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Shanghai's 'City of the Doomed' to close down

After 110 years, colonial prison becomes latest victim of development

<p>Tilanqiao Prison has housed a number of prominent Catholics </p>

Tilanqiao Prison has housed a number of prominent Catholics 

  • ucanews.com reporter, Shanghai
  • China
  • August 2, 2013
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They are the words that every child in Shanghai dreads to hear: “I will throw you into Tilanqiao if you don’t behave yourself.”

But after 110 years, Tilanqiao Prison is about to pass into Chinese folklore. Located in Shanghai’s business central of Hongkou , the prison is to be moved outside of the country's biggest city as part of a redevelopment plan that will see the 33,285 square-meter site converted into a housing and shopping complex, according to the state Xinhua News Agency.

Although authorities have promised to keep the character and flavor of this British colonial prison, some fear that Shanghai is losing yet another part of its heritage.

“We must think about how many of the city’s unique memories we have lost already and prevent this from happening again,” Professor Han Sheng, a senior political advisor, told the state-run Global Times newspaper.

Once the largest prison on earth known as the ‘Alcatraz of the Orient,’ Tilanqiao has previously housed the foster father of former president Jiang Zemin and famous dissident Lin Zhao who was secretly executed by the Communist authorities for “anti-revolutionary” crimes in 1968.

Tilanqiao has also held a number of prominent Chinese Catholics.

Cardinal Ignatius Gong Pinmei was detained here in isolation for 25 years – a quarter of his long life – until he was finally released in 1986, spending a further two years under house arrest on treason charges after he refused to renounce the Pope.

While serving his life sentence, Pope John Paul II named Gong a cardinal in 1979, a secret which was kept for 12 years. Gong himself did not even know of his promotion until he held a private meeting with the Pope at the Vatican in 1988 soon after his release from house arrest.

Simon Chen, who twice visited his father there after he was accused of being a capitalist during the Cultural Revolution, said rumors of a bishop in Tilanqiao were rife at the time.

“My father said that inmates knew there was a Catholic bishop in the prison but no-one ever saw him,” he said.

Father Cai Zhongxian, who was among the 200 members of the clergy detained along with Gong during this period, says in his memoirs that the decision to send them all to Tilanqiao was a deliberate scare tactic by the Communists.

Cai writes that his cell was “like a matchbox,” but with “God as my master, wherever he wants me to go, that place will be my home, even it is a prison.”

The late Father Ignatius Xu Jian’qu, descendant of Xu Gaungqi, the first Catholic convert in Shanghai whose beatification process is ongoing, would not talk of his time in Tilanqiao.

According to a member of Xu’s family who requested anonymity: “He said that he always thought of the dead during his imprisonment and he believed that these souls also remembered him.”

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