Xujiahui Church in the Cultural Revolution

By Mitchell Blatt | History

Jun 27

In 1966, the Xujiahui Church (St. Ignatius Cathedral) displayed Mao’s image over the front door. The Cultural Revolution had just started, and Red Guard students were tearing down historical and cultural anti-revolutionary relics. On August 23, they arrived at the St. Ignatius Cathedral in Xujiahui district of Shanghai and attacked the church. Elements of the exterior were torn down. Propaganda slogans were put up. The congregation was told they couldn’t believe in both Mao and Jesus and labeled “cow, monster, snake, gods,” (牛鬼蛇神), a term for “bad characters” used during the time, and marched in the street wearing signs. This history is laid out in the book “Folk Images, Volume 4” (《民间影像,第四辑》), a compilation of 20th century Chinese events published by Tongji University Publishing.

Xujiahui church in August 1966, with Jesus torn down and replaced with Mao.

Xujiahui church in August 1966, with Jesus torn down and replaced with Mao. (Source: “Folk Images, Volume 4,” Tongji University Publishing.


This year, I visited the St. Ignatius Cathedral during a trip to Shanghai. It looks like nothing happened. An article in the L.A. Times says that the Red Guards also smashed all the stained glass windows and that the church was used as a granary during the rest of the Cultural Revolution. The new stained glass windows, the L.A. Times reported, weren’t completed until the past decade.


None of that history is reported at the church itself. Tourists just take pictures, admire the inside, and read a sign that explains “the difference between Catholicism and Christianity” (“天主教与基督教有什么区别”). The sign explains the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism.

The district around the church has lots of old schools and other relics, old libraries and observatories. Xujiahui is named after the Xu family of Xu Guangqi, a wealthy scholar and Catholic convert who lived from 1562-1633. Xu worked with Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci to translate books. Eventually their family donated the land for the church to be built. The large cathedral was built in 1910 after smaller churches resided there in the 1800’s.

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About the Author

Mitchell Blatt is a travel writer, editor, and columnist who has lived and worked in China for six years. He is an author of two guidebooks, Panda Guides Hong Kong and Panda Guides China. He has been published in National Interest.org, The Korea Times, The Shanghai Daily, Roads & Kingdoms, Vagabond Journey, City Weekend, Silkwinds and The World of Chinese, among other outlets. See examples of his published articles.