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Title‘Invisible Deaths, Silent Deaths’. ‘Bodies Without Masters’ in Republican Shanghai
AuthorChristian Henriot

A revised version of this paper was published in Journal of Social History, Vol. 43, no. 2, Winter 2009, pp. 408-437

(please quote only the published version - pdf at bottom of page or here)



The issue of death looms large in Shanghai and Chinese cities in the modern era. In the rich body of historiography produced in the last two decades, however, this topic is almost non existent. While works in urban history have brought an increasingly sharper focus on life in a whole spate of cities, on specific categories of the population (workers, merchants, students, prostitutes, etc.) or on cultural processes, death is hardly mentioned. In earlier studies in political history, it was associated with “repression” and summary executions (e.g. April 12, 1927), but this was a completely anonymous and quantitative perspective. At the other end of this spectrum, one would find mention of the death of a given individual, especially in wartime, due to political assassinations. Yet, this remains within the realm of political violence.1 Even in books devoted to hygiene and public health, death is simply alluded to, or sometimes not at all, in relation to sanitary conditions, epidemics, or public health policies.2 The absence of studies of death as a social phenomenon with its standard sets of rituals and various forms of organization stands in sharp contrast with the large body of work done in European history.3 As we shall see, Shanghai was like a gigantic funnel that swallowed up lives by the hundreds or the thousands, even in times of peace. This phenomenon actually reminds one more of the pre-modern French cities that drained population from the countryside to maintain their lifeline than of European cities in the same period (except under exceptional circumstances like the cholera epidemics of the 19th century).4

In fact, given the numerical importance of deaths in Chinese cities, and also their striking visibility through funerals and the movement of coffins on the streets, it is surprising that no attention was paid to death in studies devoted to popular or street culture.5 Contemporary foreign residents have left numerous accounts of their experience and ‘shock’ at the way the Chinese seemed to handle their dead – referring mostly to the practice of keeping coffins in repositories or leaving them unburied and unattended – and their fear of being contaminated by the infection resulting thereof. Mechthild Leutner’s work on marriage and death in modern Peking stands as an exception, but its wide temporal coverage somehow does not allow her to go into great details about death.6 In their respective studies of the role of the native place associations in Shanghai and Hankou, Bryna Goodman and William Rowe have also contributed to what we know about various aspects of death in late imperial and republican cities, such as rescuing bodies drowned in the river, but above all in managing the preservation and shipment of coffins back to the native place.7 On the latter subject, Hiroyuki Hokari has produced the best documented study.8 The shipping of coffins was indeed a major service provided by the native-place associations to their poorer members.

As an object of scholarly focus, therefore, death in China has been the privileged domain of anthropology. While few extensive studies exist, anthropologists have recounted the funeral practices and rituals they observed during their fieldwork among rural communities in contemporary China or in Taiwan.9 The only serious attempt at addressing the issue of death in modern Chinese society is the volume edited by James Watson and Evelyn Rawsky in 1985, Death rituals in late imperial and modern China. The contributors – both anthropologists and historians -- examined the issue of death from the twin angle of funerals and burials, and the rituals and practices attached to them. By and large, however, this volume remained focused on rural society.10 For an understanding of death in the past, we are left mostly with the classic works of de Groot and Doolittle on 19th century Fujian.11 These are extraordinary studies, especially de Groot’s, but although extremely detailed in their own way, they focus essentially on rituals associated to elite funerals and burials. Society at large is hardly visible.

In studying the issue of death in Shanghai, my interest lies in the forms and expressions of death in a major urban setting and how the Chinese popular practices and beliefs associated to death evolved over time, from the late imperial period to post-1949. In the present paper, I examine a very specific aspect of death, namely the issue of exposed corpses and abandoned coffins. In Republican Shanghai, poor people without relatives, or whose relatives could not support them, died or were dumped in the street, on the pavement, in squares, on market places, in back alleys, virtually anywhere. Taking care of the poor and destitute, alive or dead, became a major feature of the work of the benevolent societies that emerged by the end of the Ming.12 These voluntary associations -- known under various names with the most common as tongshanhui (common benevolence society) -- engaged in a variety of undertakings, with a clear focus on the relief of poor or isolated people (especially widows and older people).13 It was one of their regular features to provide coffins and free burials for those who were too poor to bear such expenses. In various places, as in Shanghai, associations came to specialize in only one type of activity (food distribution, orphanage, medical care, etc), even if many offered a range of services. Some associations eventually concentrated their activity on the establishment of charity cemeteries where poor people and unclaimed bodies could be buried after a proper ceremony.14

The present study has its roots in my research on wartime Shanghai. Yet the issue of ‘invisible deaths’ had a long history in the city. The data on which this paper is based come mainly from the archives of the two foreign settlements in Shanghai.15 It does not cover the areas under Chinese administration. This is not a deliberate choice. It reflects the state of archival documentation. The ‘administration of death’ does not seem to have ranked high in the concern of the post-1927 Chinese municipalities, while the archives from the charities involved in collecting exposed corpses remain largely untraced. Exposed corpses were one of the most gruesome aspects of urban life at least until 1949. In times of crisis – natural disasters, warfare – this phenomenon would reach an astounding level.

Death in Shanghai

Death is a natural phenomenon within any human community. Among a given population, the death rate is fairly constant and the rituals and services related to post-mortem treatment (mourning, funeral, burial, etc.) follow well-established patterns. In China, rituals and practices associated to death were grounded in a deeply rooted system of values and beliefs.16 Yet, as for other social phenomena, practices and beliefs change with time and context. In an urban setting, especially in a large city, the issue of death takes a different dimension and scale. More people happen to die which calls for specific forms of “management.” The strong social bonds that help individuals in small rural communities become looser. Besides, in modern cities, two major factors have historically contributed to a sudden increase in mortality: epidemics (cholera, plague, typhus, etc.) or massive influx of population. Shanghai has met with the two circumstances over time, sometimes at the same time. The first factor never took such proportions so as to become unmanageable. On the other hand, at various occasions after the establishment of the foreign settlements, Shanghai experienced the massive arrival of displaced populations. In both circumstances, the number of deaths would increase proportionally or sometimes exponentially.17

A major unnatural cause of death, of course, is mass violence resulting from rioting or war. While Shanghai was the scene of various riots, few have reached such a scale as to affect the population numerically. But war did. From the perspective of the present topic, therefore, the issue is that of displaced populations in times of conflict and/or severe natural disasters. In Shanghai, the two major instances of war took place in the winter of 1931-1932 and in the summer of 1937.18 The first conflict did not last long and was centered on two districts of Shanghai (Hongkou and Zhabei, and parts of Yangshupu), but it came on the heel of one of the most severe Yangzi floods. Many civilians were killed, as fighting began shortly after a minor incident before the population had a chance to seek refuge in the IS.19 Nevertheless, the brief duration of the conflict and the absence of aerial bombing limited the casualties. Furthermore, the foreign and Chinese authorities were not disorganized by the conflict.20 In 1937, the conflict lasted for three months during which all kinds of heavy artillery and aerial bombing were resorted to by both sides. Both the northern and southern districts, and at times the western area of Shanghai were affected. All communications were suspended and the city became paralyzed. The extent of material damages was huge, while the loss of civilian lives went far beyond that of 1931-1932, though not necessarily as a result of fighting.21

In pre-war as in wartime Shanghai, death was much more than a private affair. Although I cannot develop these points here, it is important to emphasize two major features that made death far more visible in the city than in most European cities.22 This will provide an appropriate contrast with the phenomenon I examine in the rest of the paper. First, Shanghai was a city of sojourners who came from all over China, with large numbers from the neighboring provinces like Zhejiang and Jiangsu. There was a well-entrenched tradition, when a sojourner died, to have the body sent back home for burial in the native soil.23 For people who could not afford the cost of transportation back home, the native-place associations provided this service at low- or no cost.24 In Shanghai, the major guilds maintained coffin repositories on their premises, in the walled city, but mostly in the outskirts, and organized regular shipments to the native place (See image 1). The presence of such repositories was regarded by the foreign authorities as hotbeds for germs and a potential nuisance to public health.25. Second, funerals were a prominent feature in Chinese cities, not just a part of the Chinese public urban scene; it was a regular part of street life. They were public events with a high degree of visibility. The degree of sophistication of funerals depended on the status of the deceased person, but for all it was an occasion for a public demonstration meant to enhance the image and clout of the whole family. There were various levels of organization, participation, etc., but even for an ordinary well-off family, it was not unusual to have several tens or hundreds participants.26 The procession could hardly go unnoticed with the music and wailing by professional mourners that accompanied it, not to mention the commotion of the procession itself through the often narrow streets of the city.27

Yet, there were also many people who died in Shanghai, who were alone and isolated or whose family could not even afford the cost of a simple burial. These people passed away, a huge proportion of them children, and remained where they had died or were abandoned, in the street. Throughout the republican period and into the early years of the PRC, exposed corpses were collected daily in the streets. With the outbreak of hostilities in August 1937, death became more prevalent with thousands of indigent people dying in the street, almost at every corner. In the context of war and occupation, the issue of exposed corpses changed drastically. Despite the existence of well-established organizations and usages, death came in the form of exceptional and new challenges for the population and the authorities.

Silent’ deaths, ‘invisible’ bodies

The phenomenon of exposed corpses and abandoned coffins was not specific to Shanghai, or to the Republican era, although we have no actual records for the late imperial period. It seems to have been a feature of Chinese urban life in the 19th century. In Ningbo no less than 279 coffins were distributed by the Practical Benevolent Society, including 63 coffins for children, in 1835. The Aiyu shantang (Hall of Sustaining Love) in Canton provided 836 coffins mostly for unclaimed bodies found in the street in 1872 and 547 the following year.28 Seventy years later (1946), the records of the Bureau of Health in the same city testify to the presence of exposed bodies. In one of its reports, a map graphically shows the extent of the phenomenon – 8,250 bodies were collected between January and August 1946 (see figure 1).29

Figure 1. Map of collected exposed bodies in Canton, Jan.-Aug. 1946

At all times, indigent people or their offspring died in the street of cities. These were deaths that left no trace and made no noise. These were deaths that went unreported, except perhaps in the records of charity organizations; corpses picked up and disposed of as soon as they were spotted; bodies poorly wrapped in bamboo matting urban residents would rather ‘not see’. These were socially shameful deaths, by Chinese standards, deaths better forgotten as if the individual had never existed. This does not belittle the action of the charity organizations involved in this work with the explicit intent to give these abandoned corpses their share of a decent ceremony and burial. The ‘invisibility’ of these exposed corpses and coffins was less a physical reality, especially when their number rose into the thousands per year, than a ‘social invisibility’, a phenomenon that came to be part of daily life, something so present and so pressing that eventually the eye just glossed over it while the mind simply erased them. To a certain extent, too, the intervention of charity organizations to clear the street from corpses certainly limited the social impact of this phenomenon. But even when figures grew exponentially after 1937, there was hardly any discussion of it. It came to be taken for granted as an inevitable curse of urban life that indigents died in the street.

Despite the high incidence of exposed corpses and abandoned coffins in the city, as we shall see below, the question never became an issue of public discussion. The press, Chinese or foreign, actually rarely addressed the problem and when it did, it was either to report briefly on the activities of the Pushan shanzhuang 普善山莊 (Shanghai Public Benevolent Cemetery, hereafter SPBC) or Tongren fuyuantang (同仁輔元堂, hereafter TRFYT, or because of extreme circumstances as during the war when it caused some ‘annoyance’.30 Somehow, one gets the sense that the death of poor people was a fact of life, a fatality to be met with appropriate means, but nothing that appeared especially shocking to the mind or something that called for any kind of preventive measures. All our cases come from the 1930s. In 1934, the China Press reported “25,753 bodies found in the city in 1933”, but the bulk of the article reported on the activity of the SPBC and its cooperation with the local authorities. Four years later, “Society makes grim report” provided an account of the situation in 1936 in words like “grisly account”, “grim inventory”, but no discussion of the problem itself. Even the staggering figure of 1938 failed to cause any particular alarm: “60,000 free burials are handled here during 1938”. It was presented plain and simple, with a call for donations to the SPBC.31 The other English-language newspapers carried similar headlines with the same content, with one of them finding it “astonishing that the SPBC dealt with more than 60,000 unclaimed human bodies last year”.32 Most of the time, however, the annual report by the SPBC was not worth more than a short paragraph.33

The presence of dead children in the street was rationalized, at least in public discourse, as something due to “the age old Chinese customs of not burying their dead children – the corpses of children up to the age of ten are invariably wrapped in rags, tied round with matting […] and thrown by the roadside. This unsanitary and regrettable custom is attributed to a superstition that if decent burials are given, the spirits of the dead children would return to take away with them their companions in this world”.34 This explanation, however, goes against various beliefs and realities. On the one hand, a high number of children were found encoffined, which tends to show that parents cared, even if they lacked the means to organize a proper burial.35 On the other hand, for adults at least, proper funeral and interment were important precisely to pacify the spirit of the deceased and make sure it would not come back to haunt the living. Obviously, even if there was a recognized practice of burying children very simply in the countryside or even of dropping the corpses of infant children in cities, the major point of high mortality was simply missed or overlooked.36 That so many bodies found their way onto the pavement had less to do with a “regrettable custom” than to the stark reality of an exceptionally high infant mortality.

Another reason for the lack of discussion may have been the class-based view through which this phenomenon was reported. In September 1942, a year of high mortality rates for all age groups in the population, the Shanghai Times interviewed Stone Loh, the director of the SPBC. Apart from predicting serious death rates in the upcoming cold months, Loh made the case that “only the children died of starvation”. He contended that the death rate of adults was comparatively small and that “almost all of these beggars are addicted to drugs… when they have no money to buy the drug, they die”. The high mortality of children could be reduced if the authorities could maintain a hospital for babies.37 This line of argument by the head of the SPBC is quite striking. There may have been a strategy in pointing to the tragic case of children from poor families to attract donors and help raising money for the SPBC. Adults were easily and conveniently presented as sorry cases hardly worth the trouble they gave. Presenting them as drug users – an image that made its impact on the Shanghai residents – can also be read as a way to give oneself good conscience and whitewash the problem.38 Of course, it goes against all evidence and even common sense that the use of drugs could explain why poor people ended up dead in the street and why there were such dramatic changes in times of economic crisis or warfare.

In examining this issue and its impact, one has to distinguish between two kinds of ‘bodies without masters’ as they used to be called.39 For people with limited resources, a quick and cheap way of handling the deceased was to deposit the coffin on a piece of vacant land, hardly buried, often simply above the ground. It may have been a temporary expedient pending better days or ulterior removal and proper burial. It was the most affordable solution for those who could not afford the cost of a coffin repository or the assistance of a guild coffin repository. A well-entrenched Chinese custom was to keep the coffin of the dead until a proper time and place had been found, either in the city, or most often in the original native place. Usually, this was done within weeks or months, but sometimes coffins were kept for years before being shipped back home. Many families also kept the coffin in or close to their house before transshipment.40 For the poor people, renting a space in a coffin repository was a luxury while their houses were too small to accommodate the cumbersome presence of a coffin. The practice was not unusual and fit with the habit of leaving a coffin above ground, covered with bamboo matting, in the countryside. [See image 2]

The second and more common practice was to wrap the dead body in a crude bamboo matt and to leave it in the open air. While vacant land was also used, most bodies were found in the street, in more or less public spaces. This was especially true of infants and children for whom the expense of a coffin was not considered essential. Yet, adults were also found in this condition, generally in their cloths, although women were very rarely left without a coffin. We shall discuss this point later. De Groot makes the point that children, especially below the age of ten, were not given proper rituals and even burials. In cities, perhaps to deal with the issue of infant mortality, there were so-called “baby-towers” in which parents could deposit their dead child. Both de Groot and Milne mention the existence of such structures in southern cities41. I have not found any record of a similar construction in Shanghai in the 19th century. Milne, who made it a point to visit charities and coffin repositories does not make any mention, whereas he presents the work of collecting exposed corpses by the TRFYT in the mid-1850s.42 . During the Republican period, the same organization was still active, as we shall see. For decades, the phenomenon was quite stable, even with population increase, which may explain why it failed to become a social issue. After the mid-1920s, however, there is no question that it took on a new scale.

It is probably impossible to take a full measure of the number of exposed corpses in Shanghai. To start with, the 19th century is largely illusive, as no record has been found. Moreover, even when there are records, they are incomplete and/or cover different areas within the city. While two major organizations took care of most of the work of collecting bodies, some smaller associations come up in the records. There is also the issue of sorting out the corpses actually picked in the street from those received from hospitals, charity homes, or refugee camps. Generally, these were separate categories, but of course in times of acute crisis such a distinction became blurred. Finally, anything beyond the close limits of the urban area went unrecorded. Most of our data was generated by the involvement of the municipal authorities in the International Settlement (after 1928) and the French Concession (after 1937). Although the Chinese municipality started to give grants during the war with Japan, I was not able to trace any documentary evidence for this area.

For a crude assessment of the phenomenon, we shall start from the records of the main organization, Pushan shanzhuang 普善山莊 (Shanghai Public Benevolent Cemetery, hereafter SPBC).43 Established in 1913, the SPBC went into full operation in 1915 and remained active well into the early 1950s. For more than 35 years, it devoted itself almost exclusively to collecting and burying exposed corpses in Shanghai.44 I was fortunate to find a four-page pamphlet published on the occasion of a fund-raising campaign in late 1947. The document contained a table with the annual count of bodies gathered throughout the history of the association up to June 1947.45 Since the figures may have been exaggerated for publicity purposes, I double-checked them with similar data retrieved from various sources, in particular archival documents. The published figures were consistent with those of internal reports. Table 1 presents these figures with additions for the late 1940s and early 1950s


Table 1. Number of exposed corpses and abandoned coffins

collected by the SPBC in Shanghai (1915-1951)


Adult bodies and coffins

Children bodies and coffins


Adult bodies and coffins (%)

Children bodies and coffins (%)







































































































































































































Total SPBC






























Grand total







Table 2. Number of exposed corpses and abandoned coffins

collected by the TRFYT in the French Concession (1929-1938)









































































There is little doubt that the number of exposed bodies followed an ever-ascending curve, with massive increases in times of crisis. Of course, the records of the early years probably do not reflect the extent of the phenomenon. They reflect the work capacity of the new organization. By 1917, however, they may convey a sense of the actual number of exposed corpses in the city, although the surge from 2,720 in 1918 to 5,642 the following year cannot be explained by any special circumstances. By 1921, a plateau was reached that lasted for half a decade, followed by a prodigious increase that, except for a slump in 1927, pushed the figure to a new level until 1929. The next decade saw another jump, though with jigsaw oscillations. In the French Concession the police recorded the bodies it found by itself. The official record shows that until 1909-1910, around 50 bodies were recovered. After 1909 there was a movement upward that still remained within the 150-200 range until 1920. Thereafter, there was a moderate increase to around 300 bodies per year for a decade according to the annual report of the French municipality. Yet a report by the TRFYT shows that by 1929 the association was collecting almost 4,000 bodies per year. The discrepancy in the two series can be explained by considering that the official figures included only the bodies discovered and taken care of by the police. While the trend is unmistakable, official figures would appear greatly underestimated before the Sino-Japanese hostilities. If we add the SPBC and the TRFYT figures, the number of exposed corpses and abandoned coffins recovered in the late 1920s and mid-1930s amounted to 30,000-40,000 per year.

In both settlements, however, serious disruptions in daily life had far reaching consequences. The 1930-1932 period was particularly severe. These were years of crisis in the surrounding countryside, especially during the Yangzi flood of 1931 that forced tens of thousands of peasants to seek refuge in Shanghai, but above all there was also war in the midst of the city during the winter of 1931-1932. With the first and short-lived Sino-Japanese confrontation in the winter of 1931-1932, the number of exposed corpses simply doubled in the French Concession. Thereafter, there was hardly any return to the previous level, especially in the IS. This respite was short, however, as there was a dramatic upsurge after 1937.


Figure 2: Exposed corpses collected by the SPBC and Tongren fuyuantang (1929-1938)

The outbreak of Sino-Japanese hostilities in 1937 in the city had enduring consequences far beyond the immediate effects of fighting. The first major consequence was a massive displacement of population that left their home with few resources. In a matter of weeks, one million people were turned into refugees. Warfare in the neighboring countryside also brought successive waves of peasants in search of a temporary shelter. While large numbers were evacuated back to their native place – around 300,000 – most stayed behind, hoping to get back to their jobs and housing. Unfortunately, bombing, shelling and fires turned the northern districts into ashes.46 The Japanese army imposed restrictions on the return of Chinese to these areas. In others words, residents-turned-refugees had to survive much longer than expected in the foreign settlements. Death took an exacting toll on the poor and destitute, especially children (see Table 1). While 1937 saw a new surge, mostly in the second half of the year, 1938 set an infamous record with more than 60,000 deaths/corpses – 165 on every single day on average – left by the road side. There was a significant decrease over 1939 and 1940, although no break through below the 30,000 baseline. The harsh conditions of the winter of 1941-1942 pushed again the figures for both years upward.

There is a certain discrepancy between the trend shown in the figures of the SPBC for Shanghai and those in the International Settlement. From 1928 to 1937, the number of exposed corpses was relatively stable in the IS, whereas there was an almost continuous increase in the city as a whole. The two curves would come together in times of crisis, as in 1931-32. This would tend to indicate that the phenomenon was spread over the whole city, with sharper movements in the Chinese-administered districts. The size of the population does not seem to have had an impact on the number of exposed bodies in the IS, but our population series are both incomplete (census every fives years) and unreliable (population level after 1938). In the FC, the ratio of exposed corpses during the 1930s stood at 14 per thousand while in the IS the figure leveled at 11-12 per thousand. In 1932, however, the figure in the FC jumped to 22 per thousand. After 1937, the two lines for the IS and Shanghai as a whole were strictly parallel, reflecting in fact the distribution of the displaced population that sought refuge in the IS and the FC. The IS received the largest number, due to its location near to the fighting areas that included both the industrial sector of Yangshupu and the densely-populated district of Zhabei. Throughout the war, the phenomenon of exposed bodies and abandoned coffins became markedly a problem centered on the IS, escalating from one half to close to 70% between 1937 and 1943. Except in 1928, for which I have no explanation, the share of the IS had been in the 17%-22% range.47 Since the exposed bodies in the FC were taken care of by a different organization throughout out this period, the difference is to be found in the Chinese municipality.

In the latter years of the war, the number of exposed corpses fell back below the level of the 1920s, except in 1942. This may have resulted from the policy of forced departure of the population by the authorities and the enforcement of the baojia system.48 At any rate, the movement upward resumed in 1947, even if the data are incomplete. This was a period that also saw great economic instability, warfare in the countryside et massive influx of displaced population. By June 1947 the SPBC had collected more than 14,000 bodies and there is every reason to believe the remaining half of the year brought in as many bodies. In the first quarter of 1948, more than 2,500 exposed corpses and abandoned coffins (or about 10,000 for one year) were found. The latter part of the civil war must have brought extreme difficulties, between hyperinflation and streams of displaced population. The figures for 1949 and the early years of the communist regime in Shanghai show a tragic return to figures above 40,000. These statistics include both exposed corpses and abandoned coffins, but as we shall see the vast majority belonged to the first category. The Civil war period brought as much misfortune and mortality among the poor as the Sino-Japanese war.

There is probably no way to make an accurate assessment of the number of exposed corpses and abandoned coffins found in the city. Our series are incomplete and inconsistent. Different sources provide different and contradictory figures. Most of the time, the discrepancy is limited, but during the war one can be certain that many bodies went unaccounted for. Altogether, for a single organization – SPBC -- the total number of collected corpses and coffins between 1915 and 1951 comes to an astounding figure of 848,759. For a shorter period of ten years, the TRFYT gathered close to 74,000 bodies. Even with a cautious rule of thumb, an aggregate of all statistics from all organizations would easily push the number to one million for the 35-year period under study here. This was the number of bodies left behind, wretched in both life and death, most of them premature fatalities of an unforgiving economic system and devastating wars.

To prove I’m not forgot”49

Who were these “bodies without masters”? Is there any way to learn more about these invisible and silent deaths? Of course, only very minimal data were recorded about the exposed corpses and coffins discovered in the street. As one may expect, they were found with nothing, and the associations that collected the bodies concerned themselves only with removing and burying them. In most records, the dead were anonymous figures with no name, no age, no profession, and sometimes no sex (for children). One can probably make an educated guess on the issue of profession. Except for some hard-pressed and vulnerable middle-class shimin caught in war, the vast majority belonged to the poorest sectors of population like unskilled (and some skilled) manual workers and coolies. In a 1939 report, the PHD gleaned from the SPBC that unclaimed adult bodies were those of beggars (33%), refugees (42%), and residents (25%).50 Since refugees were for the most part former residents of the war-torn areas in the city, with some of them falling into the ranks of “beggars”, it is not an exaggeration to think that a majority of the unclaimed bodies were those of Shanghai residents.

Our statistical series actually start with the involvement of the Shanghai Municipal Council, which required daily, monthly, and annual reports in exchange for its subsidy. Unfortunately, these reports provide only very rough data, namely sex, age category (adult/child), coffin/matting, police district (See Map 1: Police districts). There is no indication about the precise location where the bodies were found, nor is there any breakdown by age groups. For the International Settlement, my analysis can only address these limited data. For the French Concession, I was fortunate to find the daily reports on exposed corpses found by the police. Whereas in the International Settlement only the corpses of adults were examined by the police before their removal by the SPBC, the French police, at least in wartime, made a record of any body that came to its attention. The French records add significantly to our knowledge about these wretched lives, even if the supplementary data is limited to age and location. The policemen dutifully noted the exact address, sometimes with indications on the place (back alley, corner of, etc.), and assessed the age of the victims. It is of course a crude estimate, but even if these policemen were not trained nurses, they had acquired an unfortunate experience over time. They indicated the age in months for infants, in years for children and decades for adults (20, 30, 40, etc.). This series, however, covers only 1938, though it offers a solid sample of 2,020 individuals.

It is readily apparent in Table 1 that infants and children vastly outnumbered adults. They were the primary victims of poverty, malnutrition and disease. The high figure for children, many of them newborn or infants, is not surprising. They were the less well prepared to survive in a context of poor housing, lack of food and adverse weather conditions. Over 35 years, they represent on average 88.2% of the exposed corpses and coffins collected by the SPBC, but in most years before 1937 the figure was above 96%. In times of crisis, like in 1932 or more clearly after 1937, the number of adults tended to increase substantially to one fifth or one quarter of the victims. The data in the French Concession exhibits a different pattern in the early 20th century, but we know that it was incomplete as discussed previously.51 The TRFYT data in Table 2 tend to support the trend of a large number of children. Citywide, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the share of adults increased tremendously from 15% in 1937 to almost 40% in 1942. Immediately after the war, the decrease was substantial, but the mortality rate among adults remained high (10.5%). The year 1942 was unusual and symptomatic of the hardships brought about by the lack of food combined with a rigorous winter. The same pattern applied in the two settlements. After 1946, the overall trend was a return to a disproportionate share of children. Unfortunately, the post-1949 statistics did not distinguish between adults and children.

There was an overwhelming majority of male among adult exposed corpses. Unfortunately, the SPBC data published in 1947 do not distinguish between sexes, and even the reports submitted to the SMC did not record sex for children. In the IS between 1928 and 1943, the share of adult males remained almost constantly close to or above 90%. There were exceptional years, in relation with war (1932 and 1933; 1938-1939), with a larger proportion of female bodies. In the French Concession, the population of exposed corpses in 1938 included 2,020 individuals, with 1,210 males (60%) and 810 females (40%). This ratio was quite different from the SPBC data for the International Settlement. Female bodies are more numerous. If we make a rough divide between adults (above 15) and children, the former represented one quarter of the total, but with a sharp difference between males and females. Adult women represent only 6.5% of the female bodies against 36.8% for male bodies. As in the International Settlement, female bodies (10%) ended up much more rarely in the street than men (90%). Since there is no reason to consider that natural resistance or better nutrition would have spared the lives of women, and even considering that there were more men than women among the poor or refugee population, the only rational explanation for the low number of female corpses is one of economics. The surviving spouse was more able to pay for or organize the burial of the deceased when the former was a man, with more physical strength and income, than it was for a woman depending on the husband for a living.

A breakdown by age group among adults in the French subset does not modify the general picture. Young adults (16-20 years) represented a tiny proportion of this population. Quite obviously, the major line of divide was between teenagers/adults and children, but even more so among children below the age of 5 years. Taken together, the combined group of infants (below 1 year) and young children (1-5) represented 73.6% of the collected bodies. The ratio for females was 91.7%, far above that of males (61.5%). This distribution, however, does not reflect a higher mortality rate among female infants or children. It reflects only the ‘absence’ of adult females among exposed corpses (see infra). Infants and the 1-5-year age group represented respectively 31.1% and 42.4% of the total number of exposed bodies. Among infants, if we are to trust the assessed age recorded by policemen, the 1-6 month-old group fared worse, which may be related to weaning or supplementing breastfeeding with artificial food.52 Definitely, young children below the age of five were far more exposed to premature death. They had not yet built immunity and resistance against various diseases, while they must have lived in poor housing, lacked proper nutrition and were exposed to infectious diseases.

If we examine more closely the data on infants and children, especially the ratio between females and males, there is a general balance between the two. Except for the 1-6 months old (61.6%/38.4%), the ratio is close to 50/50. There was an exact balance among newborn infants. Yet, the large share of 1-6 month-old babies obviously biases the total and points to a higher morality rate for baby girls (58.4% of the age group). Of course, this raises the issue of infanticide, or at least of the preference/neglect for boys and girls. We do not really have data to put these figures in perspective, for lack of data on registered births. If we assume that the natural rate was 1:1, girls appear less numerous in the few fragmentary census tables we have, which may indicate a lower survival rate and support the interpretation of ‘active’ or ‘passive’ infanticide. These figures, however, do not fully back up a sharp difference between males and females if we consider that 1938 produced the highest number of exposed bodies ever. Past the age of one year, males are more numerous, and increasingly so with the years. There is a good chance that, as most studies of mortality in pre-modern and modern cities show, poor nutrition, unhealthy environment and lack of medical care took an even toll on the life of infants and young children.

Almost without exception, adults were found dead without any cover or coffin. Figures vary for certain years in the IS, but there is no distinguishable pattern. Only in the 1937-1939 period, is it as if there had been an effort to place dead adults in coffins. In 1938, more adults were found in coffins than usual (25% for male and 45% for female), but this was exceptional. Children were generally found in coffins (about 60% until 1937; 40% to 20% thereafter) or wrapped in matting (about one third before the war, then it increased to 60%-80%). Obviously, economic difficulties made it increasingly difficult for poor families to even afford a small and simple coffin. This issue is not indifferent as its degree of visibility by local residents would vary greatly, depending on whether the body was encoffined or not, whether it was a child or an adult. The distribution of exposed bodies in Shanghai amply supports the view that this was a phenomenon that any resident, except in the wealthier areas, was bound to come across. Exposed corpses and abandoned coffins created a particular geography of death in the city. Through mapping it is possible to recreate that geography, even if that visual representation of space cannot actually recreate the actual phenomenon. These are aggregated data projected onto a space, but they do convey a sense of the widespread nature of the phenomenon.

The factor of seasonality also played into the number of bodies collected on a given month. Although there is no absolute pattern, some months figure more prominently in almost all years. March was a regular high-record month. It came at the end of the winter period, when a combination of malnutrition and cold-related diseases left many with a weakened body. One can also observe peaks in July or August. It may have less to see with malnutrition – although July-August was often a period with higher prices for cereals – than with temperature, bad water and infectious diseases. The pattern just described was that of peacetime. Wartime shattered that pattern very badly from late 1937 through much of 1938. Thereafter, the same pattern returned, though with an exceptional peak in January-March 1942 when a combination of exceptionally cold weather, lack of food supply and high prices drove a part of the population to starvation, and again in August 1942 during a hot and dry summer.53

The distribution of exposed bodies in the urban space is a fundamental issue for an understanding of how this phenomenon could have been perceived by Shanghai residents. In the International settlement, data was aggregated by police district. There is no trace in the archival documents on the actual place of pick up. These data reveal a moving geography (See Map 2 below) through time as population density and access to certain areas changed.54 Before 1937, the higher number of bodies was collected in all four districts, but in specific areas: Louza in Central district; Yangtsepoo, followed by Wayside, Yulin, and Kahsing in Eastern district; Hongkew or West Hongkew alternatively in Northern district; Bubbling Well in Western district. There were some alterations in this distribution, but basically corpses were found in areas that were remote from the central district, except for Louza. These were areas with a higher number of poorer people (Eastern district) and less urbanization (Western district). Louza stands out mostly as a place where adult bodies were found, whereas children corpses explain the high number in the Western and Northern police districts. This was especially true of Yangtsepoo, the most remote area in the Eastern district, where 33%-42% of children bodies were found. The war drastically altered this geography. The Eastern and Northern districts almost disappeared from the map in 1937 as these areas were emptied of their population and remained inaccessible through most of 1938. As a consequence, the western-most districts received a much larger share, but the largest number was collected in the Central district with 64% of all bodies. Data is completely missing for 1938. In 1939, Western Hongkew reappeared on the map of exposed bodies, along with higher numbers in the western-most districts and in Louza. Sinza and Chengtu also figured more prominently in a geography that hardly changed in the following years.

Map 2 : The distribution of exposed corpses in the IS (cumulated figures by police district)

Thanks to the detailed record of the French police in 1938, it is possible to ‘see’ more precisely where the exposed bodies were found (See Map 3 (adults) & Map 4 [Children under 5]). Except for the East district that exhibited a low number, every district was affected: by order of importance, Central (30.7%), Joffre and Foch (almost at par with 18.6%-18.8%), Pétain (14.4%), Mallet (13.5%) and East (2.4%). The figures are not related to the size of the districts, or to their population. Yet the low figure for the East district may be related to its size and shape (it is a narrow strip along the Huangpu River) and the constant movement of passers-by. Many bodies were actually found on the jetties and the wharves. Central may owe its substantial share to its shape as it encompasses in fact the largest section along the Zikawei Creek, a convenient place to dump corpses. Yet what we can observe is that it is not a phenomenon that is taking place in remote locations, away from the center of the settlement. It is spread all over the place, with bodies found on the pavement, on market places, on vacant land, but mostly in the numerous lilong that ran through the residential blocks. The major distinction is between children and adults. Whereas children, of both sexes were found throughout the concession, adults were concentrated in the two most central districts, East, Mallet, and part of Central. Babies and children could be “dumped” in every corner, but adults most probably just died where they happened to be, and the central districts were those where they had a better chance of begging some money of food. Map 5 gives a sense of that distribution. It introduces a certain distortion as all bodies collected over a period of several months are represented here.55 On an every day basis, the picture would look different. Still, I believe that this map offers a visualization of ‘silent’ deaths in the French Concession. It highlights how much, even in one of the most developed areas of the city, amidst plentiful resources and even wealth, a significant number of people were left to die or abandoned in open air.


Saving their souls, burying their bodies

The problem of exposed corpses was taken care of in the walled city and its suburbs by the private charities that provided paupers’ burials. These organizations distributed free coffins and maintained burial grounds for the poor of the city. The collection of exposed bodies became also part of their attributions. One of the earliest organizations on the record to take care of exposed bodies in Shanghai seems to have been the Guoyu Benevolent Society. It established a charity cemetery where the destitute were buried according to a strict set of regulations on the identification of the deceased and the separation of men and women in the cemetery. According to Raymond Lum, the regulations of the Guoyu Benevolent Society were cited as a model in a handbook for magistrates.56 Yet I have not found any trace of this early organization in the local archives or other records. In her book, Bryna Goodman refers to the establishment of "pauper burial grounds" (yimu) by native-place associations, in addition to their regular cemeteries and coffin repositories.57 One such cemetery was established by the Guang-Zhao Guild to provide a space where all its poor tongxiang could rest together. This may have been a substitute to shipping the dead back home. The cemetery would also be used as a temporary burial ground until people had enough resources to remove their ancestor to the native place.58

In Republican Shanghai, two major associations were involved in the actual removal of dead bodies and abandoned coffins from the streets: the Shanghai Public Benevolent Cemetery (Pushan shanzhuang) and Tongren fuyuantang.59 The TRFYT had a long history in the city, while the SPBC was established only in 1913. Merchants from the Ningbo community were strongly involved in both organizations, at least during the Republican period. There is a short history of the TRFYT in Shanghai in one of its reports to the French Municipal Council. It provides a rough chronology of the establishment and merging of the various charities that eventually formed the Tongren fuyuantang. The immediate predecessors to the Tongren fuyuantang, the Tongcitang and Tongrentang, were founded in 1746 and 1805 respectively, with the latter absorbing the Tongcitang at the time of its foundation. In 1834, a new organization, Puyuantang was founded. By 1856, however, it merged with Tongrentang and became Tongren fuyuantang.60 As mentioned above, the TRFYT was recognized in the mid-1850s as the organization in charge of burying paupers.61 The SPBC was a unique organization established in 1913 by Ningbo merchants under the initiative of Wang Yiting, a leading Shanghai philanthropist. Although the TRFYT was already involved in collecting abandoned corpses and coffins, these merchants felt the urge to establish an additional organization entirely devoted to the same task.62 The following year, it acquired its first burial ground (location unknown), and then proceeded to acquire a large track in Dachang in 1918. From its original base in Zhabei, the SPBC expanded in the International Settlement (1922), Nanshi (1925) and Pudong (1926).63

The TRFYT and SPBC performed a social service that was not unique to Shanghai. In Chinese towns and cities, and even in a village, if an unknown person happened to die suddenly, the local community was responsible for providing a coffin and burial.64 In urban centers, charity organizations had emerged to take care of the issue of such deaths, including those of indigents. This service was not performed only out of hygienic reasons. All dead had a right, however simple, to a decent burial. The belief that the soul of an unburied corpse would haunt the neighborhood or house where it was found was a strong motivation for taking care of exposed bodies.65 The number of such cases in large urban centers explains why some organizations devoted their energy to collect and bury exposed corpses after a simple ceremony. Even the hastily cremated remains of the people found in the war zone in late 1937 were entrusted by the foreign authorities to the SPBC “for burial in accordance with such rites as they advisable in order that no religious susceptibilities will be offended”. 66 When cremation was imposed on all exposed bodies after March 1938, ashes were entrusted to the charity organizations. Even if the two associations were established to deal with the burial of exposed bodies and abandoned coffins, they actually provided a wider range of services. Yet, especially with the advent of war, they came to be seen as undertakers instead of public welfare associations. Besides collecting exposed corpses, a major activity was the provision of free coffins to poor families to enable them to bury their dead properly. Between 1915 and 1947, the SPBC distributed 271,832 coffins.67 I do not have similar figures for the TRFYT although this activity is also mentioned in its records.68

The division of labor between the two associations remains unclear, although by 1864 the TRFYT had opened a branch in the FC and eventually came to be recognized by the authorities as the sole legitimate organization, and its official partner during wartime, whereas the SPBC officially served the IS from 1928 onward.69. It is probably safe to assume that until 1913, the TRFYT was the only association that operated throughout Shanghai.70 The sources mention other organizations in the archives, usually because they applied for a grant from the SMC, but they were small-scale late-comers. In 1929, a Li Yi Benevolent Society, claimed to be established since 1918, applied for protection and support from the SMC. It appeared, however, that despite its claim to collect bodies in the street, it was concerned mostly with dispensing free coffins to the poor and to hospitals. It actually worked mostly with the Chinese Isolation Hospital.71 In 1939, a Chinese Moral Association (Zhongguo daoyihui 中國道義會), 1,000 members strong, declared that it had begun to remove corpses in the International Settlement, the investigation by the SMP showed it limited its operations around its seat on Yates Road and dismissed the application.72 Overall, however, the SPBC seems to have played the major role in the management of exposed corpses in republican Shanghai, with the TRFYT as the second-most important organization due to its role in the French Concession.

Both organizations owned large tracts of land to bury the corpses they collected. The SPBC owned a large cemetery (Puyi gongmu - 普益公墓) in Dachang that it had opened in 1925 for the interment of the remains of Chinese residents of the foreign settlements and the Chinese municipality.73 The TRFYT owned some 33 burial grounds in Pudong where it shipped the coffins in highly recognizable junks.74 With the war, both organizations lost access to their cemeteries for a long period and had to acquire new land, mostly in the Hongqiao area, west of Shanghai.75 Even after the acute phase of late 1937, the SPBC and TRFYT had to meet the exceptional challenge with limited resources, majors constraints, and with more concern for expediency than appearance.76 Because of the difficulties to access the burial ground in Hongqiao after the hostilities moved westward, it had to use temporary burial grounds within the International Settlement, along Rockhill Avenue, and in Nanshi, where the victims of the 1931-1932 conflict had been buried.77 As soon as the conflict moved away from Shanghai, the SPBC asked the SMC to obtain passes for its trucks to go to Hongqiao again. It undertook to remove ten of thousands of temporarily stored coffins to the Hongqiao cemetery.78 No doubt, the SPBC went to great lengths to ensure the burial of unclaimed bodies, despite all pressures by the SMC to use cremation to deal with these bodies.79 As these places filled up, the two organizations had to obtain more land in the area. The SMC served again as an intermediary between the SPBC and the Japanese military to obtain land and access rights in the Hongqiao area. In March 1939, all parties surveyed a piece of 50 mu of uncultivated land to bury the monthly 1,000 bodies the SPBC had to take care of. The area was large enough to receive about 6,000-7,000 coffins. The Japanese, however, imposed strict measures of health protection, including a fence all around the cemetery and burial under 50 cm of earth.80 Eventually, the SPBC owned 150 mu of land, next to the Hungjao Cemetery of the Shanghai Municipal Council.81 In January 1941, the PHD warned that the remaining space would be depleted within two months. The SPBC suggested again to use its original site in Dachang and to acquire land in Panlong in Qingpu County, some 10 kilometers away from Shanghai, but these solutions depended on permission by the Japanese authorities.82

Although the need to remove the exposed bodies from the streets certainly helped the SPBC to obtain the support of the authorities, there were repeated closures or bans on burials in the Hongqiao area. In 1943 the Hongqiao cemetery was closed again. The SPBC rented land in Qingpu, but incurred higher expenses due to distance.83 After the war, the absentee owner of the land used by the SPBC to bury the coffins of identified or unclaimed coffins came back and claimed its land. The SPBC started to excavate the coffins, but it exceeded its logistical capacities, which resulted in coffins lying in open air. An agreement with the owner eventually prevailed, by way of paying him a rent pending the removal of the coffins.84 The SPBC tried to obtain the return of its land in Dachang, but it does not seem to have succeeded in its attempt.85 Struggle for more burial space was a continuous process not only because access to established burial grounds came to be closed, but because of the additional demands imposed by military conflict. In late 1948, the SPBC applied for land to bury Nationalist soldiers killed in battle with communist troops. The municipal government denied access to Hongqiao, considered too full to receive more coffins. We lose track of the negotiations by May 1949, with no final decision yet made.86

Municipal regulation of exposed corpses

The issue of abandoned corpses or coffins must have become an issue soon after the foreign settlements were established in Shanghai, but we have no record of the initial arrangement. In the late imperial and early republican period, down to the 1920s, the responsibility for the collection of abandoned corpses in the International Settlement was officially entrusted to the local dibao.87 The local headman (dibao) was expected to attempt to identify the person, contact relatives, and file a report describing the state of the corpse as well as all the personal effects found on the body.88 Since the Land regulations that governed the foreign settlements forbade the burial of any Chinese in the settlements, the removal of exposed corpses was a duty that also fell upon the dibao. Every time a body was found, the settlement authorities would call upon the dibao to have the body removed at his own cost. Failure to take action might get the dibao to be brought to the Mixed Court and be fined.89 On the whole, the job was done quite efficiently even if, occasionally, the SMC would lodge a protest about coffins left unattended close to the limits of the IS.90 Of course, the task became more daunting with the sharp increase in abandoned bodies and coffins in the 1920s and protests became more frequent.

In 1922, the SPBC made its first move to obtain financial support from the SMC. In its letter of application for a grant in aid, it emphasized the service provided to the community. The letter came with the 1922 annual report of the association. The SMC flatly refused to provide a subsidy arguing instead that the removal of dead bodies had been performed efficiently by the dibao and that all similar offers by similar societies were always refused. Obviously, the SMC failed to see that the dibao were just intermediaries in the collection of bodies by the SPBC.91 The SPBC temporarily gave up, but three years later it sent another letter to the SMC. This time, it indirectly mentioned its role in preserving public health. Again the SMC seemed totally ignorant. The memo prepared by the Inspectors of health stated that they had never heard of it, that their foremen said there was such an organization, that the inspectors were unable to “locate these people”. The report also noted that there had seldom been a complaint about dead bodies in the previous two or three years.92 One can make two observations: that the SPBC worked efficiently and diligently; that the number of dead bodies was still manageable, even if the SPBC felt it fair to apply for support from the SMC. Once again, the application was turned down.93 The association also failed with the French Concession.94

By the mid-1920s, the dibao became increasingly reluctant to oversee the removal of the dead bodies and asked the SMC to be discharged of this duty. This was perhaps due to the increase in the number of bodies found in the streets of the IS. In the late 1920s, it amounted to 4,000-6,000 per year. The new political context created by the conquest of the city by the Nationalist party may also have been used to put pressure on the SMC to contribute to the expenses.95 While the SMC, in principle, would have preferred to maintain the original scheme, the Commissioner of Health argued that it would be as efficient to rely entirely and directly on the SPBC. It would only cost the SMC a small annual allocation of money.96 After an interview between W.G. Clarke (Commissioner of Police) and Wang Yiting (chairman of the SPBC), a new arrangement was adopted. In August 1928, the SMC entrusted the SMP with this task in conjunction with the SPBC.97 Although the SMC was not entirely happy to be the only public institution to subsidize the collection of corpses in the city, this was the system in place when war broke out in the city in 1937. The French Concession rejected all applications arguing that it relied on the TRFYT to which it made small and occasional contributions.98 Initially, the TRFYT performed its work without formal contacts with the French authorities. It came to the attention of the French Bureau of Public Health when it applied for a grant from the French Concession to face the increasing costs of collecting bodies in the French Concession.99 Every application for an increase was scrutinized with little sympathy. The Bureau de l’Hygiène tended to suspect the TRFYT of exaggerating both figures and costs to obtain a larger grant from the municipality.100

Periods of armed conflict dramatically increased the workload of the two organizations.101 Up to the Sino-Japanese war in 1937, the correspondence between the SPBC and the SMC was concerned mostly with obtaining an increase of the grant when it appeared that the share of the IS in the total was on the rise. In 1930, the SPBC noted a solid increase, with more than 30% collected in the IS.102 During the conflict of 1931-1932, the number of people found dead in the streets increased twofold. In a letter of 12 February 1932, the Commissioner of Public Health noted that the number of corpses collected were twice the normal number, with a high rate of infantile morbidity.103 The SPBC recorded more dramatic figures for March 1932, with a total of corpses as high as five times that of the same month in the previous year.104 With a full-fledged battle in and around the city in 1937, the number of deaths could be expected to increase dramatically. All the people who came from the districts under Chinese administration had fled with little time to gather their belongings, sometimes just a couple of hours. While many found a new home among relatives and friends, large numbers could only settle in the streets and alleyways, or at best in the refugee camps established by the benevolent societies and guilds. With little cash and limited savings, these families could not survive very long in Shanghai.105 Yet a whole new problem emerged, not just because of the increase in the number of abandoned bodies, but because it was no longer possible to remove and bury them in areas outside the foreign settlements due to Japanese occupation or to the blockade of traffic on the Huangpu river or Soochow Creek.

The foreign authorities, therefore, had to address an issue that, in time of peace, had been handled reasonably well by the appropriate Chinese organizations, but that in wartime required the forceful intervention of the foreign municipal institutions. In the early months of the war, abandoned bodies were processed in situ. The authorities only made sure that the bodies were removed as speedily as possible to places where they could be buried.106 The end of the hostilities by December 1937 failed to bring a remission. Coffin dumps were discovered all over the place. There was hardly any day without a letter or a complaint by residents or factories.107 The SMC were soon overwhelmed by the number of people who died on its territory with no possibility to remove the bodies outside. It started to put pressure on the SPBC.108 Various solutions were explored. In May 1938, the SMP proposed in a confidential document the dumping of bodies at sea and suggested that the Japanese authorities might be approached with regard to this solution.109 Yet, the Commissioner of Public Health opposed the idea as both impracticable and unnecessary, arguing that approximately 30,000 coffins had been disposed of sanitarily by fire during the last four months. Furthermore, Jordan contended, “the Chinese population has as much right to their sentiments as any other section of the population.”110 In the French Concession, the number of abandoned corpses was initially thought to be less important than in the IS. But the TRFYT soon announced a rate of 152 abandoned bodies daily in 1938. While the Chief health inspector doubted this figure, the actual figure for January-November 1938 was 18,584, with 15,090 children.111

By spring 1938, the authorities in both settlements became seriously concerned with the issue of space and that of health. In particular, they started to worry about the removal of dead bodies, in coffins or abandoned in the streets, before the summer months. While the issue of coffin storage could be handled with the help of the guilds, it was becoming impossible to accommodate all the exposed corpses. The authorities decided to impose the cremation of the abandoned bodies and coffins.112 Cremation for unclaimed bodies had been broached upon by the SMC before the war in its correspondence with the SPBC. It had suggested establishing a joint crematorium with the French and Chinese authorities to cremate the exposed corpses of children. The SPBC had replied that the Chinese authorities were considering this point, but no concrete plan had been laid out.113 During the early months of conflict cremation was enforced as an emergency measure to deal with the abandoned bodies resulting from fighting in the war-torn areas, but the practice was discontinued thereafter.114 In May 1938, the French Concession also introduced the cremation of abandoned bodies when the site run by the TRFYT became too small to bury the coffins of indigent people.115 The measure was prompted by the removal of the coffins from the Ningbo temple on rue Vouillemont. The guild had accumulated 6,650 in its premises since the beginning of the hostilities, of which one half were coffins stored on behalf of the TRFYT.116It was initially a cause of dispute with the TRFYT protesting against a measure carried out without its consent. Its preference was for the burial of coffins on the Hongqiao site.117 The TFRYT threatened the French Concession with the suspension of the collection of abandoned bodies.118Yet the directeur de l’Hygiène, Palud, replied that the burial ground on Hongqiao road in Xujiahui could not be extended indefinitely. Only good-quality coffins could still be buried there. All the others would be incinerated.119 The measure of systematic cremation of abandoned bodies was lifted on 1 January 1940 in the French Concession. The resumption of traffic to Pudong allowed the TRFYT to ship the coffins for burial in its cemeteries.120In the IS, however, cremation was maintained until the end of the war..121

Cremation was organized by both settlements in two different facilities in Western Shanghai.122 By August 1938, the PHD cremated bodies at rate of 5,000 per month.123 In the first six months of 1939, the figure jumped to 20,531, while another 4,776 coffins were buried.124 In the IS by August 1938, the PHD had overseen the removal of 70,000 coffins, of which 30,000 had been cremated since the beginning of the hostilities.125 In the French Concession, out of 8,575 bodies collected between March and August 1938, 4,743 were cremated. Adults represented 43%.126 From August to December 1938, another 12,588 coffins were cremated.127 Between January 1939 and January 1940, 10,825 bodies were cremated. Adults represented only 14%.128 By 1943, the number of cremations in the International Settlement had slowed to an average of 1,000 per month, close to pre-war levels, but burials had been resumed for adult bodies. Only “small bodies” continued to be cremated, in part perhaps because the authorities found it increasingly difficult to obtain firewood and gasoline to cremate the bodies.129

The extent of the human tragedy that war brought to Shanghai can be measured with two simple figures. By May 1944, in the International Settlement the PHD had overseen the burial of 55,611 people, only a small portion of which were the bodies brought by indigent families. More appalling, it had directed the cremation of 182,225 bodies. If we add the cremation done by the French Concession, the total figure exceeds 200,000 human lives. While more general factors played into this human tragedy, the conditions brought by war dramatically accentuated this silent disaster. These figures and these numbers show that there was almost no way for an ordinary Shanghai resident during those years to escape the view of dead children and adults lying in the streets or in alleyways. One can find occasional mention of this phenomenon in memoirs by Westerners or in Shanghai: a novel by Yokomitsu Riichi. Yet, from a cursory look at the press and other contemporary publications, this does not seem to have become an issue of significant importance. At this stage I tend to believe there was a general avoidance of these unwelcome and intrusive deaths in the urban space. Nevertheless, as we shall see in the next section, there was no lack of concern about the possible consequences of having dead bodies around.

The living and the dead: contested space

The collection of corpses was a regular cause of alarm among Shanghai residents. There were usually three main areas of complaints: smell, sight, and delay. In the International Settlement, the PHD was the natural target of people’s anger or complaints, even if it was not directly involved in the collection of dead bodies. On 28 February 1920, residents complained with the SMC about 500 coffins left within 300 yards of the boundary of the IS. The SMC turned to the Chinese commissioner of foreign affairs to communicate with the Shanghai County magistrate to make arrangements for the burial of these coffins. It appeared that the land was owned by the TRFYT and had become a dumping ground for coffins. When the dibao who lived in the vicinity considered that a sufficient number of coffins had accumulated, he customarily communicated with the TRFYT and the city magistrate. On the latter’s instructions, the dibao arranged for the removal of the coffins to Pudong for burial. The SMC asked the Chinese authorities to stop this practice.130 Yet in 1926, the PHD wrote: “many of these coffins had been torn open by pariah dogs and portions of the remains strewn about the place. Many of the bodies were merely wrapped up in matting… in hot weather an unbearable stench emanates from the accumulated coffins.”131 From the correspondence in the archives, it appears that the issue was never solved and regular protests were made by foreign or Chinese residents as late as 1935.132

In fact, the authorities were never able to remedy the issue of faulty notification and removal of exposed corpses, especially during the war.133 Abandoned bodies might turn up – literally – at various intervals. During the hostilities, coffins had been deposited on wasteland off Ichang road where they were summarily buried. In May 1938, the coffins were disinterred by a contractor who was building on part of the ground. Rather than contacting the authorities, the contractor had the 200-odd coffins lined up against the walls of the staff quarters of the Naigai Wata Kaisha cotton mill. Some were left in open pits containing water. The Japanese director of the mill wrote to the PHD to have the coffins removed.134 Yet, there were more gruesome cases. In December 1937, a Chinese resident living off Kiaochow road reported the presence of corpses of children on the ground. It was apparently a practice of thieves to go there at night and throw bodies out of the coffins and take the empty coffins away as firewood.135 Of course such acts were punished when people got caught in the act, but this was hardly a deterrent in times of hardships.136 Between December 1937 and August 1940, the SMC received 45 letters of complaints about unattended corpses.137 Occasionally, the press would report on cases of unattended abandoned corpses, though this was very rare.

The work of collecting exposed bodies and burying them was performed with a limited staff and basic equipment. Our data covers only the wartime period. We hardly know anything about the staff employed by the SPBC or TRFYT. Obviously, collecting corpses was certainly a poorly paid job that brought little social esteem. As discussed previously, the Chinese had a strong dislike for anything related to death.138 The men employed by the two organizations came into contact with dead bodies and coffins all day long. On the side of equipment, it was fairly stable until the beginning of the war, by which time new acquisitions had to be made to meet the increasing number of bodies. In February 1938, the SPBC owned one motorcar, three motor trucks, three delivery tricycles, and three bicycles. To keep with the workload, it had to purchase a new “Chevrolet” truck..139 Four months later, a new “Diamond” truck was added to the fleet.140By December 1939, the SPBC had a small fleet of vehicles including one motorcar, four motor freight vehicles, three delivery tricycles, and four bicycles. Yet, to relieve motor trucks for the removal of coffins it was planning to add additional tricycles.141In the French Concession, the TRFYT had two wheel-stretchers, two tricycles, and two trucks in late 1938 for the collection of abandoned bodies, although only one truck was used for indigent people. It maintained a staff of six coolies for the stretchers, the tricycles and the trucks, plus two drivers. On the receiving side, in the Hongqiao cemetery, it maintained a team of eight coolies and one foreman.142 By 1942, the staff had hardly changed. It included three coolies to collect bodies in the street, and 18 coolies (including one cook) to take care of the coffining, transportation and burial of the unclaimed bodies.143

All exposed corpses were brought to the collection stations established in various places in the settlements (See Image 3). From there, the bodies were removed to the western areas either to be buried or, after 1938, to be cremated. After December 1941, however, new difficulties emerged. It became increasingly difficult to obtain gasoline for the trucks, while the number of bodies continued to increase. Another major concern was the cost of securing wood and making coffins which resulted from the spiral of hyperinflation that struck the city at the end of the year.144 The winter of 1941-1942 was particularly difficult, especially as food became scarce and led many to starvation. In February 1942, the PHD reported on the deleterious effect of the shortage of motor transportation on the collection of corpses.145In December 1941, the SPBC decided to revert to handcarts – each could accommodate four large coffins -- to transport coffins for short distances. The name of the SPBC was painted in large signs on the tarpaulin.146Eventually, however, even with the help that the PHD endeavored to summon, the SPBC had to rely on the six handcarts for transportation to Western Shanghai where burial and cremation took place.147 There was a growing concern by the PHD that the collection of bodies would become very slow and create a health hazard for the population. Yet, the situation only worsened, even if one of the trucks was eventually transformed to run on a charcoal-propelled engine..

In January 1942, the PHD admitted that despite all efforts, “faulty notification [was] still our real bugbear.”148 The Commissioner bitterly complained of the lack of efficiency of the PWD when it was in charge of this duty. While the organization of the collection of bodies in the IS changed over time, it was entrusted mostly to the SPBC. There were also clear cases of miscommunication among the three concerned departments (PW, PH, Police). To remedy this problem, the SMC tried to establish an inter-departmental procedure.149 The reports on corpses would be forwarded by each police station as early in the morning as possible to the Cleansing Depots of the Public Work Department. An initial daily collection would then be started immediately. If the police were to locate other corpses after 9:00 a.m. (either as a result for regular tours or from calls by individuals), a supplementary collection would be undertaken.150 The bodies were removed to the two collections centers on Tiendong road and Muirhead road.151 Complaints by residents, however, forced the closing of the Tiendong site in summer 1943. Thereafter, all corpses were sent to the Racecourse road SPBC depot and the Muirhead site.152 By April 1942, however, it was already obvious that no improvement had been made: “on the contrary, corpses are being left on the street or in the alleyway for two or three days at least while the SPBC who used to remove them within two days is denied such activities.”153 The coolies of the PWD disliked their new job and made no effort for the prompt removal of corpses. In the French Concession, the authorities also entertained the idea of creating a municipal service for the removal of unclaimed bodies from the streets in February 1943, but the plan did not materialize.154

Despite these shortcomings, the scheme was maintained for a year, but in late 1943, strong protest came again from the PHD. It criticized the high fee the PWD charged for each corpse as well as its poor performance, while all complaints from residents flowed in to its services.155 The commissioner of Public Health suggested to approach the SPBC to remove the corpses, merely making use of the collecting centers provided by the PWD.156 With the positive reply by the SPBC, the involvement of the PWD in body collection was discontinued.157 In fact, while the collection of bodies was technically simple, in both settlements a systematic investigation was made by the police in the case of adults for the sake of identification and to make sure that the death was not due to an act of violence. In the French Concession, but probably also in the IS, the police held a register of all exposed corpses, indicating the place of discovery, the nature of death, and the destination of the body.158 Adult corpses were encoffined on the spot, while those of children were simply carried away.159 All abandoned corpses were photographed before burial or cremation, although after December 1942 this was discontinued.160

The presence of coffins near residential neighborhood was a regular cause of complaints. Residents protested about ‘bad smells’ from unencoffined corpses in the collection station near the Racecourse as early as July 1937.161 The bombing of the Great World a month later brought a very large accumulation of bodies that the SPBC, according to neighbors and the SMC, was too slow to remove.162 There were constant demands on both organizations by both the SMC and FMC for more expediency and yet to avoid anything offensive to Shanghai residents. The authorities of the settlements tried to impose rules on the removal and transportation of exposed bodies. In particular, they insisted that the bodies should be fully covered when the carts went through the street on their way to the collection station. But the rule was obviously difficult to enforce, especially in times when the available manpower was overwhelmed by the sheer number of bodies. No doubt, the necessity to remove speedily many dead bodies probably led to a certain dehumanization: “in spite of repeated protests both verbal and written regarding the ill-treatment of corpses, i.e. being conveyed along public roads in an exposed manner and thrown about in a careless way […] yesterday… child corpses [were] thrown about off a truck onto the public roadway like rag dolls. Passers-by were holding their nose in anticipation of smell, the sight was disgusting.”163 The PHD complained to the SPBC about the transportation of coffins on open trucks exposing the bodies of infants. The SPBC defended itself by stating this had happened only once, but it is obvious that the circumstances of the war made it difficult to attend to the careful treatment of all exposed corpses.164

The Bureau of Public Health in the FC was even more critical about the way the TRFYT treated the collected corpses. It repeatedly and bitterly complained about the lack of proper rules and complete neglect of basic hygienic standards by the TRFYT. While the TRFYT tried to abide by good standards, its coolies often failed to respect the rules. They would pick up bodies, sometimes completely naked, and transport them through the streets uncovered. The authorities had to remind the TRFYT to follow strict rules of decency and avoid the transportation of uncovered corpses.165 Local residents also protested against the operation of the TRFYT, denouncing an overflow of corpses on the premises, sometimes left in the street itself.166 The Bureau of Public Health argued the TRFYT was understaffed – three coolies to pick up a daily average of 30 bodies – and used too exiguous premises to accommodate the flow of bodies. The French authorities tried to pressure the TRFYT to improve its procedure. Its criticism targeted the lack of hygiene (no disinfection of the premises), the casual manner in which the bodies or coffins were dragged along, and the absence of cover on coffins.167 Worse, the low-quality coffins transported by truck through the city “let leak a blood-stained and pestilential fluid”. French authorities also suspected the TRFYT of clandestinely smuggling coffins into the concession. In June 1941, the FC even reduced its grant from $5,000 to $3,000 to pressure the TRFYT. Yet the TRFYT simply replied it was helping the authorities in dealing with unclaimed bodies and requested a reversal of the decision. Eventually, the FC imposed the presence of a Russian supervisor to control the management of bodies. This appointment was meant to impose and guarantee better standards. One year later, however, the director of Public Health expressed the same complaints.168

Even coffins were considered unsightly. The SMC asked the SPBC to have their trucks covered by a tarpaulin “of sufficient size as to effectually conceal all of the coffins on the trucks”.169 Whereas funerals were events that were acceptable for the public view, the dead bodies of the poor might as well be hidden and made as invisible as possible to the public. Their sheer number and the collective manner in which their bodies were gathered and transported certainly challenged the sensibility of residents and pride of the authorities. Their hapless deaths caused such an embarrassment to the community that they were to be concealed. It is also true that there were far more people dying under these circumstances, at least during the war, than in normal conditions. In 1947, the SPBC introduced a new type of pedicab to replace the previous ones considered less convenient. The new vehicle was supposed to cover collected bodies entirely [add illustration].170 Yet the pictures left by Jack Birns show that the bodies of children were still being transported with hardly any cover.171 The public was also becoming more sensitive to the issue of public display of coffins and bodies. In August 1948, the Shen Bao published a critical article about the condition on the condition of the Southern Wharf (nan matou) in Nanshi, used by the TRFYT, where accumulated coffins produced unpleasant odors and attracted swarms of insects.172 Yet, with the development of civil war in the area, the situation could hardly improve. Eventually the TRFYT asked the permission to open a new burial ground outside of Nanshi after the Huangpu River was sealed by the army.173

After the end of the Sino-Japanese war, the issue of processing the unclaimed bodies in the city became the responsibility of the Chinese municipality. The archival record, however, is very sketchy and makes it difficult to follow the policy of the authorities on this issue in the post-war period. The municipal authorities, while sympathetic, cared foremost about public health and worked to transfer all mortuary installations outside of the city center. They required the TRFYT to remove its facility on Linsen East Road to the outskirts of the city. The same measure was to be applied to the public mortuary on Changde Road. This plan, however, does not seem to have materialized.174 The municipality also continued to provide financial support to the SPBC and TRFYT in 1946, but the instability of the political situation and the financial difficulties of the local government seem to have led to the suspension of this subsidy after 1947. At the end of the war, the SPBC had started to use the radio and other media to raise money from the public. The first campaign was launched in 1944 on a radio station (Wenhua diantai) based in the French Concession.175 In December 1945, it launched its first two-day campaign with the approval of the municipal government. The operation was repeated every year thereafter to supplement the income from the properties of the SPBC in a time of hyperinflation.176 We do not know whether these campaigns were successful, since the trail of official documentation gets lost after 1943. One can sense, however, a different sensibility both among the authorities and the public about death. Public health concern dominate in official discourse, but obviously there was also a more obvious rejection of the physical proximity with death that exposed corpses and abandoned coffins imposed by their sheer presence in the midst of the city.

Concluding remarks

In Republican-era Shanghai death did not strike evenly. Among the local residents, age, fortune, sex or ethnicity traced various paths on the demographic grid that ran across the local population. Throughout the late 19th century down to the late 1930s, death took a heavy toll on the less fortunate, especially when climatic or economic conditions became more severe. Of course, periods of military conflict – accompanied by the complete disruption of normal social and economic order -- represented a climax that created social havoc and left many literally “on the side of the street”. Yet, this was not exactly the case.

Shanghai’s experience is closer to that of third-world cities with the massive migration of poor people. Many, if not most of those who ended up in street of Shanghai had come to the city with few resources, no privileged contacts or networks on which to rely, ill health or few physical reserves. Of course, in wartime, the net caught a wider circle, but by and large I believe most “normal residents” had the resources to survive a major crisis. There is no doubt, also, that among the poorer groups of the population, children were those most exposed to premature death. The crude figures are simply shocking. Paradoxically, this phenomenon was so massive, so present in everyday life, and probably so unbearable that it became something people chose not to see or to care about, except when a dead body landed on their doorstep. Through a double process of social denial – being denied proper care and being denied proper burial – these invisible deaths were pushed out of collective memory.

Despite, or perhaps because of the massive increase in exposed corpses in the 1930s and during the war, an unconscious process of social “erasure” set in. This process obscured one of the highest human tragedies in wartime Shanghai. People turned a blind eye toward a phenomenon that could be met at every street corner. The press failed to raise and discuss this issue beyond summary reports. Officials concerned themselves strictly with preventing these bodies from affecting the health of inhabitants. These deaths were the exact opposite of the “publicized” deaths embodied in funeral processions. These were “invisible” deaths, deaths that were relegated to obscurity and social denial. Yet, these ‘bodies’ were also those of human beings. Their life may have been cut short – the vast majority were infants or children under five – but for the organizations that made it their task to collect them, they deserved a form of burial. The SPBC and the TRFYT provided an irreplaceable service to both the dead and the living in Shanghai. They could not address the root of a problem that was beyond their control, but their actions expressed a form of humanity toward the victims of misery.

After 1949, the two organizations came under the supervision of a joint committee on the management of charity organizations (Shanghai canfei yanglao gongzuo weiyuanhui).177 The new municipal government issued new regulations to implement the new regulations on vital statistics. These regulations, however, did not change reality. Unclaimed bodies continued to be picked up in the street at least into 1952 when our sources become silent. By 1953, however, both the TRFYT and SPBC were still active in the city.178 The new authorities were also overwhelmed by the extent of the problem of unclaimed bodies in the street. As part of their effort to get hold of the city and probably to figure out how to provide the population with adequate means of living, they endeavored to establish a system of registration of the population and a record of vital statistics. Their genuine effort was undermined by the sheer number of unrecorded deaths. The Bureau of Public Health note that it was trying to improve the reporting methods so as to ascertain the age and sex of street bodies, but it also felt powerless to know more about them. Unclaimed bodies, the report bitterly complained, affected the accuracy of the whole work of vital statistics.179 Whereas registered deaths in the whole city amounted to 64,834 individuals in 1951, the number of unclaimed bodies added a staggering 44,661 individuals (5,252 adults and 39,409 children).180

It is probable that the conjunction of various factors contributed to reducing the high mortality rate of infants and children and, eventually, eliminating the phenomenon of unclaimed bodies in the streets of Shanghai. The new government launched several campaigns of vaccination, at the same time as it was introducing small health offices down to the level of lilong (residential alleyways) with members of the Women’s Federation organized to identify pregnant women, to post information on health on billboards, and to set up small clinics where medical examinations could be performed. Medical facilities were also created in the workplace, especially in factories. Finally, kindergartens were established at a rapid rate in the early years of the communist regime (from 196 to 363 in 1950-1951).181 These measures progressively brought all pregnant women into a system of medical surveillance and education. The introduction of such facilities was a primary factor in eliminating the horrendous mortality rate among infants and young children.182 Likewise, the mopping up of beggars, crippled, drug-addicts, and simply jobless refugees from the civil war period, and their forced removal to camps in the countryside, eliminated the issue of adults dying in the streets of Shanghai.

1 For two very different perspectives on political violence in Shanghai, see Isaacs, Harold Robert, The tragedy of the Chinese revolution, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1961; Wakeman, Frederic E., The Shanghai Badlands : wartime terrorism and urban crime, 1937-1941, New York, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

2 See MacPherson, Kerrie L, A Wilderness of Marshes. The Origins of Public Health in Shanghai, 1843-1893, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1987; Glaise, Anne-Frédérique, « L’évolution sanitaire et médicale de la Concession française de Shanghai entre 1850 et 1950 », doctoral dissertation, Lumière-Lyon 2 University, 2005. Neither ‘death’, nor ‘mortality’ appears in the index of Rogaski, Ruth, Hygienic modernity. Meanings of health and disease in treaty-port China, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2004.

3 [Referee : I have refrained from listing here the numerous works in the history of death for the modern period, even if I read them extensively].

4 Bardet, Jean-Pierre, Rouen aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles : les mutations d'un espace social, Paris : Société d'édition d'enseignement supérieur, 1983 ; Landers, John, Death and the Metropolis: Studies in the Demographic History of London, 1670-1830. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993; Chevalier, Louis, Laboring classes and dangerous classes in Paris during the first half of the nineteenth century, New York, H. Fertig, 1973; Evans, Richard J., Death in Hamburg: society and politics in the cholera years, 1830-1910, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1987

5 Wang Di, Street culture in Chengdu: public space, urban commoners, and local politics, 1870-1930, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2003.

6 Leutner, Mechthild, Geburt, Heirat und Tod in Peking: Volkskultur und Elitekultur von 19. Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart, Berlin, Reimer, 1989.

7 Goodman, Bryna, Native Place, City, and Nation: Regional Networks and Identities in Shanghai, 1853-1937, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995, pp. 6-7, 90-92; 252-253; Rowe, William T., Hankow : Commerce and Society in a Chinese City, 1796-1889, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1984; Hankow : conflict and community in a Chinese city, 1796-1895; Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1989.

8 On this topic, one should also read Hiroyuki Hokari 浩之, "Kindai shanhai ni okeru itai shori mondai to shimei kosho—dokyo girudo to Chugoku no toshika" (The management of human remains in modern Shanghai and the Siming Gongsuo—Native-place guilds and China's urbanization), Shigaku Zasshi, Vol. 103 (February 1994), pp. 67-93; “Shinmatsu shanhai shime kōshō no "unkan nettwaku" no keisei: kindai chūgoku shakai ni okeru dōkyō ketsugo ni tsuite” 清末上海四明公所”運棺ネットァク形成:近代中会における結合について [The formation of the "coffin sending network" of the Siming Gongsuo in late-Qing Shanghai: a study of native-place ties in modern China], Shakai-Keizai Shigaku 会経済 (Socio-Economic History), Vol. 59, No. 6 (1994), pp. 1-32.

9 For the contemporary period, there are two extensive anthropological studies on death in an urban context, one for the PRC and one for Singapore. Jankowiak, William R., Sex, death, and hierarchy in a Chinese city: an anthropological account, New York, Columbia University Press, 1993; Tong, Chee Kiong, Chinese death rituals in Singapore, New York, Routledge, 2004.

10 Rawski, Evelyn S., Watson, James L. (eds.), Death ritual in late imperial and modern China, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1988.

11 Groot, J. J. M. de, The religious system of China: its ancient forms, evolution, history and present aspect, manners, custom and social institutions connected therewith, Leyden, E.J. Brill, 1892-1910; Doolittle, Justus, Social life of the Chinese: with some account of their religious, governmental, educational, and business customs and opinions, New York, Harpers, 1867.

12 On the rise of philanthropic associations, see Lum, Raymond D., “Philanthropy and Public Welfare in Late Imperial China”, doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, 1985.

13 Leung, Angela Ki Che, “To Chasten Society: The Development of Widow Homes in the Qing, 1773-1911,” Late Imperial China, 14 (2), 1993, pp. 1-32; “Organized Medicine in Ming-Qing China: State and Private Medical Institutions in the Lower Yangzi Region,” Late Imperial China, 8 (1), 1987, pp. 134-166.

14 Lum, Raymond, “Philanthropy and Public Welfare”, pp. 146-147

15 I would like to express special thanks to the Shanghai Municipal Archives for making the rich material available to me as much as I asked for during my most recent visits to Shanghai.

16 The reference work is de Groot’s The religious system of China, but one will also consult Zhang, Juwen, A translation of the ancient Chinese: the Book of burial (Zang Shu) by Guo Pu (276-324), Lewiston, N.Y., E. Mellen Press, 2004.

17 Death also results from ‘unnatural causes’ of death. Leaving aside the “common” unnatural causes such as accidents (car crash, falling from a roof, etc.) or violent deaths (murders, etc.) that are also fairly constant among a given population.

18 In modern times, the first such event was probably the Small Sword Rebellion and the terrible repression that ensued. On the whole, however, changes in the population due to this event were caused by the displacement of persons rather than to actual deaths. It is hard to judge in the absence of reliable population data and even of any records at all on this incident. Goodman, Bryna, Native Place, City, and Nation, pp. 72-78

19 On the 1931-1932 conflict in Shanghai, see Jordan, Donald A. China's Trial by Fire: the Shanghai War of 1932 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Pr., 2001) and Henriot, Christian, Shanghai 1927-1937. Municipal Power, Locality, and Modernization (Berkeley, The University Press of California, 1993), chap. 4.

20 Henriot, Shanghai 1927-1937, chap. 3.

21 Yeh Wen-hsin's “Prologue” in Wartime Shanghai offers the most sophisticated presentation of the chain of events in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation. Yeh Wen-hsin (ed.), Wartime Shanghai, London and New York, Routledge, 1998, pp. 1-17

22 The first feature was certainly very distinctive. The second one, funerals, was probably as prominent as in 19th-century European cities, though with a longer history in China. Whereas funerals became less ostentatious in the second half of the 19th century in Europe, lavish ceremonies and burials have persisted well into the 20th century in China. The Chinese Communist Party finally enforced a strict policy of austere funerals. On the European experience, see Llewellyn, Nigel, The art of death: visual culture in the English death ritual, c. 1500-c. 1800, London, Reaktion Books, 1991; Morley, John, Death, heaven, and the Victorians, Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971; Strange, Julie-Marie, Death, grief and poverty in Britain, 1870-1914, Cambridge/New York, Cambridge University Press, 2005; Jupp, Peter C. and Howarth, Glennys (eds.), The changing face of death: historical accounts of death and disposal, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1997; Houlbrooke, Ralph (ed.), Death, ritual, and bereavement, London/New York, Routledge, 1989

23 This was true in all Chinese cities. De Groot reports on such pratices in Xiamen and Canton. De Groot, The religous system of China, Vol. 1, pp. 129-131

24 Even for the burial of their paupers, the Cantonese Guang-Zhao Guild had established a cemetery in Shanghai. “Shanghai guang zhao gongsuo lüli” [廣肇公所履历] (A short history of the Guang-Zhao Guild), Report, undated [1951], File Q118-12-140, SMA.

25 In the 19th century, the French authorities met with serious riots on two occasions when they tried to force their way through the cemetery of the powerful Ningbo Guild. Another issue was that of tombs that were scattered everywhere in fields. When the foreign concession constructed roads, they had to negotiate and pay for the removal of such tombs. On the Ningbo riots, see Goodman, Bryna, Native Place, City, and Nation, pp. 158-169

26 According to de Groot, a funeral of the “highest order” would count over one thousand persons. de Groot, The religious system of China, Vol. 1, p. 203

27 For a detailed description of a funeral procession, see de Groot, The religious system of China, Vol. 1, pp. 140 ssq. On problems of “traffic” in Xiamen, see pp. 204.

28 Lum, Raymond, “Philanthropy and Public Welfare”, p. 140

29 “Guangzhou shi weishengju shou jianlushi shulian”, Guangzhou shi weishengju tongjishi, 20 September 1946. This map was found by chance by one of my students at the Guoshiguan in Taiwan. There was no indication of place and publisher.

30“Is it there still?”, NCDN, 11 January 1939

31 The China Press, 28 January 1934; 15 January 1937; 29 March 1939

32 Evening Post, 29 March 1939

33 Shanghai Times, 29 March 1939; 6 April 1940; 17 November 1942; North China Daily News, 6 October 1941; Evening Post, 14 September 1942.

34 Letter SPBC-SMC, 18 March 1926, File U1-16-2458, SMA.

35 There were Chinese and foreign associations that provided a place where parents could ‘abandon’ their newborn or infants, as in Europe, but unlike Europe the practice of dropping the dead children in the street was widespread. In European cities, some parents dropped their dead newborn in the Church cemetery where it woul receive a decent burial, but this was not very common. On ‘found children’, see Fuchs, Rachel Ginnis, Abandoned children: foundlings and child welfare in nineteenth-century France, Albany, State University of New York Press, 1984; Hunecke, Volker, I trovatelli di Milano: bambini esposti e famiglie espositrici dal XVII al XIX secolo, Milan, Il Munlino, 1989.

36 de Groot, vol. 1, p. 240 & pp. 329-330. Small children under two were placed inside large-mouthed earthenware jars […] and buried in the ground or deposited somewhere in the open fields.

37 Shanghai Times, 13 September 1942

38 The headline in the Shanghai Times was “Welfare body prepares to bury beggars”. The Evening Post wrote “virtually all [adults] had died of opium-poisoning… the deaths of children were attributed nearly in all cases to hunger”. Shanghai Times, 17 November 1942; Evening Post, 14 September 1942.

39 The standard Chinese expression was wuzhu shiti 無主屍體 for exposed corpses and wuzhu guancai 無主棺材 for abandoned coffins.

40 de Groot, vol. 1, p. 320. Actually, given the beliefs about pollution and ill-luck associated with death, such storing required enough space like a small separate room or courtyard in order to avoid direct visual or physical contact. In the French Concession, residents had to obtain a permit from the authorities to be allowed to keep a coffin in a private dwelling for a limited period of time. In 1935, out of 1,057 permits, only 3% were kept in private dwellings. Compte rendu de la gestion pour l’exercice 1935, Conseil d'administration municipale de la Concession française, Shanghai, The China Printing Co., p. 141

41 de Groot, vol. 3, p. 1388. “They are of stone blocks or of brick, and measure some five metres in diameter; their shape is either round, polygonal or square, and they form a single compartment with a tiled roof. Corpses are to be dropped in through a window-like aperture, from which the winds, birds and bats are warded off by a square wooden shutter […] Some baby towers have two such apertures, placed opposite each other, the one on the left or principal side for receiving the infants of the male sex, and the other for the female bodies.” See also Milne, William Charles, Life in China, London/New York, G. Routledge, 1858, pp. 44-45

42 Milne, Life in China, pp. 68-69

43 For a presentation of this organization and similar associations, see the next section “Saving their souls, burying their bodies”

44 The SPBC also ran a small out-patient clinic (Baishizi pushan chanke) between 1920 and 1937, as well as a school for poor children (Pushan xiaoxue). Both were fully destroyed during the Sino-Japanese conflict in 1937. The school resumed operation in 1947, but the clinic was never reconstructed. Shanghai Times, 13 September 1942; Pushan shanzhuang boyin mukuan tekan 普善山莊播音募款特刊 (Special issue of the radiophonic fund-raising by the SPBC), 26 July 1947, p. 4

45 "Pushan shanzhuang jianshi" 普善山莊简, Pushan shanzhuang boyin mukan tekan, p. 1

46 On the issue of refugees in Shanghai, see Henriot, Christian, “Shanghai and the experience of war: The fate of refugees”, European Journal of East Asian Studies, Vol. 5, no. 2 (2006), pp. 217-248; Kiely, Jan, “For Whom the Bells Ring and the Drums Beat: Pure Land Buddhist Refugee Relief Activism in Wartime Shanghai, 1937-1945,” Conference in Honor of Frederic Wakeman, Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California at Berkeley, May 6, 2006.

47 The total given for the FC and the Chinese municipality in 1928 comes to 23,533, although the grand total (33,042) is far above the 1928 figure in the SPBC record (23,639). There is an inconsistency that I cannot explain at this point., “Shanghai gonggong zujie gongbuju weishengchu guanyu pushan shanzhuang buzhu shiyi de wenjian” 上海公共租界公部局衛生処關於普善山莊補助事宜的文件, File U1 16 2458, SMA.

48 After the takeover of the International Settlement in December 1941 in the context of economic embargo by the allied powers, the Japanese army sought to enforce a policy of repatriation to the countryside to relieve food supply in the city.

49 I borrowed and reinterpreted this line from Sylvia M. Barnard’s book, To prove I’m not forgot. Living and dying in a Victorian city, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1990.

50 Letter, Chief health inspector, 3 April 1939, File U1-16-2530, SMA.

51 In the early years, adults were far more numerous than children or in equal numbers. There was a reversal of the trend after 1914, but after 1922, again adults clearly outnumber children among exposed corpses. From 1933 onward, a second shift happened to the expense of children. Well before the war, the share of adults fell to one quarter.

52 Sundin, Jan, “Child mortality and causes of death in a Swedish city, 1750-1860”, Historical Methods, Vol. 29, no. 3, Summer 1996, p. 101

53 The data on weather is drawn from the remarkable records of the Zikawei Observatory that await full exploitation. See Observatoire de Zi-Ka-Wei, Revue mensuelle, no. 438 & 432 (January-February 1942), 443 & 444 (July-August 1942).

54 This analysis in based on tables, charts and maps elaborated with the data collected in the following files: "The Shanghai Public Cemetery - Report of Unclaimed Corpses Collected and Buried” for 1931, 1935, 1936, 1937, File U1-16-2458; 1939, File U1-16-2461(2); 1940, 1942, 1943, File U1-16-2461(3), SMA.

55 The sample covers January-March and July-December 1938. "Cadavres trouvés au cours de la journée du (date)", File U38-5-1262, SMA.

56 Lum, Raymond, “Philanthropy and Public Welfare”, p. 146

57 Goodman, Bryna, Native Place, City, and Nation, p. 6

58 See “Shanghai guang zhao gongsuo lüli” [廣肇公所履] (A short history of the Guang-Zhao Guild), Report, undated [1951], File Q118-12-140, SMA.

59 I have not found any official name in English. In the documents found in the French Concession materials, it was called “Société de Bienfaisance de Shanghai” or simply “Bureau de Bienfaisance”. Actually, the use of Bureau de Bienfaisance was not correct. The TRFYT was actually part of union of various charity organizations that operated separately, even if eventually most of them came under the management or supervision of the TRFYT. The seat of these organizations was also located in the premises of the TRFYT. It was this union that called itself “Bureau de Bienfaisance”. In this paper, we shall use the original Chinese name of TRFYT.

60 “Preface pour le rapport de la gestion des affaires et des comptes du Bureau de Bienfaisance, Shanghai”, January 1933, File U38-5-1641, SMA; Letter of Qin Yan (秦砚), administrator of the SPBC to FMC, 22 November 1938, U38-5-1641 Tongren fuyuantang shenqing buzhu, mianfei chezhao ji qingdu yongju, yaoshui, deng (同仁輔元堂申請補助, 免費車照及輕度用具, 藥稅, ), SMA.

61 Milne, Life in China, pp. 68-69

62 In 1913, the SPBC had its headquarters in Zhabei and a general office in the International Settlement after 1922. It maintained two branches in Nanshi and Pudong. Charter, undated [1929], File Q114-1-9, SMA. With the war, it moved all its facilities in the International Settlement. The TRFYT, previously established in Nanshi, had to rent a place on 89 rue de Ningpo where is hastily built eleven wooden barracks that served as its main depot for bodies and workshop to build coffins.

63 On the history of the SPBC, see File Q6-9-470, SMA.

64 de Groot, Religious system of China, vol. 1, pp. 135-139

65 de Groot, Religious system of China, vol. 3, pp. 863-865

66 Municipal Gazette, 11 March 1938.

67 Pushan shanzhuang boyin mukuan tekan 普善山莊播音募款特刊 (Special issue of the radiophonic fund-raising by the SPBC), 26 July 1947, p. 1

68 In 1943, the TRFYT gave away 532 large coffins and 421 small coffins. Report, undated [1948], Q400-1-3928, SMA.

69 Following the advent of the war, the TRFYT had moved its offices to the French Concession. Letter of Qin Yan (秦砚), administrator of the SPBC to FMC, 22 November 1938, U38-5-1641 Tongren fuyuantang shenqing buzhu, mianfei chezhao ji qingdu yongju, yaoshui, deng (同仁輔元堂申請補助, 免費車照及輕度用具, 藥稅, ), SMA.

70 Although details are missing, the TRFYT owned a burial ground in Hongkou that the SMC tried to get rid of and transform into a public park. The TRFYT was able to stall any such attempt until the end of the war. The cemetery was turned into a refugee camps after 1937. See correspondence and maps, 1927-1940 File U1-14-6928, SMA.

71 Letter Li Yi Benevolent Society-SMC, 30 January 1929; Letter LYBS-SMC, 4 February 1929; Note PHD, 5 February 1929, File U1-16-2458, SMA. The application was turned down on the grounds that the SMC was committed to the SPBC.

72 Letter, Health inspector, 4 April 1939, File U1-16-2530, SMA.

73 The Dachang cemetery was composed of three lots (70, 20, and 10 mu) near Cheng Ta Road. It was decorated with a pailou and had a hall and a storage room for coffins. Letter SPBC-SMC, 24 March 1938, File U1-16-2457, SMA.

74 Each junk was identified by the large characters – Tongren fuyuan tang -- painted in black on a white background and circled in red. Each had a different number. U38-5-1260-1, SMA.

75 The SPBC actually never fully recovered its Dachang cemetery. The large track of land was taken over for the construction of the Dachang military airport. Pushan shanzhuang boyin mukuan tekan 普善山莊播音募款特刊 (Special issue of the radiophonic fund-raising by the SPBC), 26 July 1947, p. 1

76 The war had contradictory consequences. It had an adverse effect on the TRFYT. The French Bureau of Public Health estimated the revenue lost from Japanese occupation to $120,000 from properties in Nantao and $20,000 from 5,000 mu of land in Songjiang. On the opposite, the war turned out to be beneficial to the SPBC. According to an SMC document in December 1938, the SPBC had only $2,900 cash reserve when the war broke out, but after the tragic August bombing on the Bund and the Great World, the public realized the importance of the work performed by the SPBC and donated $300,000. The money was turned into a piece of land on which houses were built and rented out. Despite the huge number of corpses collected, and perhaps due to the enforced use of cremation, the report noted that the SPBC had never been in such a good financial situation. Letter, PHD (Jordan)-SMC, 1 December 1938, U1-16-2458, SMA; Letter of Chief health inspector to French deputy director of Public Health, 22 January 1938, U38-5-1641 Tongren fuyuantang shenqing buzhu, mianfei chezhao ji qingdu yongju, yaoshui, deng (申請補助, 免費車照及輕度用具, 藥稅, ), SMA.

77 Letter PHD-SMC, 21 January 1938, File U1-16-2530, SMA

78 Letter SPBC-SMC, 29 November 1937; 6 December 1937; Letter, Japanese Consul-SMC, 17 December 1937; Letter PHD-SMC, 30 December 1937, File U1-16-2530, SMA.

79 Letter, SMC-SPBC, 15 February 1938, U1-16-2530, SMA.

80 Letter, Chief health inspector, 12 March 1939; Letter, Western Area Command, Japanese Army-SMC, 25 March 1939, U1-16-2530, SMA.

81 Report, Weishengju, undated [June 1947], File Q400-1-3932, SMA.

82 Letter Health inspector-PHD, 7 January 1941, U1-16-2457, SMA. A letter was sent to the Japanese Consul General through the SHTBSZF on 7 February 1941, but the file does not contain any reply.

83 Report, SPBC, undated [July 1947], File Q6-9-470, SMA.

84 Report, Weishengju, undated [June 1947], File Q400-1-3932, SMA.

85 Letter, SPBC-Weishengju, 4 April [1947?], File Q400-1-3932, SMA.

86 Letter, SPBC-TBSZF, 9 September 1948, File Q109-1-790; correspondence, May 1949, File Q400-1-3929, SMA.

87 The territory under Chinese administration was divided in various districts (bao) and sections (tu). A dibao (land guarantor) selected among the prominent landowners by the Shanghai city magistrate and appointed to function in the section in which his land was situated. He was responsible for the demarcation of boundaries of land in his section and collected the land tax on behalf of the government. His major role, however, was to authenticate all land transactions by putting his seal on land deeds, from which he derived a substantial revenue through a percentage-based commission. The dibao must have borne the same responsibility of removing exposed corpses in the walled city and its suburbs.

88 Lum, Raymond, “Philanthropy and Public Welfare”, p. 149

89 Untitled memo, (Sd.) R.Y. Yorke, A.C.P., June 1928, File U1-3-2399, SMA

90 File U1-3-590 Coffin dumping: Kiaochow Rd 1920-25

91 Letter, SPBC-SMC, 15 February 1922, File U1-3-1806; Letter SPBC-SMC, 6 April 1923, File U1-16-2458, SMA. The same letter was addressed to the French Concession and the Consular Body.

92 Memo, Health inspectors, 22 March 1926, File U1-16-2458, SMA.

93 Letter SMC-SPBC, 27 March 1926, File U1-16-2458, SMA.

94 Compte rendu de la gestion pour l’exercice 1926, Conseil d'administration municipale de la Concession française, Shanghai, The China Printing Co., pp. 63-64

95 A police report noted that prior to January 1927, coffins and burial place were provided by benevolent associations, but with the arrival of the nationalist government, applications for coffins and burial space have constantly met with refusals. The dibao, therefore, were left with the bodies on their hands and were compelled to purchase coffins and find land on which to deposit the coffins. The cost became far greater than under the previous arrangement. The report does not say whether this new policy by the benevolent associations was related to their own initiative or to instructions by the new nationalist authorities. In any case, the context created by the establishment of a nationalist administration in Shanghai offered an opportunity to pressure the SMC in coming to terms with its responsibility toward the residents of the settlement, even the poorer ones. Untitled memo, (Sd.) R.Y. Yorke, A.C.P., June 1928, File U1-3-2399, SMA.

96 The SMP urged the SMC to assign the work of removing unclaimed bodies to the PDH whose director made clear such a plan would entail a large staff and was in no sense a duty of the PHD. Quite clearly, the PHD was highly aware of the demands of such a task and strongly argued in favor of relying on the SPBC. Lette, SMP-SMC, 18 August 1928; Letter PHD-SMC, 21 August 1928, File U1-3-2399, SMA.

97 Letter, Secretary, SMC to Commissioner of Police, 29 August 1928, U1-16-2465, SMA. The SMC initially implemented the scheme on a trial basis, with the obligation for the SPBC to turn in weekly reports. Office note (SMP), 7 August 1928; Letter SMC-SPBC, 24 September 1928; Memo, PHD, 15 January 1929, File U1-16-2458, SMA.

98 SMP report, 11 February 1931, File U1-3-2399, SMA. The SMC encouraged the SPBC to apply for public support, but as late as March 1937, the French Concession turned down their application on the same ground. Letter SMC-SPBC, 24 March 1937; Letter, SPBC-SMC, 5 May 1937, File U1-16-2458, SMA.

99 Donation by private parties represented around 10% of its total income in 1939 ($233,142). The contribution of the settlements was based on an estimation of the number of corpses collected. Letter of French deputy director of Public Health to Chief healt inspector, 16 March 1938 ; Letter of SPBC to FC, 28 March 1938, U38-5-1641 Tongren fuyuantang shenqing buzhu, mianfei chezhao ji qingdu yongju, yaoshui, deng (申請補助, 免費車照及輕度用具, 藥稅,), SMA.

100 In December 1938, the director of Public Health wrote : « La mauvaise foi des gens de cette société m’a toujours paru évidente ». U38-5-1641 Tongren fuyuantang shenqing buzhu, mianfei chezhao ji qingdu yongju, yaoshui, deng (申請補助, 免費車照及輕度用具, 藥稅, ), SMA.

101 Besides civilian corpses, the SPBC took also care of the burial of dead soldiers left on the battlefield. During the 1921-1932 conflict, the SPBC buried more than 36,000 Chinese soldiers. Report, SPBC, undated [July 1947], Q6-9-470, SMA.

102 Letter SPBC-SMC, 7 March 1930, File U1-16-2458, SMA.

103 Letter, Commissioner of Public Health to Secretary, SMC, 12 February 1932, U1-16-2539 State of emergency – disposal of dead 1932, SMA.

104 Memo, SPBC to SMC, 7 March 1932, U1-16-2539 State of emergency – disposal of dead 1932, SMA

105 The most thorough study on the subject of refugees and the role of local elites is Feng, Yi, « Elites locales et solidarités régionales. L’aide aux réfugiés à Shanghai (1937-1940), » Etudes chinoises, XV, no 1-2, 1996, pp. 71-106.

106 Letter, TRFYT to Consul general, undated [1938], U38-1-507 Service d’hygiène – Fonctionnement, SMA.

107 Letter, NWK Cotton Mil, 20 May 1938; Letter, PHD-SMP, 9 July 1938; Letter, China Chemical Works, 21 April 1938; Memo, health inspector, 26 may 1938; Letter, PHD-SMC, 13 June 1938, File U1-16-2532, SMA.

108 The SMC conditioned its support to regain access to the Dachang cemetery if the SPBC stopped burying infant bodies. This remained irrelevant since the Japanese authorities, however, made it difficult to access the area. Note PHD-SMC, March 1938, File U1-16-2457, SMA.

109 Unsigned document, Divisional office “B”, 21 May 38, U1-16-2532, SMA.

110 Letter, J.H. Jordan to Superintendent of police 27 May 1938, -16-2532, SMA.

111 Letter, FC to Shanghai difang xiehui, 11 March 1938, U38-5-379, SMA ; Letter, Directeur de la Police to Directeur de l’Hygiène, 9 May 1938, U38-1-507 Service d’hygiène – Fonctionnement, SMA ; Letter of Chief health inspector to French deputy director of Public Health, 22 January 1938; Letter of Chief health inspector to Y. Palud, Directeur de l’Hygiène publique et de l’Assistance, 6 December 1938, U38-5-1641 Tongren fuyuantang shenqing buzhu, mianfei chezhao ji qingdu yongju, yaoshui, deng (同仁輔元堂申請補助, 免費車照及輕度用具, 藥稅, ), SMA.

112 The Municipal Gazette, 11 March 1938. The organizations were: Chinese women’s club, WCTU of China, Shanghai YWCA, Women’s vocational association, Fu Nu Cheng Wei, Chinese women’s league.

113 Letter SMC-SPBC, 24 March 1937; Letter SPBC-SMC, 5 May 1937, File U1-16-2458, SMA.

114 On 27 August 1937, the Emergency supplies and fuel sub-committee of the SMC made a request for 10,000 lbs of firewood for cremation at the Hongqiao road cemetery. J.H. Jordan reported that 1,150 corpses had been cremated in the eastern district, although more would come up after a house-to-house search, and 2,000 in the western district. The corpses of 757 animals were also cremated on a separate location. The Municipal Gazette, 11 March 1938; Letter, Secretary, 27 August 1937, U1-16-2449, SMA.

115 Letter, Directeur de la Police to Directeur de l’Hygiène, 9 May 1938, File U38-1-507 Service d’hygiène – Fonctionnement, SMA.

116 Letter, Ningbo Guild to FC, 23 March 1938 ; Note, Directeur de l’Hygiène to Directeur général des services, May 1938 ; Letter, Directeur de l’Hygiène to Directeur général des services, 12 April 1938, U38-5-379, SMA ; Letter, Directeur de l’Hygiène to SPBC, 17 August 1938, File U38-5-379, SMA.

117 The cremation of exposed was also suggested to the SPBC by the SMC in 1928 during their discussions. The chairman, Wang Yiting, argued that the Chinese municipal government was considering it, but that any action by the SMC would cause an outcry among the Chinese population. It would be accepted if this came to be imposed by the Chinese authorities. Office note, SMP, 7 August 1928, File U1-16-2458, SMA.

118 Letter, TRFYT to Consul general [May 1938], File U38-1-507 Service d’hygiène – Fonctionnement, SMA.

119 Note, Palud, Directeur de l’Hygiène, 7 June 1938, U38-1-507 Service d’hygiène – Fonctionnement, SMA.

120 Letter, Directeur de l’Hygiène, 23 December 1939; communication, Directeur administratif, 29 December 1939, File U38-5-158, SMA.

121 The idea of using cremation to deal with exposed corpses seem to have taken root in public opinion. In August 1944, a paper in the Shen Bao argued in favor of establishing a crematorium for poor people in order to deal with street bodies at a low cost “Gaige zanglian” [改革葬殮] (Suggestion to reform burials), Shen Bao, 8 August 1944

122 Report, April 1943; Report September 1943, U1-16-4649 Monthly reports – Disposal of corpses, SMA.

123 Letter of J.H. Jordan to Secretary, SMC, 8 August 1938, U1-16-2534, SMA.

124 Memo, Acting chief inspector of health to J.H. Jordan, 11 September 1939, U1-16-2465, SMA.

125 Letter of J.H. Jordan to Secretary, SMC, 14 August 1938, Incinération des cadavres d'indigents U1-16-2534, SMA.

126 Up to the end of March 1938, cremation had not yet been introduced. A total of 4,822 bodies were buried, mostly adults (63%). By the end of May, all bodies were cremated. U38-5-1260 Incinération des cadavres d'indigents, SMA.

127 FMC – U38-5-1260-1 des cadavres d'indigents, SMA. Statistical data on coffins brought by the Tongren fuyuantang (同仁辅元堂) and incinerated between 10 August 1938 and 30 December 1938.

128 « Incinération des cadavres d'indigents », File U38-5-159, SMA.

129Monthly reports – Disposal of corpses”, January 1943; October 1943, File U1-16-4649, SMA.

130 Letter residents 28 Feb. 1920; Letter Chinese commissioner, 27 March 1920, 28 Feb. 1921; Letter Health officer, 11 Jan. 1921, 19 Nov. 1921, File U1-3-590, SMA

131 Letter Commissioner of health 26 Feb. 1926, File U1-3-590, SMA

132 Letter Health officer, 27 July 1922, 30 July 24, 10 March 1935

133 Memo, Commissioner of Public Health, 16 January 1942, File U1-16-2537 (State of emergency 1937/ Sanitation division), SMA.

134 Letter, Mr. Kobayashi, Naigai Wata Kaisha, 18 May 1938, File U1-1463175 General – Cemeteries - Coffin Repositories, Burial Grounds & Funeral Parlours SMA.

135 Letter, Miss Ada Lum, 15 December 1937, File U1-16-2473 Complaints about corpses and coffins, SMA.

136 A young man of 23, Lee Kyung-tsung, arrested when breaking up a coffin on a waste ground, received one year’s imprisonment on charges of defiling and breaking a coffin. The maximum sentence was five years. Evening Post & Mercury, 17 December 1937.

137 File U1-16-2473 ‘Complaints about corpses and coffins’, SMA.

138 We know that in 1939, the five truck drivers of the SPBC were young men in their thirties. Three were from Ningbo and the other two hailed from Nantong and Donghai. Letter SPBC-SMC, 18 September 1939, File U1-16-2457, SMA.

139 Letter SPBC-SMC, 25 February 1938, File U1-16-2457, SMA.

140 Letter SPBC-SMC, 14 June 1938, File U1-16-2457, SMA.

141 Letter Treasurer-SMC, 23 December 1939, File U1-16-2457, SMA.

142 The French Bureau of Public Health evaluated the salary of the coolies at $20 each, allowing for $30 for the drivers and $40 for the foreman. The SPBC spent $350 in manpower and $114 in maintenance and gasoline supply for the truck in the FC. Letter of Chief health inspector to Y. Palud, Directeur de l’Hygiène publique et de l’Assistance, 6 December 1938, File U38-5-1641, SMA.

143 Report, Chef inspecteur d’hygiène, 29 August 1942, File U38-5-1638, SMA.

144 In 1942, the cost of a large coffin was $37.65, but by April 1943 the cost had jumped to $88.35. The same increase applied to labor (from $5.20 to $10.60), transportation (from $075 to $1.70) and burying (from $27.55 in 1941, to $45,09 in 1942 and $104.65 in 1943). Altogether the cost of burying an unclaimed body had increased from $88.69 to $205.30. Report, Crime and Special Branch, 23 April 1943, File U1-16-2458, SMA. The report by the SMP supported the application for an increase of the grant to the SPBC.

145 Letter, Commissioner of Public Health, 12 February 1942, U1-16-2537 State of emergency 1937/ Sanitation division, SMA.

146 Letter Health inspector-PHD, 16 Dcember 1941, File U1-16-2457, SMA.

147 Memo, Commissioner of Public Health, 16 January 1942, U1-16-2537 State of emergency 1937/ Sanitation division, SMA.

148 Memo, Commissioner of Public Health, 16 January 1942, U1-16-2537 State of emergency 1937/ Sanitation division, SMA.

149 Letter, Secretary of the transport control committee to Superintendent of Police, 16 January 1942, U1-16-2537 State of emergency 1937/ Sanitation division, SMA

150 Letter, Secretary of the Transport control committee to the Superintendent of Police, 2 March 1942, U1-16-2537 State of emergency 1937/ Sanitation division, SMA. Because the activities of the PWD had greatly diminished due the war, the SMC found it useful to entrust the PWD with the work of collecting corpses.

151 In January 1943, there were two corpses collecting centers operated in the settlement, one on Tiendong road, one on Muirhead road (PWD Incinerator site).

152 Report, August 1943, U1-16-4649 Monthly reports – Disposal of corpses, SMA.

153 Letter, Chief health inspector to Superintendent of Police, 8 April 1942, U1-16-2537 State of emergency 1937/ Sanitation division, SMA.

154 Report, chef inspecteur d’hygiène, 13 February 1943, File U38-5-1638, SMA.

155 The PWD charged $30 for each corpse, which would have put the annual bill to $250,000, well beyond the means of the PHD.

156 Letter, Chief health inspector to Deputy Director of Public Health, 3 December 1943, U1-16-2537 State of emergency 1937/ Sanitation division, SMA.

157 Letter, Chief health inspector to Deputy Director of Public Health, 12 January 1944, U1-16-2537 State of emergency 1937/ Sanitation division, SMA. A hand-written commentary on the same manuscript confirmed on this document confirmed that the PWD collected only a portion of the exposed corpses.

158 See files U38-5-1264-1, U38-5-1262-1, U38-5-1263-1, U38-5-1262-2, U38-5-1263-2 , U38-5-1264-2, SMA.

159 Memo, Commissioner of Public Health, 16 January 1942, File U1-16-2537 (State of emergency 1937/ Sanitation division), SMA; Letter, Directeur de l’Hygiène to Consul general, May 1938, File U38-5-379, SMA.

160 Daily register of the police photographer of the French police, June 1940-December 1942, File U38-2-2713, SMA.

161 Letter of residents, 9 July 1937; Report, health inspector, 13 July 1937, File U1-16-2457.

162 Letter by foreign residents, Race Course Apartments, 17 August 1937; Letter, PHD-SPBC, 17 August 1937, File U1-16-2457. On August 14, 1937 a Chinese military aircraft acccidentally dropped two bombs near the refugee-filled Great World amusement center, in one of the most commercial interesection of Shanghai. Several hundreds peole were killed instantly.

163 Letter, PHD-SPBC, 12 February 1938, File U1-16-2457, SMA.

164 Report, Health inspector, 27 December 1937; Note SMP-PHD, 30 December 1937, File U1-16-2350, SMA.

165 Letter Secretariat of the FMC to TRFYT, 11 March 1938, File U38-5-1641 Tongren fuyuantang shenqing buzhu, mianfei chezhao ji qingdu yongju, yaoshui, deng (申請補助, 免費車照及輕度用具, 藥稅, ); Decisions of the Municipal commission, 7 March 1938, File U38-1-507 (Service d’hygiène – Fonctionnement), SMA.

166 Letter, ‘The residents of rue de Ningpo”, 21 August 1941, File U38-5-1638, SMA.

167 The major cost, however, was for coffin making. The collection of abandoned corpses required the supply of coffins. When coffins were unavailable, the collection stopped. In February 1940, the Chief health inspector of the French Concession noted that the TRFYT had failed to collect the abandoned bodies since January 28 because of lack of coffins. The Chief inspector gave instructions to maintain a permanent stock of wood for the supply of 1,000 coffins. Note, Chief health inspector, 2 February 1940, File U38-5-1641, SMA.

168 Letter, Palud, BPH-TRFYT, 27 February 1941 and 8 June 1941; Report, Palud, BPH-FMC, 20 May 1941 and 24 June 1941; Report, Palud, BPH-FMC, 3 September 1942, File U38-5-1638, SMA

169 Letter SMC-SPBC, 27 March 1939, File U1-16-2457, SMA.

170 Letter SPBC-Gongyongju, 3 February 1947, File Q5-5-752, SMA.

171 Birns, Jack, Assignment Shanghai: Photographs on the Eve of Revolution, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2003, p. 38

172 Shen Bao, 19 August 1948.

173 Letter TRFYT-Bureau of Public Health, 18 May 1949, File Q400-1-3995, SMA.

174 Memo, Bureau of Public Health (Weishengju), undated; Memo, Bureau of Public Health (Weishengju), 19 Decmber [1946], File Q400-1-3995, SMA.

175 Report, SPBC, undated [July 1947], File 6-9-470, SMA.

176 Letter SPBC-Shehuiju, 17 December 1945; Letter SPBC-Shehuiju, 21 July 1947, File Q6-9-117, SMA.

177 Minutes, Shanghai canfei yanglao gongzuo weiyuanhui 上海殘廢養老堂工作委員會 (Shanghai work committee for crippled and old people), 10 Feb. 1951-20 June 1951, File Q115-22-40, SMA.

178 “Shanghai shi shimin shiti yidong chuli zanxing banfa” (Provisional regulation on the removal of corpses of residents of the Shanghai municipality), 21 December 1953, File S440-4-18, SMA.

179Shengming tongji zong baogao”, (General report on vital statistics), July 1950-June 1951, pp. 50-51, File B242-1-255, SMA.

180 “Shengming tongji zong baogao”, (General report on vital statistics), July 1950-June 1951, p. 22, File B242-1-255, SMA.

181 “Shanghai shi renmin zhengfu weishengju tianbao huadong qu shanghai shi 1951 nian weisheng shiye chengguo baogaobiao” (Statistical report on the achievements in public health in 1951 submitted to the Municipal Government of Shanghai, East China Region, by the Bureau of Public Health), File B242-1-250, p. 14.

182 In the Laozha district, among a group of 87 women who came under the new system of medical surveillance, 73 had given birth 226 times in the past (3 births/woman). Half of the new-born babies had died. “Shanghai shi renmin zhengfu weishengju gongzuo baogao zongjie” (Synthesis of the work report of the Bureau of Public Health of the Shanghai People’s Municipal Government), 1951, File B242-1-248, SMA.



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