The former Anglican Cathedral in Shanghai has been handed back to the Church after half-a-century's closure. It will now become the local headquarters of the “Three-Self Patriotic Movement”, the state-approved protestant Church in China.
The Cathedral was the spiritual home of Britain's colonial class for almost a century, but it has been closed since 1949 after the city was "liberated" by communists in the civil war. For a long time now it has been used as a police station and even a visa office.
Last week, the China Christian Council and leaders of China's officially sanctioned protestant Church were allowed to place wooden signs bearing their names on the front wall of the cathedral.
The Cathedral, designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, is situated in old Shanghai's international settlement. It has a red brick and white stone frontage. Soon it will be renovated, the Committee intends to clear the debris, re-install mahogany fittings and rebuild the spire if it is possible.
"There are 80 million church-goers in China, most underground. But we can see a massive divide between the Three-Self Patriotic Church and the majority of Christians, who are not prepared to be told what to talk about and how to worship," says Richard Chilvers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which campaigns against the persecution of Christians in China.
On the other hand, according to Ding Guangxun, chairman of the organization’s national committee, the government is showing its support for freedom of religion through the handover of the Cathedral.