[Church Series] Fitch Memorial Church: The Only Church in Chinese Classical Revival Style in Shanghai

Shanghai Fitch Memorial Church
Shanghai Fitch Memorial Church
By Grace Song October 15th, 2021

Located at No. 59 Duolun Road (formerly Darroch Road) in Hongkou District, Shanghai, Fitch Memorial Church (Hongde Church) was constructed in 1928 to be a US-Presbyterian Mission (North) church. As one of the very few church buildings that adopted a Chinese classical style, it has been a witness to the contextualization of Christianity in China.

This famous Chinese-style church was named in memory of Rev. George F. Fitch (1845-1923, Fei Qihong in Chinese), a renowned missionary and an important leader of the American Presbyterian Mission Press. Its Chinese name, “Hongde Church”, similarly, commemorates Rev. Fitch’s contribution to Christianity and cultural efforts in China. 

In the 1920s, the rising nationalism campaigns and Anti-Christianity Movement in China led to a movement of indigenization and contextualization among Christians. The movement highlighted integrating Christianity into Chinese traditional culture, seeking peace between the two in terms of theology, philosophy, and church arts.

Indigenous church buildings was one of the arguments of the movement. Therefore, the pastor of Fitch Memorial Church, Rev. Chen Jinyong, proposed in 1925 that a church based in a Chinese community serving Chinese Christians should assume a Chinese style. This view was widely accepted in the church.

Designed by Chinese architect Yang Xiliu, this edifice features a Chinese classical revival style with an overhanging roof of Dougong (a Chinese wooden-interlocked buttress) and cornice, which is common in Chinese palaces and temples. Looking in from the outside, the church is a three-story brick-and-concrete structure on a square plan, with a tall bell tower in the middle. The exterior walls are inlaid with dark-red concrete columns which mimic in form and color the wooden columns usually found in traditional Chinese temples, yet appear as double columns. This is a very common feature of French classical architecture.

The interior adopts a basilica form with a central nave flanked by two lower aisles, typical of a Western church building. The ground floor is a small chapel, which used to be Xiude Primary School, and the second floor is the main hall. The main building of the church covers an area of over 700 square meters and can host about 1,000 persons.

In 1932, Fitch Memorial Church’s pastor of the time, Jiang Shixu opened the church to shelter and provide for refugees amid the Japanese army’s attack on the northern part of Shanghai. A total of 10 believers, including four of Pastor Jiang’s family members, were killed by the Japanese army and church services were suspended for several months.

In 1934, the famous Chinese evangelist John Sung Shang Chieh preached in Fitch Memorial Church, leading 104 listeners to the Christian faith. Yet after the “8.13 Incident” in 1937, the church had to move away from Hongkou and could not resume its services in the original church building until the end of the Anti-Japanese War in 1945.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the church reopened as one of the four combined Christian worship sites in the Hongkou District. During the Cultural Revolution in 1966, the church stopped all religious activities, but it was refurbished in 1990 and reopened to the public on August 30, 1992.

Fitch Memorial Church is now a TSPM (Three-Self Patriotic Movement) church. The church holds three services on Sundays and had nearly 2,500 attendees as of 2019, according to the website of CCC&TSPM.

- Translated by Grace Song

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