the very early years, were no more than a tiny minority within the whole population. There were about 50 residents in the British settlement in 1845, a couple hundreds by 1855 and more than 500 in 1860. After a surge in numbers in 1865 (2,297), the population actually decreased and did not regain its initial level until 1880 (2,197). It continued to grow, doubling it size between 1900 (6,774) and 1910 (13,536), again in 1930 (29,997), and almost again in 1942 (57,351). Actually these figures are biased since they do not take into account the full Japanese population that was spread between the IS in Hongkou and the Chinese municipality (North Hongkou). In the French Concession, there was a similar though more modest movement upward, from 460 in 1865 – it remained basically at that level until 1900 – to 831 in 1905. There was a quicker pace thereafter, with population doubling from the 1910 level (1,476) in 1920 (3,562), 1925 (7,811), 1931 (15,146), and 1942 (29,038). Again, these figures do not take into account the effects of war after 1937.
In the IS, the annual number of deaths among foreigners was never very substantial compared to that among the Chinese population as can be seen below. We cannot compare the figures until 1902 when finally some statistics were kept for the Chinese population. Among foreigners, the number of deaths almost doubled between 1880 (55) and 1900 (97) while the mortality rate decreased. Thereafter, with a fairly stable rate, the yearly number of deaths was multiplied by five from 138 in 1902 to 560 in 1936. Over the same period, the number of deaths in the Chinese population was multiplied by three between 1905 (6,443) and 1936 (17,594). Yet, even among foreigners, residents were not the only ones to die in the city. Due to its role as a harbor, there was a large transient population among whom some unfortunates unexpectedly passed away during their stay. Periods of political tension or outright military confrontation also brought large contingents of foreign troops. Their number was far from insignificant. Between 1887 and 1907, there were often as many, or even more, visitors who died as were adult residents. What these rough data reveal is that from the beginning several dozens to several hundreds foreigners died every year in Shanghai and required local burial.
The birth of foreign cemeteries in Shanghai
The early foreign settlers probably did not foresee they would have to manage deaths and burials. There were initially no provisions for such matters in the agreements signed between China and foreign countries. This came at a later date in the second round of treaties signed in 1858-1860. Yet, people did not wait until such agreements were made to die in the foreign settlements, both Chinese and foreigners. The case of Chinese residents was addressed in a very simple and straightforward way. They were not allowed to be buried in the foreign settlements. No disposition was taken since the Chinese were expected to be buried elsewhere. While this may be seen as a form of exclusion, it was somehow in line with the initial rule of non-residence in the settlements. Although the rule on residence was not enforced, the prohibition on burials was maintained. There were exceptions, however, with existing cemeteries that came to be part of the territory of the settlements as they expanded west- and east-ward. In such places, burials were allowed, although with restrictions. These Chinese cemeteries, for the most part, were established by and for sojourners.
The first piece of land (8.25 mu) acquired for the purpose of establishing a cemetery was purchased in 1844 at a cost of Tls. 730. The cemetery was instituted as a shareholders’ venture, with 73 shares of Tl. 1 each taken up by foreign residents. In 1847, the Rev. W.H. Medhurst was made the trustee of the cemetery in the collective name of the original shareholders. The title deed of the ‘Shanghae Cemetery’ stated it was meant for “the use of British subjects at this port as a place of interment”. The creation of a cemetery by private individuals followed the new pattern established in Great Britain proper with the move away from parish graveyards and the rise of cemeteries as municipal or private ventures. Given the context of settling in an alien land where no disposition existed for the establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, at a time when there was as yet no formal municipal authority beyond the management of “roads and jetties”, the birth of foreign cemeteries in Shanghai came out of nothing more than the concern to provide decent burial to those who happened to die in the city. The Shanghae Cemetery was located in the countryside, outside the limits of the settlement, replicating the same pattern as in the walled city. Urban development, however, soon placed the cemetery in the heart of the city (see map 1). When it was closed to burial in 1871, the cemetery (by then renamed “Shantung Road Cemetery) contained 469 graves.
Although the foreign community was small, the number of deaths among visitors, mostly sailors, had immediate consequences on space in the ‘Shanghae Cemetery”. In 1855, with 50 foreign sailors interred in the portion of land allotted for that purpose, space was running out. The Committee of the Shanghae Cemetery decided it was time to find another location to accommodate these dead, “out of regard for the health of the community”. Obviously, the issue of health was more of a pretext to reserve the cemetery for the residents of the settlement. The Committee emphasized it had no intention to make “invidious distinction between the dead”, but that it had to provide burial ground against future wants. In 1859, a new subscription bill was circulated among the community to collect the $3,000 necessary for the purchase of a piece of land on Pudong. The Pootung cemetery was twice as large as the first cemetery (16.22 mu). Residents had been taught by experience. Yet, as we shall see, the Pootung Cemetery was closed well before it reached its capacity. It still had vacant land when it was closed with 1,783 interred bodies in 1904. It served both for sailors and soldiers.
Over time, these private initiatives found it more difficult to cope with the increasing responsibility of providing burial ground for the expanding local community, especially with the rapid turnover of residents in the early decades of the foreign settlements. But for another part the movement toward a greater involvement of municipalities in the supply and management of cemeteries in Europe implicitly called for an intervention of the SMC in the management of cemeteries. Eventually, by mutual consent, the two cemeteries – Shanghae and Pootung – were transferred to the SMC in February 1866. This marked the end of the privately-run foreign cemeteries and the beginning of a larger process of regulating death in the foreign settlements. At the same period, in fact, the two settlements had decided to pool resources to create a new cemetery in Shanghai.
The establishment of a joint cemetery in 1865 was a unique experience that the two settlements did not repeat. Thereafter, the two settlements went their separate ways. In the course of 1865, a Committee for the New Cemetery (a name one finds on maps for a long time) was established to organize the purchase of a piece of land, close to the “Ningpo Joss House” and by then well into the Chinese countryside. The SMC even had to build a road and a bridge over the Yangjinbang to have access to the cemetery (see map 2). A sum of Tls. 4,000 was invested in 50 mu of land, an area six times larger than the STC. This was the first involvement by the French authorities in municipal cemeteries. During the first two decades of the settlement, the very small size of the French community hardly called for the establishment of its own burial ground. The new cemetery was divided into two sections separated by the Belochee rifle range, each settlement taking care of its own (see map 2). As this was not yet a municipal venture in the IS, the cost was borne by a subscription. Yet, soon thereafter, the Pahsienjao (Baxianqiao) Cemetery became a joint municipal property.
Apart from the early private initiatives, cemeteries were also created as a result of circumstances, usually military events that left numerous dead among the troops. Those who died from their wounds during fighting or from disease would be buried close to their initial encampment. The first such cemetery was established near the wall of the walled city, on its southern side, in Chinese territory. It came to be known as the ‘Soldiers’ Cemetery’. The cemetery served for only two years, between 1862 and 1865, and accommodated some 300 bodies of soldiers from British regiments who died in 1862-1863. The cemetery was actually never used to its full extent. In 1867, there remained 80 burial spaces. The site somehow fell into oblivion as the soldiers were buried without individual tombstones. There were only three tombstones and five mural tablets to record the interred bodies. The SMC also inherited this cemetery, although no title deed was ever filed or found. It monitored the place closely and worked to maintain a decent appearance which, given its location, proved a difficult and pointless exercise. Nevertheless, the SMC was relentless in preserving this area. While this burial ground went on record, we shall see that other burial grounds were established for the colonial subjects of British and French troops. No record or memory of them was preserved.
In September 1935, a sailor wrote to the NCDN about an abandoned cemetery near Wusong. Three days later, a foreign resident, A. Griffin, recalled that the place was a burial ground used for the French Marines. For years, it was indeed abandoned and desecrated. In 1909, a small sum of money was raised among French residents, but little was done. In October 1912, however, the same resident published a paper in L’Echo de Chine and obtained the transfer of the remains to the Lokawei Cemetery and the construction of a brick wall around the cemetery. Following this exchange of letters, the NCDN published a short article on the “Foreign cemetery near Woosung”. Although it had been neglected and forgotten for over twenty years, it was still surrounded by a low brick wall, partly destroyed during the Sino-Japanese hostilities in 1931-32. Measuring roughly 100 feet long and 50 feet wide, it contained three graves, two of them identified as French nationals. The rest of the cemetery was cultivated by local peasants.
Population growth and the expansion of municipal cemeteries
The provisions for the burial of foreign residents soon proved inadequate for the size of the population. In 1896, the SMC decided to acquire 64 mu of land along Bubbling Well Road to establish a new cemetery (Bubbling Well Road Cemetery, thereafter BWC) and a crematorium. The new cemetery was located much further west, in Chinese territory, far away from the built-up area, although eventually the urban sprawl caught up with it (see map 3). The SMC invested Tls. 30,150 in the land and Tls. 10,038 in the crematorium. With other miscellaneous expenses, the total cost came to Tls. 56,200. The cemetery was enlarged and reduced several time, but its size remained fairly stable. By 1928, however, the BWC was running out of space. The SMC entertained the idea that the cemetery would be in use for another 30 years by demolishing various workshops. Two years later, however, the PHD warned again that the BWC was starting to fill in rapidly. The PHD explained there was a strong sentimental attachment among [foreign] residents to use the cemetery rather than the Hungjao Cemetery opened a few years earlier (1926). In fact, the BWC was considered ‘prime burial ground’ by the foreign community due to its proximity. Rates were also higher than in the Hungjao Cemetery. To make more room for graves, the PHD again argued for transferring the shrubs and coolie quarters to gain space for a few more years. We do not know whether this was implemented, but in 1939 the BWC was still in operation, though meeting with the same problems of space. After another pen battle between the PHD ad the PWD about the opportunity to remove the coolies’ quarters and workshops, the SMC settled for an alteration of the BWC and Pahsienjao cemeteries (reduction of pathways and shrubberies) to created additional space for graves.
In the French Concession, pressure on the Pahsienjao Cemetery led to the establishment of a new cemetery in 1905 outside the settlement’s boundaries, but right next to it. The new cemetery was located in Chinese territory, in Lujiawan (Lokawei), to the south of the settlement. The Lokawei Cemetery was planned to last for many decades, possibly with no need for further additions since it received only foreign residents. Moreover, the French managed space in their new cemetery as in France. The Lokawei Cemetery offered grave spaces with various terms: perpetual (506), 25 years (40), and 15 years (247). This regime allowed a certain degree of flexibility and renewal of the graves. The removed bones from the time concessions were exhumed and reburied in a collective ossuary. This rule applied to the Vietnamese (Annamese) tombs (424) in the Lokawei cemetery and to the tombs of indigents in the West Cemetery (see below). There were also a separate sections for soldiers (36). As was current in the metropole, the largest space was devoted to perpetual concessions. Depending on one’s means, the final resting place could last for ever or be limited in times. Although there was nothing made consciously, the French authorities and residents literally grounded themselves in Chinese soil with a view to stay for ever. The statistical figures for burials in the Lokawei Cemetery show a sharp ascending curve in relation with population increase, with the number of burials doubling every five years. Altogether, the Lokawei Cemetery contained 1,377 graves. Even if there was a program of excavation, it failed to keep pace with the acceleration of burials therein. There was a mathematical imbalance between the number of people buried 15 or 25 years earlier and the number of current deaths.
Number of burials in the Lokawei Cemetery (1914-1938)
Source : Letter, Directeur des services-Directeur general, 11 December 1939, U38-4-3280, SMA.
This evolution may explain why the French Municipal Council eventually decided to open a third cemetery further west, also outside its boundaries in Zikawei, in 1934, for free burials. In Zikawei, there was much more space, although the war also put pressure on the new burial ground. In September 1939, there were 738 individual graves, but the cemetery also served for paupers’ burials. I have not yet found any statistical record, although the 560 unclaimed victims of the Great World bombing on 14 August 1937 were all buried there. By 1939, the Lokawei Cemetery was running out of space unless existing graves were suppressed. Since the graves were all protected by concessions (perpetual, 25 and 15 years), the margin for expansion could only be found in the Vietnamese section. The previous rule had been to exhume the graves after 20 years and to remove the remains to an ossuary. Due to the higher than planned number of foreign deaths in the settlement (“l’accroissement considérable de l’élément étranger sur la Concession”), it was decided to anticipate on the disinterment of Vietnamese remains and to implement a program of early removal to make room for new perpetual graves. Yet there was no end to this process with the population increase in the settlement.
In November 1939, the director of municipal services observed: “it is undeniable that the municipal cemeteries were not designed to a sufficient scale. All the proposed palliatives will be ineffectual in a few years”. He proposed to purchase a new track of land for a new cemetery in the external road area, but this was not followed upon. By September 1942, the authorities observed the sharp increase in mortality among foreigners (116 up to September 1942 against 75 in 1941). Both in Lokawei and Zikawei, work had to be done to open new space, but in both cases no extension was feasible. In Zikawei, there remained only 170 spaces for burial. Since Zikawei received paupers’ burials, the secretary general advised again to use municipal property to create a new cemetery for paupers. This last addition to municipal cemeteries -- the Cimetière de l’Ouest (thereafter West Cemetery) – was established in July 1943. It opened during the war to receive the bodies of indigents, mostly foreigners without resources like Russian refugees. At the same time, the status of the other two cemeteries slightly changed. Lokawei was devoted entirely to perpetual concessions, while Zikawei offered only 15-year grave space. The West Cemetery was reserved to paupers’ burials. There was no charge for burial ground, but there was a time limit. The right to a burial place rested upon a strict hierarchy based on wealth and ethnicity.
In the International Settlement, the SMC followed the same pattern of moving west the location of its cemeteries and establishing them outside of their official boundaries. While the BWC offered ample burial ground, the authorities realized that there was no possibility of extension due to urban development (and a dispute with a Chinese land owner). In 1926, the decision was made to acquire a large track of land that would be prepared and used as demand arose. The new cemetery was located in the Hongqiao area and came to be known as the Hungjao Cemetery. A clever rate policy in line with considerations of cost, investment, land value, and maintenance actually made the BWC more expensive and the HJC more affordable. Behind the rationale of cost, as in other aspects of social life in foreign Shanghai, the subtle rate policy divided between the more well-off and the rest of the population. This policy failed to follow the pattern in Great Britain or France where such differences were eliminated. On the opposite, the pressure on burial space and conditions of war combined to reinforce the differential rates and actually reserve the BWC to the richer segments of the foreign population. The HJC underwent several extensions over time (1932, 1933, and 1935). The availability of farm land around allowed for such continuous expansion, especially after 1937 when the rise in mortality rates required more burial space. It seems that the HJC was able to cope with the tide until the end of the war and even 1949. It should also be noted, however, that even if the cemetery was located in Chinese territory, it did not receive Chinese dead.
Land purchased for cemeteries was not put to use immediately. It constituted a land reserve that was deployed as need arose. In-between cemeteries offered open spaces people took advantage of as playing ground or parks. The southwestern corner of the BWC was used as a playground for many years until 1921.In fact, the SMC was confronted with the issue of unused reserved spaces for burial and concerned that such land might remain reserved in virtual perpetuity. The foreign population in the settlements was not stable and people who had made plans to stay actually left, but still held right on cemetery lots. This led to various measures like the increase in rates or limitations of rights. In 1921, with the rapid reduction of available interment accommodation, the PHD suggested doubling the reservation fee. Nevertheless, there was no change of policy. Five years later, the same issue was raised with a proposal to introduce a restrictive clause on reservations that would nullify the reservation five or ten years after leaving the city. This was adopted by the SMC.
As the city expanded, cemeteries followed a pattern of migration westward where farm land was available at a low cost. The urban space was dotted with these permanent burial grounds that came to be fully included in the city, except for the last two additions. As we shall see, other ‘dots’ appeared over time, but their lack of official status made them vulnerable to destruction. Overall, the western area of Shanghai actually became a “cemetery area”, a phenomenon made even more pronounced during the war. There were indeed more than the two western cemeteries. There was a large Chinese cemetery (visible on a 1932 map, although I have no information on its purpose). After 1937, this is where the SPBC and TRFYT found land to bury the paupers’ bodies as well as all the exposed corpses and abandoned coffins they found in the street. The Hongqiao area also became a temporary burial ground for all the Chinese who could no longer be shipped back to their native place. Eventually, more than 100,000 coffins were stored in that area. When the nationalist authorities regained control over Shanghai after the war, they designed a new policy that would ban any cemetery, coffin repository and crematorium within the city proper. They designated three “cemetery areas” (gongmuqu) around Shanghai. Hongqiao was one of them.
To be or not to be (there): burial grounds and ethnic divides
The general policies of cemetery management
Cemeteries for whom? On the surface, the answer to this question seems simple. After all, cemeteries were created for the benefit of Shanghai residents. Yet, in life as in death, rights were not the same among Shanghai residents, not only due to ethnic divisions, but also religious differences and residential patterns. The Western settlers created spaces for their enjoyment to which one would be admitted based on ethnicity, wealth, religion, etc. When it came to death, each settlement cared for its own residents although, of course, reality was more complex. The general rule that applied was the exclusion of the Chinese from the municipal cemeteries. The cemeteries were reserved to the foreign population, actually to the Western residents. As we shall see, it became problematic to exclude all Chinese, even if no policy was ever designed to take care of the dead among the Chinese population. The Japanese were not welcome either, even if the Japanese community by virtue of its own self-organization had its own burial grounds. Finally, even among Westerners, issues of religion also drew hard lines when it came to burial.
In the FC, for example, the authorities tried to limit access to the Lokawei cemetery to its residents, but it also had to take into account the transient foreign population that happened to die on its territory. To sort out ‘right-holders’, a different set of rates applied for residents and non-residents. This rule was introduced in 1926 and maintained until 1943. The same held true in the International Settlement, but defining ‘residents’ and ‘non-residents’ proved to be a tricky question. In 1933, the PHD proposed a text that would first define residents according to nationality. The French residents, therefore, would have been excluded from IS cemeteries, as well as other foreign nationals living in the FC and, of course, all Chinese. Yet, the SMC realized that many of its former residents had moved to the FC and might die there, even if they could claim a right to a burial in the IS.
In the 1930s, excluding the Chinese – actually Christian Chinese – also proved politically and religiously sensitive and even offensive. Eventually, the SMC came to the conclusion that such a scheme would cause too much trouble if made public. It did not shelf it entirely and recommended to use it as departmental instructions. Basically, it favored restricting cemeteries to Christian burials, even if it admitted: “on a strict municipal basis, non-Christian ratepayers are entitled to be treated on parity with Christian ratepayers”. To manage a way out of this dilemma, the SMC reserved for itself the right to make such rules as it saw fit to restrict the use of cemeteries to the burial of Christians. This issue was not discussed again until 1937 when pressure on burial ground increased as a result of war. One of the reasons why the SMC did not pursue the adoption of strict rules was that there were actually few cases of residents in the FC who chose to be buried in IS cemeteries. And those who did were former residents of the IS.
Apart from the issue of burial rights, which all Chinese were denied, the use of the chapels adjoining cemeteries was the object of a dispute. In 1899, the Japanese council member, Nishimaki, wrote to ask about the use of the chapel in the BWC by all religions and why public money should pay for a chapel reserved to one community (Christians). The matter provoked a long and heated debate among the council members. The majority supported the idea that since this was public money and land, it should be open to all. Even if a consensus was reached, one can sense the deep mistrust, and almost racism, in the protest of the Rev. Muirhead: “I suppose there will be no objections to the Chinese holding their devil worship there if they like? I, for one, will not take my dead there”. There was an obvious bad faith in Muirhead’s outburst since the Chinese were barred from the cemetery, except if they were Christians (and in fact not just Christians).
Chinese had been ‘admitted’ in the BWC by way of reservations of burial ground. By 1913, however, the increase in such applications caused some alarm to the PHD who asked for instructions. Prior to 1913, occasional burial of Chinese had been made, “all having professed Christianity”. Since 1912, population increase and the success of conversion also meant that more Chinese wanted to be buried in the BWC. The health inspector reviewed three options, with only one that appeared workable: to limit the number of burials of Chinese to around 20 per year pending the creation of a cemetery for the Chinese. The SMC found it advisable to purchase a suitable site, as and when opportunity offered, as a burial ground for the Chinese. Thereafter, the existing cemeteries would be reserved for foreigners only. Ten years later, however, the SMC had not done anything in that direction.
In the French Concession, the general policy toward the Chinese was not different. The Chinese had to take care of themselves. The French authorities actually applied a policy modeled after the practices established in the home country after 1881 when a law secularized all municipal cemeteries. All non Chinese residents were subject to the same rules as the French citizens, whatever their origin, nationality or religion. The cemeteries in the French Concession were genuine municipal cemeteries, except for the Chinese residents. At the same time, however, the French authorities buried all their dead in Chinese territory. When the French obtained a new extension of their territory in 1900, they decided to ban any more burials within their boundaries. The rule was applied strictly, even after the large 1914 extension. All new cemeteries were established around the settlement, south and west. No coffin repositories were allowed, except for the Ningbo Guild. Only one funeral parlor was allowed to operate in the settlement, even during the Sino-Japanese war.
Cemeteries were considered sacred grounds that deserved special rules. The SMC was far more sensitive to this issue than the FC, even if there was a common ground of values about cemeteries. Since the two settlements shared one cemetery (Pahsienjao Cemetery), they had to agree on common rules. Cemeteries in the IS were under the control of the Superintendent for cemeteries whose work was guided by an elaborate set of rules adopted in 1923. The text defined the condition in which the cemeteries had to be maintained. It also regulated the work and behavior of the ‘native staff’ on duty. Day and night, they had to patrol the cemeteries regularly. The SMC introduced various rules over time to protect the ‘dignity’ of its cemeteries. The French Cemeteries were also strictly regulated along the same basic lines as the SMC cemeteries. As for parks, there were strict opening hours (7h-19h in May-September; 8h-20h in October-April). Burials were allowed on any day until 1930 when the SMC decided the cemetery staff could have one day of rest and prohibited burials on Sundays and holidays. Visitors must be clothed properly, and spitting was prohibited. “Respectable Chinese may be admitted for proper purposes, but care must be taken to prevent the entrance of children, except when under responsible escort. Dogs were not admitted. Music was limited to official funerals with military, naval or SMC bands. Mourners, except clergy and chief mourner, had to enter the cemetery on foot. Of course, the nature of the cemeteries as Christian burial grounds also allowed no any ceremony or rites than those used in Christian burials.”
In 1924, after complaints by a member of the Council, the SMC also banned the use of photography without prior permission by the SMP. This was meant to protect the privacy of mourners. Although there was no legal foundation for such a prohibition, the SMC consulted with the FC and they jointly adopted the same regulation that prohibited photographing without permit. The rule was enforced and caused few problems. Only the same P.W. Massey once complained after seeing his photograph at a funeral in the NCDN. The SMC apologized to Massey and reprimanded the newspaper.
A place for each, but each in its own place: ethnic cemeteries
In terms of foreign population, Shanghai was home – albeit often a temporary one – to a myriad of nationalities. The 1935 census listed 51 different national groups in the two foreign settlements. Yet, nationalities do not tell the whole story as colonial subjects of the major powers were sometimes listed under the ‘main’ nationality. Some communities were permanent and acquired a certain size, while some came to Shanghai for a short time, usually with the military, and went home. Yet, in between, they also left behind their dead which, more often than not, were buried in specific places and forgotten. Even the more stable communities like the Japanese or the Jews had ‘rotating’ burial grounds before they settled in one final resting place. The geography of death in Shanghai, therefore, was a constantly unfolding process, with new and vanishing places, to meet the needs of individual communities.
The SMC as well as the FMC actually never wanted to be involved in establishing and running cemeteries for specific communities. There were issues of cost but also of principles, even if these principles were bent when it came to the majority group of Western Christians. The only other cemeteries sponsored by the SMC were one for the Muslims (Mohammedans) and one for the Jewish refugees. In both cases the SMC made a free gift of a piece of land. It justified its lack of concern for the Chinese population out of respect for its “traditions”: “By custom of long standing, cemeteries in China are provided by families, guilds and benevolent societies - it is because it is not in the established custom for municipal authorities to provide cemeteries for Buddhists that the SMC has refrained from attempting anything of the kind, knowing that to disregard this custom would involve interference with the authority and influence exercised by families, guilds, and benevolent institutions”. This was obviously an ex post facto rationalization of a complete disregard for the needs of the Chinese population, even if we take into account the practice of shipping back the coffins to the native place. In Shanghai, not everybody was a sojourner. The foreign settlements never made any arrangement for the burial of their Chinese residents.
With the French came colonial troops, mostly from Indochina. Vietnamese (‘Annamites’) were assigned to Shanghai in times of crisis as part of the colonial contingents that were sent to protect the settlement. They were also recruited as permanent officers in the Garde Municipale (French police), playing somehow the same role as the Sikhs in the SMP. Many of these transient or temporary Vietnamese residents, as well as members of their families, died in Shanghai. I do not know when and where the first Vietnamese were buried in Shanghai. A municipal report indicates that a separate section of 424 graves was reserved since 1905 in the Lokawei Cemetery. By 1939, there were 206 bodies in that section. The number of annual burials reflects the progressive increase in the Vietnamese population in the French police, with the doubling of burials after 1925 (from an average of 32 to more than 65).
The policy toward the burial of colonial subjects in the French Concession followed the principle of inclusion with all other foreign residents in the settlement, but with different rights. The main colonial population was made up of Vietnamese troops and policemen. They were interred in a separate section of the Lokawei cemetery where 424 graves were reserved to them. After a period of 20 years, however, their remains were excavated and placed in an ossuary. During the war, however, the cemetery filed in more quickly due to the considerable increase of the “foreign element” in the settlement. The authorities realized that without making room, the cemetery would have to be closed in 1940. They had to balance the number of burials of Vietnamese with the applications for perpetual concessions by French or other Western nationals. To meet these demands, a new program of removal was designed so as to make room for the perpetual concessions, a right that, even during the war, the authorities never challenged.
The Sikhs were a prominent element of the British colonial presence in Shanghai. They were used in the police force, but also as private guards and in various menial jobs. The Sikhs also came with colonial troops in times of crisis. They constituted a permanent community of substantial size with specific burial practices. A major feature in Sikh religion was the cremation of dead bodies. The first cremation site – guardwara – was established outside the city, north of Hongkou. I was not able to ascertain the date of the first guardwara. In July 1907, the commissioner of police reported that the Sikhs complained about defects in construction of their guardwara. The planned completion of the Hongkew Park called for the displacement of the cremation site. The Sikhs were offered another location nearby, but outside of the park perimeter.
The guardwara was poorly maintained, but above all it was located in an unfavorable location. It was situated on low land and often covered with water. In 1911, a Sikh assistant superintendent of police asked the SMC to do some work on the site. The SMC approved the application and actually installed the guardwara yet in another place close by, on the Szechuen Road extension, opposite to the Hongkew Park. This was not yet the end of the migration of the site. The development of housing nearby made it difficult to maintain it and two years later a new location was proposed along Rifle Range (see map 4). By 1923, however, shooting practice required another move from the “stop butt” to the east of the rifle range. This was the last displacement. The guardwara was a simple installation described as “merely a concrete slab in the open air”. Yet on days of cremation, as can be seen in photographs, the guardwara took all its significance as a religious site. After the Sino-Japanese hostilities, the place was actually abandoned.
A 1900 map shows a ‘Parsee Cemetery’ (Parsi) which all subsequent maps fail to mention. Parsi do not normally bury their dead, but with so little information, it is difficult to speculate on this site. Since the community of Parsee probably disappeared from Shanghai, no care was taken of the cemetery. It eventually melted into the urban landscape.
Muslims came to Shanghai mostly as part of the British colonial troops. Because the early cemeteries were established for ‘British subjects’ of the Christian faith, Muslims had to be accommodated elsewhere. They may have been buried on land purchased and made available to the military. Maps show a spate of ‘Muslim cemeteries’ on both sides of the post-1900 southern limit of the French Concession. Since the map that lists them was established shortly after the 1900 extension, the cemeteries must have been established much earlier, to bury members of either British or French troops. These were burial grounds created out of expediency. They were soon neglected, forgotten and run over. The first mention of a Muslim cemetery I have found appears in a correspondence in 1910. We learn that a piece of land was purchased at the southwestern corner of the Pahsienjao Cemetery some years before (see map 5). One third was filled by Muslims who had come at the time of the Boxer rebellion. In 1910, the representative of the mosque, R. Rajabally, asked the SMC to purchase an additional piece of land to enlarge the burial ground for Muslims. The initial reply of the SMC expressed the view that each community had to take care of its dead. The SMC was willing to buy some land, but expected the community to pay for the cost of removing a house on its ground and other fitting-out. Rajabally argued that in fact the community counted only two well-off members who already had to contribute for the building of the mosque and the wall around the cemetery. After some quibbling, the SMC eventually accepted to provide three mu of land and to take care of the cost of fitting-out. Yet, the final decision rested with the French Municipal Council on which land the cemetery was located.
There began another trail of correspondence that clearly revealed the reluctance of the French authorities to accept an extension of the Muslim cemetery. They flatly refused to grant an extension. The SMC argued that no objection had been made when it informed the French Council of its intentions and asked for its cooperation to solve the issue of burial ground for the Muslim population. The argument of the French Council was that “for reasons of public interest of which the effect has been that since the extension of the Settlement in 1900 all deposition of coffins has been prohibited, and the French municipality itself has been obliged to acquire a property beyond limits for new graves”. The legal ground on which the FMC based its decision was both one of principle, but also a reminder of the bitter experience made by accepting to establish a cemetery in the middle of its territory. Of course, in 1865, the French had not imagined their settlement would extend that far, but they had learned from this experience and in 1900 banned any form of burial on their territory. Even coffin repositories – except for the Ningbo Guild – were not allowed. In 1910, the actual built-up area in the French Concession was hardly larger than a decade before – there was a lot of vacant land – but the French Council remained adamant to authorize another extension. It could not prevent the SMC from using its current land holding for the Muslim cemetery, but it refused the purchase of the adjoining lots. By 1940, the SMC still had in its hands a piece of land it had bought to extend the cemetery, but had to keep and leave vacant. As the adjoining owners kept encroaching on this unused land, the PWD suggested opening a small road and sell it to acquire less expensive land in the Hongqiao area.
Non Christian residents
Jewish residents were among the very first to come to Shanghai and several of them became exceptionally successful. The names of Sassoon or Hardoon are the most famous, but a much larger community developed over time. A significant wave of Jewish refugees came on the heels of the Bolshevik revolution, along with Russian refugees. Finally, a third wave came from Central Europe, Germany and Austria to flee Nazi persecution. Of course, the very different conditions under which these various groups came – the difference in size too – implied different forms of accommodation when it came to burial. As with other minority communities, a permanent was not found until late. A map of 1900 shows a ‘Hebrew Cemetery’ along Bubbling Well Road, next to the Race course. It was still listed 18 years later on a 1919 map of the city. Yet it does not show on subsequent maps. It may have been swallowed up by the urban sprawl.
Another Jewish cemetery, apparently established by the community itself off Baikal Road, is mentioned in the archives. It served the whole Jewish community well until the mid-1930s. By 1936, however, it was reaching the limit of its capacity. In February 1936, a real estate company wrote to the SMC – probably on behalf of the Jewish community -- to be allowed to purchase additional lots on Kwenming Road to extend the cemetery. The SMC expressed no objection. In fact, the archival record shows that the PWD actually offered to sell an 11-mu lot in another location, in the easternmost part of the Yangshupu district on Glen Road. I have not yet found other documents on this transaction, but it may not have taken place because, in December 1940, the issue of using part of that lot (2.5 mu) came up again in different circumstances.
In fact, in-between the SMC had to face the issue of the high number of deaths among the Jewish refugee community. The Jewish cemetery on Baikal Road had space, but it was not open to people who could not afford the cost of burial spaces therein. There was a debate within the SMC whether it would set a “dangerous precedent” by setting aside a portion of the Hungjao Cemetery for the Jewish refugees. The SMC feared that other communities would expect similar favorable treatment and apply for their own specific section. It considered giving money to the community to purchase a piece of land, but eventually the PHD’s view prevailed to reserve a corner of the Hungjao Cemetery as a Jewish burial ground. That decision was made against the avowed principle of the SMC not to provide cemeteries for specific communities. Each was expected to assume the cost of purchasing the needed land and its maintenance. The SMC had to make an exception due to the large size of a largely impoverished community.
Yet, the opening of this burial ground failed to solve the problem of a Jewish cemetery in the long run. In December 1940, the representatives of the “Jewish Liberal Community” applied to the SMC for a piece of land to bury their dead according to Jewish customs. The internal correspondence reveals a certain degree of disagreement about this issue. The PWD was prepared to offer the piece of land it had considered in 1936 as a burial ground for the Jewish refugees. One month later, the Committee for Assisting Jewish Refugees approached the SMC with the same view, hoping to obtain more land to serve as a refugee camp and cemetery. While the PWD saw no objection to rent a new piece of land at a moderate rate, there was a dispute among council members about the opportunity to use municipal land for a cemetery. While a camp was acceptable and temporary, a cemetery would become permanent. There was an argument about the land made available free of charge within the Hongjao Cemetery in December 1939 (though, as the PHD admitted, the graves had been laid out wrongly). The major problem, however, was that of distance between Hongkou, where most of the Jewish refugees lived, and the Hungjao Cemetery at the other end of the city. Both for burials and visits, the cost was very high for most refugees, especially with rising transportation fees during the war. In any case, the PWD argued, the Jewish section in that cemetery was filling up at a quick pace. The matter was finally settled in March 1941 when the PHD and PWD won the argument to give out a piece of land to the refugee community. This would free the SMC from its responsibility to maintain a Jewish section within its own cemeteries and avoid the trouble of clashes resulting from the lack of knowledge of Jewish observances. The new cemetery was located at the corner of Point Road and Liping Road at the far end of the Eastern district.
While this provided a temporary respite, the cemetery proved inadequate to meet the high mortality rate among the Jewish refugee community. In early 1942, 185 had been established and burials took place at a rate of 20 per month. The SMC could foresee that the cemetery would be full by March 1943. Actually, in July 1942, the CAJR applied for additional land for its dead. The initial reply by the SMC was negative. The Jüdische Gemeinde – it had taken over from the CAJR – renewed its application in November 1942, apparently with no more success. In September 1943, the JG informed the SMC that there were only six burial spaces left in the Jewish cemetery. It needed more land or a new cemetery very badly. The JG offered to pay a small amount of money as compensation, but asked the SMC to take into account the financial situation of the community. The SMC tried to stick to its principle and convince the JG to use the Hongjao Cemetery or indigents, while the JG argued about the costs and difficulties to obtain passes to go to the Hongqiao area. Eventually, the SMC gave in and authorized the PWD to sell three mu of land to the JG. The archival documents do not say when and how the transaction was made.
Despite the importance of the Japanese community in the city, I have gathered few elements about its cemeteries. At the turn of the century, a cemetery had been established to the west of the pre-1899 limits of the IS, along what would become Carter Road. This burial ground was still visible on a 1908 and 1919 map, but it disappeared thereafter. It must have been established and used by the early Japanese settlers. Thereafter, as the community actually concentrated in the Hongkou area, a new burial ground was established in the north of Shanghai. A 1919 map shows a Japanese burial ground in Chinese territory, in the so-called External-Roads area, to the east of the Hongkew Park. It made more sense since this was the area where the Japanese community was concentrated. Yet, I have no documentary evidence about Japanese cemeteries until the early 1930s.
In 1932, the SMC signed an agreement with the “Japanese amalgamated association of street unions of Shanghai” under which it rented to the latter a piece of land of 2.9 mu for 20 years to be used as a Shinto shrine. The lot was located on the east side of Kiangwan Road in the Chinese municipality. The rent was set at Tls. 250 per year. Two years later, the shrine was extended by 0.7 mu. There were two further extensions: 1.65 mu in 1935 and 1.64 mu in 1936. Yet, whether out of financial trouble or on purpose, by 1938 the JASU had defaulted on the payment of the rent. In 1939, an application was made to take over a large piece of land that was used by the Shanghai Volunteers’ Corps. This was denied by the commander of the SVC. The JASU obtained only an additional 5.32 mu in January 1940. After the occupation of the International Settlement by the Japanese army, however, the expected extension was finally granted. It expanded the shrine by 18.8 mu while the lease was reset for 20 years starting in January 1942. Eventually, the site of the Shinto shrine was one of the largest foreign cemeteries in Shanghai (31 mu). It was surrounded by a bamboo fence within which one could find a sanctuary, a store house, a pantheon, the priest’s and the watchman’s residences.
The military conquest of Shanghai by the Japanese military failed to bring any significant change in cemetery policy. In December 1942, a Ceylonese professed Buddhist, D.W.S. Kelambi seized the opportunity of the complete defeat of the previously ruling Westerners to ask the Japanese dominated SMC to open up municipal chapels and cemeteries to the Buddhists to hold their funeral services and burials. It made a point of denouncing past Western dominance: “When the SMC was solely monopolized by British hands, any Buddhist or Hindu upon his death was denied a resting place unless the body was baptized post-mortem in any of the Municipal cemeteries, which were built and managed from the funds of the ratepayers, most of whom being Asiatics and Buddhists. This is one of the many unjust and unfair treatments meted out by the Anglo-American complex, and which was outrageous to the entire Asiatic population. […] Fortunately for us, the days of the British dominance are gone, and those who exploited this part of Asia... have been succeeded by competent and righteous hands.” If Kelambi was expecting a positive reply to his request, he must have been strongly disappointed. Japanese dominance notwithstanding, the standing policy of the SMC did not change. The PHD noted that chapels had been open to all creeds since 1899 and suggested replying that opening burials to all creeds would fill up the cemeteries very fast. On the other hand, there was no objection to holding non-Christian burial rites in chapels and he would also welcome more cremation at the Bubbling Well facility. The SMC came to the conclusion that available space in the SMC cemeteries was insufficient to accommodate persons of the Buddhist faith and, like its British predecessors, suggested that the cost of such a cemetery be borne by the concerned community. Eventually it reasserted its position that there was no objection to open all chapels to non-Christian rites, but that since no land was available in the Settlement for the purpose of a cemetery, the Council was unable to provide any facilities for the interment of deceased persons of Buddhist rite.
The preservation of colonial memories
Cemeteries are meant to last, though not necessarily for ever. In the case of Western cemeteries in Shanghai, issues of religion, memory and law contributed to the preservation of cemeteries a long time after they had been closed. After it received the property rights on the cemeteries, the SMC was stuck with them. In 1918, it projected to reinter the remains in the STC and rebuilt the Shantung Hospital on the site. Although the trail of documents is thin, it appears the matter was dropped due to legal complications. In 1925 again, the SMC consulted its legal adviser about using the burial ground for a new fire station. Although no law applied to this case, the adviser stated that the removal of graves and remains – a necessary step before construction – was open to contestation by the heirs of the deceased. And if such action was taken, the judges would be left to their own judgment to make a decision, which given the general aversion to desecrating graves may prove difficult. Another reason for the word of caution by the advisor was that should the cemetery be required for an open space no objections could be raised, but should it be built upon some objections may be raised. Even if the chances were low – the cemetery has been closed since 1871 – the SMC decided to give up. In 1939, a new proposal was made by a private company to turn the cemetery into a parking lot, but the PWD advised against the idea because of the legal restrictions under which the SMC had received the land. The last document I have found is about an attempt to turn the cemetery into an open space and sell frontage for buildings. The precedent of the sale of a portion of the Pootung Cemetery and that of the removal of the remains in the Soldiers’ Cemetery, with the verbal consent of the British Consulate, failed to provide enough legal support. Again, the plan was not pursued. By 1940, the land occupied by the cemetery was valued at $120,000 per mu that represented an passive asset worth about $1,000,000 (8.25 mu).
The Pootung Cemetery was also the object of regular solicitations to use part of its ground. For a long time, the SMC abode with a strict line of not allowing any infringement of its rights and protecting the nature of the site as a burial ground (see picture). The location of the cemetery caused some problems when the area became covered with factories and wharves. Originally, there was only empty agricultural land around it, but over time its presence was an obstacle to circulation between factories and wharves. As it reached the riverfront, it cut the frontage of the river into two disconnected sections. Even if the existing fence was built further inland, the SMC denied both right-of-passage and pathway across the land between the cemetery and the foreshore. In 1913 and 1917, applications by neighboring companies were turned down. There were also attempts to rent out part of the site to build houses, but even the application of a Protestant parish was rejected. In 1924, the BAT Company was reprimanded for erecting advertising signboards next to the cemetery. As in the case of the Soldiers’ Cemetery in Nanshi, the protest by the SMC brought the removal of the signboards. Eventually, the SMC softened its position in part under the pressure of the companies, in part because it found advantageous to have them pay for the cost of erecting and maintaining a fence and a gate at each end. The SMC made sure the work had been properly done as one can see in the photographic record left in the archives (see picture 1).
Yet the SMC remained reluctant to see the foreshore of the Pootung Cemetery used for construction. In 1928, it rejected the application of the Shanghai Rowing Club to move its facilities from Soochow Creek to the site. Both the PHD and the PWD advised against the idea, especially as the club expected to obtain the land for free. The main issue, they argue, was the presence of illegal Chinese huts which the lease to the club would not eliminate. The foreshore often turned into a swamp despite every effort by the PWD to stop high waters. They proposed selling the foreshore part to avoid further colonization. The SMC failed to act upon this proposal and the press record that the Pootung Cemetery looked abandoned. In 1932, however, a new development awakened the worries of the SMC. The Chinese municipality was distributing numbers to the huts, giving the impression to the SMC that this would give occupants some sort of right over cemetery ground. The PHD again proposed to build a wall and sell the portion on the forefront. Yet the squatters’ huts were well in place (see picture 2). After a negotiation with the SZF, the Chinese police expelled the 59 families of squatters who, however, received a financial indemnity from the SMC. The SMC wasted no time to put the land on sale which brought a large sum of money to the SMC’s funds. There was no further intervention, except after the 1937 hostilities. No action seems to have been taken to protect the cemetery more permanently with a brick wall as for the STC or BWC.
The Soldiers’ Cemetery, next to the former wall that surrounded the city, proved far more complex. Yet, it represented a much higher stake in terms of memory among Western residents. Whereas the Pootung Cemetery was somehow treated as a second-rank burial ground, the Soldier’s Cemetery, its small size notwithstanding, held a privileged status in the eyes of the SMC leaders. It had proved difficult to maintain since the 1860s, but the destruction of the wall in 1912 brought serious concern about its preservation. The press related the poor condition of the cemetery, forgotten and neglected. In 1907, the SMC had leveled the enclosure and converted it into a garden, “a little green sanctuary amidst a wilderness of squalor” according to the NCH. There may have been some exaggeration in the idyllic description of the place because this remote potion of land amidst a highly densely populated area opened to various forms of encroachment. The major issue was its use as a dumping ground which remained a constant horn. In 1924, a Chinese company put up advertising signboards which the SMC found intolerable. It pressured the Chinese authorities and obtained their removal. To prevent further inroads, the SMC heightened the wall. Yet the same problem arose again two years later. Because of repeated issues, the SMC considered removing the graves to one of its own cemeteries in 1929, but was unable to solve the thorny issue of rights over the remains.
In 1938, there was a renewed interest in the Soldiers’ Cemetery. The Superintendent of cemeteries reported on its deplorable conditions after the hostilities in late 1937. It was full of rubbish from the No. 7 Refugee Camp and there were six coffins placed above ground. The SMC had been tempted to sell the land, valued at $13,000 per mu in 1933, to the Chinese municipal government. The latter was interested in turning it into a park. The absence of an official title deed was in fact a major obstacle as it prevented the SMC to claim a formal right, but the British consulate also opposed the move. Later in the year, the SMC decided to make a determined move to remove the remains of the soldiers for good. It was a complex issue since the removal implied obtaining the approval of authorities that were not easy to determine. The SMC approached the consulate with its proposal to remove the remains and transport them to the Hungjao Cemetery and provide them with a memorial. The consulate actually contacted the successors of the regiments, based in the UK, to which the soldiers had belonged. After a lengthy process, the consulate, having received the positive reply from the military, gave its verbal consent to the removal. The operation was done in November-December 1938. Instead of the 2,000 bodies claimed by Couling & Lanning, the SMC workers found 316 adults bodies and two children. The English-language press was ecstatic about the removal: “New graves for Taiping heroes”, “Romantic old burial ground has now been abandoned”. The removal of the remains turned into an ode to the great sacrifices made by Westerners [British] to protect and save Shanghai. It became part of an exercise in ‘memory-building’ based on the reading of Shanghai history exclusively through Western eyes. The memorial in the Hungjao Cemetery was a reproduction of the old city wall. It was unveiled with a grand ceremony on October 3, 1939. The English-language press reported extensively on the event which brought together civic, religious, diplomatic and military representatives of Western countries. Nor the list of guests, neither the photographs seem to include Chinese dignitaries.
The issue of cemeteries remained very much a concern of the foreign settlements until they were returned the Chinese authorities. The establishment of a modern municipality in 1927 created a new context in which the Chinese authorities started to assert themselves in this field as well, though by regulating on their own cemeteries. Yet they did not challenge the foreign-run cemeteries, even if the rules enacted by the Ministry of Interior could have potentially challenged the existing cemeteries. A major restriction was about the location of such burial ground in densely populated areas or within a certain distance of dwellings, factories, schools, and places of gathering. By the time this regulation was adopted, the two centrally located cemeteries, Pahsienjao and Shantung Road, had been closed for decades. The BWC, however, was increasingly surrounded by constructions and population. The Chinese regulations on cemeteries became more severe and restrictive over time, even if their implementation had to take into account the actual situation on the ground.
Cemeteries carved out spaces in both the urban physical ground and social landscape. The colonial subjects and the minority groups, except the large self-contained Japanese population, did not enjoy the same rights as the members of the majority. They had to take care of themselves or to depend on the reluctant benevolence of the authorities. Even in the more public-minded French Concession, access to burial ground followed a clear hierarchical pattern. On the opposite, the ‘feature’ cemeteries were the object of constant care and protection. Attempts to recover their space for other purposes, as with the STC, were foiled by the fear to meet legal and religious challenge. Cemeteries that were part of the ‘history’ of Westerners in Shanghai, like the Pootung Cemetery or more evidently the Soldiers’ Cemetery, provided the occasion for small or large ceremonies when it came to transferring the remains of their occupants.
Cemeteries as spaces of contestation
Burial grounds created all kinds of friction. In the early days of the foreign settlements, a constant thorn in the management of land were the individual tombs scattered all around the walled city. The area outside of the wall served as a place of burial for the local population, pretty much as was the rule throughout the countryside around Shanghai. The presence of a large population, of course, increased the density of tombs in the area that became the settlements. This was especially true in the French Concession, although the westward extension of the foreign enclaves absorbed hamlets and villages around which graves were to be found. Most of the time, the removal of the individual tombs was negotiated with the owner if the family was still around. It rarely created a problem. As for cemeteries, however, their removal or transformation was more delicate. The French authorities were able to negotiate the removal of the Fujianese cemetery after they obtained the section of the riverfront south of their original limit. Yet, as is well known from Bryna Goodman’s study, the handling of the Ningbo Cemetery became a tug of war that escalated several times into riots. Here I shall deal with less violent forms of opposition by the Chinese population, but I hope to show that even in such cases the foreign authorities were unable to have their way.
As with the Ningbo Cemetery, the SMC was powerless over Chinese cemeteries that existed prior to the existence or extension of the foreign settlements. It may have learned from the bad experience of the French, or perhaps it adopted a more pragmatic approach. Nevertheless, while it avoided a confrontational approach, the SMC maintained a strong grip on a piece of land it would have liked to disappear. In 1893, a cemetery owned by the Tongren fuyuantang – a charitable institution devoted to collecting and burying exposed corpses and abandoned coffins in the city – happened to have been included within the newly demarcated boundaries of the “American Hongkew Settlement”. The SMC signed an agreement with the TRFYT establishing that it would not build roads across or interfere with the cemetery (except building a fence around it). The TRFYT, for its part, had to maintain the place in good order and avoid anything offensive or injurious to health. In particular, no coffin should be left above ground. The presence of the cemetery in an area under rapid development was not an ideal solution. In 1902, the SMC proposed to purchase the land to build the Chinese Public School. While the TRFYT initially gave its consent, influential members within and outside of the organization expressed considerable opposition, including a demonstration before the seat of the county magistrate. The SMC backtracked and purchased another piece of land. Yet it also imposed a new agreement to the TRFYT by which the latter was prohibited to use the land for another purpose or to sell it. This marked the beginning of a quiet but persistent tug-of-war between the TRFYT and the SMC.
In 1906, we learn from a report by the Chief engineer that the cemetery was in dirty and neglected condition. The SMC had obtained small pieces of it, usually for road construction, but the bulk remained firmly in the hands of the TRFYT. The SMC asked for further inroad to widen Kansuh and Tsepoo Roads and pressed the TRFYT to build a wall around its cemetery so as to avoid the temptation of dumping things by nearby residents. The TRFYT agreed, but conditioned its action to finding free land to remove the graves behind the new street line. The file on the cemetery in the subsequent years shows mostly correspondence or reports by SMC inspectors. They usually point to the “considerable quantity of garbage and debris dumped over cemetery walls”. In 1930, the SMC made a new attempt to obtain the cemetery to turn it into a public park. It tried to make a swap with the SZF by proposing to exchange it with the Soldiers’ Cemetery in Nanshi (a bold move considering the difficulties of rights over that cemetery). In any case, the proposal failed. Two years later, the same offer to create a public park was made to the TRFYT through the SZF, but the SMC was not successful.
The cemetery continued to be used as before in a way that brought constant surveillance by the health inspectors of the SMC. One can find in 1933 a detailed colored map of the cemetery, with indications about stall for the sale of second-hand goods, dwelling of squatter type, human excrement, etc. Obviously, despite the biases of the inspector, the cemetery was not used for burials and was left as an open space various people took advantage of to run their businesses. The TRFYT did not seem to monitor the place very closely or failed to see any problem in the use of its cemetery. As a result, the SMC asked the TRFYT to have all occupants removed and to repair its wall. The reprimand by the SMC failed to have a long-lasting effect. In March 1936, a report noted the use of the cemetery as a playground for football, the presence of squatter huts and even that of a woman dying her wool. Perhaps due to the pressure by the SMC, the TRFYT seems to have entertained the idea of selling the land. A company contacted the SMC about the possibility to build on the cemetery, following a request by the TRFYT to vacate all the graves. The TRFYT may have tried to test the SMC’s dispositions indirectly, but the SMC reasserted its position that no change could be made to the use of the land. Obviously the SMC was very keen on keeping control on the cemetery with a view to obtain its transfer for a public park.
In fact, it appears the cemetery was never put to another use, at least up to 1940. A school applied to use it as a playground in spring 1937, but the proposal was turned down by the SMC. It repeated its request in late 1937 which, this time, met a more receptive ear, but the school seems not to have followed suit. In its letter the school described the cemetery “like a wilderness, as before the war… [it] has become filthier than ever. Residents in the neighborhood use the place to dry their laundry and rowdies […] frequently put up gambling stalls. Garbage is dumped all over the place”. In February 1938, the Shanghai Federation of Charity Organizations asked the permission to establish sheds for refugees on the cemetery, which the SMC assented to. The paper trail on this cemetery ends with a final PWD memo in 1940 about demolished sections of the wall. The cemetery was no longer a refugee camp and had reverted to its original usage as an “open space”. The PWD said it could not do anything but asked the Hongkew police station to watch it and make sure no more destruction was made. Despite its pressures and regulating powers, the SMC was both unable to obtain the sale of the cemetery land for its profit, not capable of regulating the use of the land in a satisfactory manner. The restrictions imposed in 1893 and the failed attempt to purchase it in 1902 left a legacy of implicit animosity that both sides expressed through neutralizing each other. On the whole, however, the TRFYT was the main winner in these armstrong tactics that left the organization with actual control on the use of its burial ground. This case of resistance actually runs again the general trend of selling out burial gounds within the city limits after 1907-1908 when the Chinese authorities and elites became convinced intra muros cemeteries were an impediment to public health and urban development.
Another example of cemeteries as place of contestation and competing claims is that of the HJC. After its initial purchase of land, the SMC acquired successive lots to extend the capacity of the cemetery. In 1934, after two previous extensions, it offered to buy lot no. 11184 from its owner. After a round of negotiations, it appeared the owner found the proposed price was too low, even if, according to the SMC, it was above market value. In 1939, the issue of purchasing that lot came up again, but no move was made. The targeted lot had become a bone of contention between the SMC and the owner who took no care of its land. The reason why the SMC was unhappy is that the lot was located in the middle of the cemetery area (see map 6). The “sorry state” in which it was left was an eyesore it would have liked to get rid of. In 1941, finally, a new round of discussion was opened through a comprador, but the owner kept asking more every time a deal had been struck and approved by the SMC. The PWD suspected the owner to have bought the land on purpose to speculate on its value and “put us in a hole”. A last offer was made (at Ch. $15,000) but the owner asked for four times this amount. Out of frustration, the PHD suggested removing the path that gave him access so as to inconvenience him. Yet no action was taken. One last attempt was made in early 1943, but it seems to have failed. Quite clearly, clever landowners could anticipate cemetery extension and bet on the rise of land price for otherwise little valued farm land. Yet, as this story shows, the owner eventually failed to come with a decision to sell after 10 years which deprived him from his expected bonus.
While the SMC could hardly challenge the existence of a cemetery established before the creation of the foreign settlements, it actually also met with serious difficulties even with ordinary peasants, especially with land owned by a lineage. Despite all the rhetoric about colonial abuses, it appears that the “vested powers” the SMC enjoyed under the Land Regulations had their limits. One must also acknowledge that the SMC actually also abode with the rule of laws and regulations it enforced on the population within its territory. In 1907, the SMC planned to purchase the whole piece of land adjacent to the BWC so as to cover the whole block (see map 3). In February, after initial contacts, the PWD reported its failure to convince the owners to negotiate with the SMC. The matter was dropped for a few months, but the Works Committee gave instructions to proceed. The PWD then approached the head priest of the Bubbling Well Temple (Jing’ansi) to seek his collaboration in the discussion with the villagers. From the minutes of the interview, we learn that: the opposition by the land owners was related to the refusal by the SMC to let them repair their local temple; one landowner was willing to sell, but the other refused because it would cut their access to their own land; the land owners had a definite idea about the value of their land (no less than Tls. 5,000 per mu).
A second meeting was called between the PWD, the heads priest, the local dibao and the district headman. They concurred that it was pointless to deal with individuals and suggested to call a general meeting of the villagers. The PWD prepared a list of the twenty owners – with 7 Zhang and 9 Gu – and called a meeting on 15 November 1907. During the meeting, the SMC representatives explained that the SMC was prepared to purchase their land at market value and used its power to claim the land. The villagers wee given three weeks to formulate their claims. Past this deadline, the SMC would post a proclamation and use its powers of land condemnation. On 12 December 1907, the proclamation was posted in Chinese and English to inform the villagers that the land commissioners would proceed to assess land for its acquisition by the SMC. Yet, by March 1908, the PWD reported that the villagers had taken no notice of the proclamation. The Works Committee decided to take no further step as delay would not change the cost of the planned operation. Obviously, the threat to use its “vested powers” had failed to impress the villagers. Probably, the SMC realized its planned purchase relied on shaky legal ground. Moreover, it also had to count with the resistance not of individuals but of two tightly knit communities around the Zhang and Gu lineages. The passive resistance of the villagers forced the SMC to shelf its project.
In 1911, however, the SMC planned again to resume the land purchase. The piece of land next to the cemetery was like a thorn in the foot and prevented the hoped extension of the BWC (see map 3). There was a serious internal debate with the SMC about its strategy. The PWD argued that it was pointless to try again unless the SMC was prepared to go all the way toward the completion of the purchase. If, for the second time, it was to withdraw as in 1908, this would convey to the villagers the impression that the SMC was weak. A careful and detailed survey of the area was made with the view to see whether a coin might be inserted within the lineages among their rich and poor members (see map 7). Although nothing like this appears in the documents, the PWD had little reason to check the socioeconomic status of each landowner for the sake of academic knowledge. Despite these preparations and although the planned purchase was to take place at a time when the local Chinese authorities were in shambles, due to the revolutionary movement, the SMC eventually decided not to pursue.
The SMC felt it did not have the force to press the villagers to sell and did not want to put its face at risk. As in the case of the TTFYT cemetery, however, the SMC retaliated by refusing all permits for repair or construction of houses in the area. The failure to purchase this land remained like a burning scar. In April 1916, the Works Committee again gave directions toward the acquisition of the land, but nothing seems to have happened. There is no further trail of documents. The PWD resumed its attempt to purchase the land in February 1920. In a letter to the Secretary, it argued about the advantage to have the area scheduled for acquisition. The tone of the reply amply revealed the frustration of the SMC: “the Council does not require and will not buy this land under any circumstances”. Thereafter, the relevance of purchasing this lot decreased, first because the area had become largely urbanized, and second because of the opening of the Hungjao Cemetery.
The takeover of Shanghai by the CCP put an end to the presence of foreign cemeteries in the city. The STC was the first to go. All graves were removed in 1951 after press announcements were published so that people could come and have the graves removed by themselves. As noted in the internal report, it was less an issue of consideration for the people than of saving on labor and expenses. The Lokawei Cemetery served until March 1951 when new burials were stopped. The cemetery was suppressed only in 1959 to make way for a parking. As in 1951, announcements were made in three newspapers. All the graves were removed to the Ji’an Cemetery (吉安公幕) in Qingpu (青浦), although it is unclear whether they were all systematically removed. The Pahsienjao Cemetery was turned into a public park. The fate of the other cemeteries will require further exploration.
Cemeteries were initially created on an ad hoc basis to meet the biological consequences of death among the foreign settlers or sailors. There was nothing planned or designed for the burial of foreigners in Shanghai. Burial grounds were created by private initiative until it became obvious this required public attention. The control of cemeteries by the SMC and the FMC, however, introduced a new dimension as they became the object of policy and regulations. Yet, as one can see with the “journey to the West” of burial grounds, the degree of anticipation of the foreign authorities was always surpassed by population growth and urban expansion. New locations had to be found further west to accommodate the increasing number of graves for the various foreign communities. In the absence of strict rules, however, small cemeteries were allowed to exist or to be created in the urbanized neighborhoods of the International Settlement.
While the foreign authorities took great care of the dead from the majority groups, they were much less involved in providing burial grounds for the groups issued from their colonies or who had come to Shanghai as refugees. It was only by force that the SMC usually acceded to give out land for the purpose of creating a community cemetery. No other money was paid for the maintenance and upkeep of these places. It rested entirely on the concerned community. Access to a burial ground, therefore, followed the hierarchy of nationality, race, religion, and wealth. Those with financial means could find a graveyard a decent cemetery, but those without money or who belonged to colonial subaltern categories had to rely on benevolence or their own limited resources. Even within the colonial subjects, one can sense a subtle hierarchy, as in the more careful attention given to Sikhs requests versus the Muslim community.
Cemeteries were also place of contention and competition. It did not take the form of violent action, but quite clearly the Chinese landowners tried to take advantage of the expansion of burial grounds on their farm land. It brought ‘urbanization’ away from the city and increased land values. Yet, outside of sheer speculation, the main issue was that of the capacity of Chinese groups – lineages, benevolent societies – to stick to their land and prevent the foreign power holders to purchase the land, to force a sale or even to regulate the usage of their land, as in the case of the TRFYT. Passive resistance was a far more powerful tool to block off the SMC’s ambitions than is generally assumed. Yet, the dominant mode in the management of the space of death in Shanghai before 1949 was one of exclusion – the bulk of the Chinese population -- and division among unequal communities.
DASM : Directeur Administratif des Services Municipaux (Administrative director of municipal services
DG : Directeur general (General director)
1932 : PWD-Sec. - 11 Aug. 1932, 1933 (documents 18-22), 1935 (documents 23-35, including map), U1-16-2450
Letter PHD-Sec. 3 February 1926, U1-3-1183
Letter Jewish Liberal Community-SMC, 11 Dec. 1940, U1-14-6927, SMA
Goodman, Bryna, Native Place, City, and Nation: Regional Networks and Identities in Shanghai, 1853-1937, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995, pp. 159-169.