Shanghai’s Xujiahui

Since its establishment in 1847 by French Jesuits, the Xujiahui Library (also known as Bibliotheca Zi-ka-wei) has stayed intact despite the fall of the last dynasty, wars both world and civil, and political and economic reforms and upheavals (King). It stood as the first public library in Shanghai – and the first public library in modern Chinese history – as well as a historical location for many important events that influenced the flourish of Catholicism in China. Following its founding in 1847, it became a repository of scholarly knowledge and at its peak housed over 200,000 different volumes. It was also known for its writings in Chinese and European languages of missions in China and abroad. Standing across from the library sit the both St. Ignatius Cathedral and the Xujiahui Observatory. Founded in 1872, the Xujiahui Observatory was one of the world’s foremost observatories for the continuous long-term evaluation and collection of climatological data. It also produced the first weather chart of East Asia in 1895, and became a hub for meteorological, astronomical, geomagnetic and marine research. The St. Ignatius Cathedral was originally constructed in 1851, and then reconstructed and enlarged between 1906 and 1910 by English architect William Doyle. It was known as the great cathedral of the far East, and could house almost three thousand worshipers at once.

I propose an expository documentary that takes on the role of decoding the lasting survival of these monuments, and that investigates their historical significance – as well as the role of other landmarks and relics of Xujiahui – as a part of a diasporic settlement that was mediated by the Jesuits and that served the role of a “cultural and geographical crossroads between the East and West” in Shanghai (King). This documentary could thus take on many different scopes. One of those would be the architectural history of these sites, as well as the specific events, people, and stories that are tied to their founding. Some of those people might include Xuguangqi (1562-1633), one of the most important early Chinese Catholics closely associated with Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), the founder of the Jesuit China mission. This documentary could also investigate their role as a hub for mediation of culture and knowledge by the Jesuits themselves. What role did they play and what role do these institutions still play? Because of the complexities of this story, the scope of the documentary will largely depend on the interests and willingness to participate of our subjects. Possible subjects for the documentary include:

Joanna Waley-Cohen, the Provost for NYU Shanghai. Her research interests include early modern Chinese history; China and the West; and Chinese imperial culture, especially in the Qianlong era.

Francesca Tarocco, visiting Associate Professor of Buddhist Cultures at NYU Shanghai. Tarocco’s research interests are in the cultural history of China, Chinese Buddhism, visual culture and urban Asia.

Davide Cucino, Chairman of Italy Chamber of Commerce and Chairman of Fincantieri China since January 2017, who graduated from Venice Ca’Foscari University in Oriental Studies, and studied Chinese History at Beijing University.

Lena Scheen, Assistant Professor of Global China Studies at NYU Shanghai. Scheen is a member of the Urban Knowledge Network of Asia (UKNA). Scheen’s research explores the social and cultural impact of China’s fast urbanization, focusing on Shanghai.

King, Gail. “The Xujiahui (Zikawei) Library of Shanghai.” Libraries & Culture, vol. 32, no. 4, 1997, pp. 456–469. JSTOR

Hanbury-Tenison, William, and Anthony E. Clark. “Seminary of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1932–35).” The Memoirs of Jin Luxian: Volume One: Learning and Relearning, 1916-1982, Hong Kong University Press, 2012, pp. 37–42. JSTOR,

Golvers, N. “Old Provenances of the Western Books in the Former (And Current) Xujiahui (Zikawei)-Library, Shanghai.” Sino-Western Cultural Relations Journal, vol. 36, Sept. 2014, pp. 25-42. EBSCOhost

Liu, Yu. “The Complexities of a New Faith: Xu Guangqi’s Acceptance of Christianity.” Journal of Religious History, vol. 37, no. 2, June 2013, pp. 228-244.

Titangos, Hui-Lan H.1, “Xujiahui Library: A Cultural Crossroads between East and West.” Chinese Librarianship, no. 41, June 2016, pp. 1-19. EBSCOhost

Xujiahui Cathedral

Xujiahui Observatory

Xujiahui Library

Map of Xujiahui — just southwest of the Library lies the cathedral, and just East of the cathedral is the hall of XuGuangQi. Possible flying concerns are the willingness of the people who run/own/operate these buildings to participate. The neighborhood sits just outside of the airport regulated no-fly-zone.

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