Русский | Russian Club in Shanghai

Before daybreak

English Translation by Kiril Mirakovsk

Conversation between the painter Kerim Raghimov and the Chairman of RCS (Russian Club in Shanghai) Michael Drozdov, September 2004, Shanghai

St Nicholas
Church, Shanghai

K.R.: Michael, You just pointed out the Orthodox churches on the map of Shanghai - I understand that all these churches are "dead" now, i.e. services are not celebrated in them at all…

M.D.: Well, first of all, the situation has moved from a dead point. We'll talk about this later on. It's been my ninth year here in Shanghai - I got here in 1996 - and at that time in the Cathedral of the "Surety of Sinners" Icon of the Theotokos, there was a stock exchange. Afterwards it was left deserted for a while, then got renewed because one Taiwan company rented it and transformed it into a night club. It was the same church where Bishop John (Maksimovich) was celebrating liturgies.

Before daybreak - as the Chinese speak, in my opinion, it is the darkest period in the day…

By the way, in that very church Mr. Vertinsky got married. He lived here in the thirties before going back to the Soviet Union in 1943. And the second church, St Nicholas temple-monument, rather a small one, is located in the silent green corner, where all these years one French restaurant was settled. The name of the restaurant was "Ashanti-house". The Frenchman who rented the place was from the republic of South Africa. There Ashanti meant something like an ancient state in South Africa where wine was also produced by that name - which was one more reason to call the restaurant "Ashanti". Given my knowledge of the history of that building, it was built owing to the significant efforts of general Glebov, but at that time they signed very unsuccessful contract so that, at the time when the Russian emigrants set out to build the church, the estate wasn't bought but just rented for 10 or 15 years at least. According to the lease contract, everything that shall be built on this ground, after the expiry of the rent period, goes in the hands of the land owner. Probably, the people who were engaged in this construction were not so practical.

A short time ago, in 2002, the Russian club - public organization uniting the Russians who permanently live in Shanghai, has collected signatures to address the mayor of the city of Shanghai to intervene and to remove the night clubs from there. In the case he doesn't allow to celebrate liturgies there, to transform the places into cultural centers such as galleries, concert halls and so on. The situation was in such suspended condition long enough, but this very summer, the Chinese ambassador to Russia, Liu Guchang has given a supper in honour of Metropolitan Kyrill in Moscow where he announced that the night clubs will be moved out from the premises of the two Orthodox churches, which is already happening. I recently passed by one of them and I saw it myself that one of the clubs was closed down and there was a notification hanged above the door to notify where to address in need to buy the place. As to the second one, I haven't got any chance to visit it yet. But I have a curious photograph, one can not see such anymore. All these years in the niche at the entrance, instead of the Savior, there was a picture of Mao Zedong. And after all this time, the very picture was removed this June. I was told that just because of the portrait the building wasn't destroyed during the years of the Cultural Revolution. There is an assumption that it was placed there by a wise man in order to protect the building from the Hóngwèibīng 's (红卫兵, Red Guards) raids.

Portrait of Mao Zedong
rescued the temple from destruction
during the Cultural Revolution

When I talked to the director of the St Petersburg's branch of the Oriental Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Science, I.F.Popova, she told me that the progressing loyalty of the Chinese authorities can be related to the Olympiad which is due to take place in China in 2008. I wish to quote here one father who once wrote that the high oil prices (due to which the Russian economy keeps itself alive) - are a handwork of God. We can probably regard the Olympiad that way too… Nevertheless, let's get back to the liturgical life in Shanghai? Does Fr. Dionisy (Pozdnyaev) visit you sometimes? I was told that the Pascha of 2004 was celebrated there…

Father Dionisy visits Beijing rather often - roughly twice a month. He visits Shenzhen too, a city close to Hong Kong, he goes by train and spends his days off there, they found a place and customized it for services. There's no such place in Shanghai. As I can recall, in Shanghai they celebrated just two or three liturgies - the first one took place in December 2003, Fr. Dionisy served a sanctification of waters in the consulate in a room adapted just for that purpose. And the second one was in the end of January (2004), they served a Vespers and a Liturgy in the same room. Then there was one more service (Fr. Dionisy attended but he didn't serve) in a private apartment of one Chinese.

But the circumstances with Orthodoxy in Shanghai can be changed in the near future. There aren't many Russians in Shanghai yet, nor many Russian companies, though they emerge pretty fast. This spring a lady from Moscow opened a brand new company in Shanghai. Her husband is Fr. Alexis, an Orthodox priest. The point is, she has a residence permit and all the civil rights, and it won't be any problem for him, as a member of the family, to go there. We raised some money and bought in Moscow everything we thought will be necessary for the services, the church utensils, the vestments and all are already in Shanghai.

And the priest is ready to move there…

Before doing this, he need to get a blessing from the bishop, in this case - Metropolitan Kyrill, otherwise he could not have the right to celebrate services. At this moment, they are discussing over whether to send him there or not. We already sent a letter to Metropolitan Kyrill signed by 40 Russians who live here, with a request to give us a positive answer.

And though everything moves a bit slowly than we supposed, we realize that the given situation has also its political side and it is necessary to coordinate it with the Chinese authorities, anyway, the most important is not to mess the whole thing up.

And as a whole, one can sense something - the quantity of believers, their activity - is growing rapidly?

Who do you have in mind - the Chinese?

No, rather Russians…

You see, the Russians are such people…

… Lazy…

… Yes, and then, as always, just 2-3 persons set the vector, and the others are just joining up. Therefore, if it is possible to send Fr. Alexis there and if he can keep the services going on, more or less on constant basis, a community can be generated and thus the people can attend the services and revive the Orthodox life in Shanghai. By the way, these days I had a conversation in the consulate and they are ready to give accordance for the services: every Sunday, or every second Sunday, whatever…

I wanted to ask you about the Chinese. How do they cope with all this?

You know, there is no such word - "religion" in the Chinese language, the meaning is replaced with the word "jiao" (教), which means "doctrine". That's why they call every religion by the name of "the doctrine of the Buddha" - Fo jiao (佛教), and "the doctrine of the Christ" - Jidu jiao (基督教), the doctrine of Confucius etc. Therefore, the followers are referred to as pupils. On the other hand, in China, as well as in the Soviet Union, the religion was persecuted, which made the people, especially the older ones, more afraid and cautious when it comes to this. Let alone the youngsters, the religion for them is embodied in the dollar or the yuan. When Metropolitan Kyrill came to visit us, we discussed these very questions over and over for four days. And when I told him this about the youngsters, his reaction was like: a man who by nature is yearning for the Heavens, for God, cannot pray only to the Yuan and the dollar, which is to say - the emptiness is fathomless, and it is about to be inhabited by something, inevitably…

Are there some elderly Chinese who still can recall the Russian emigration in its better times…

The dome inside of
St Nicholas Church.

Unfortunately, those years the Russian emigration, like any emigration, was pretty secretive and antisocial. The emigrants survived through without leaving any adherents behind among the local population. They lived in groups as the Chinese live now abroad. And if there are any Orthodox Chinese, they must have a blood relation with Russians. I've heard of such cossack, let's call him Z., after the Civil war he and his wife were retreating through Mongolia, and got to Xinjiang, wherefrom the family moved to Shanghai, their daughter got married to a Chinese but, all the same, the family remained Orthodox. The point is, every Chinese who would become a member of a Russian family will be converted into Orthodox. And the son of this woman - grandson of that couple - studies now in the seminary in Moscow. He is quarter Russian by birth - but looks more like a Chinese.

That's funny, I suppose so: when you mix the blood - you get Chinese, and when Orthodox spirit takes root - you get Russian. But everything happens by exception whatsoever.

Yes, you can surely say that. But who knows anyway? - Kim Jong-il traveled a little across Russia, he was shown an Orthodox church and he really liked it, "so let's make one at home" - he said. There is one in Pyongyang erected already. Perhaps, afterwards they will give Kim Jong-il the name: the Korean Vladimir the Red Little Sun.

Yes, everything is in God's hands. Thank you very much for the beautiful conversation.