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Building the First Christian Church for the Shanghai Expatriate Community: Trinity Church, 1847–62

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 November 2023


Trinity Church, built in the British concession at Shanghai in 1847–48, was the first Christian church erected for the foreign community there. Although it was an important centre of worship for that community, within twenty years it had collapsed and been demolished; it was replaced by the current church, erected to designs by George Gilbert Scott between 1866 and 1869, since when the original church has been largely forgotten. However, the failures in construction that led to its demolition are instructive. Drawing on the transnational knowledge network of the British empire, especially the experience of the existing British settlements at Hong Kong and Canton (Guangzhou) a thousand miles to the south, the projectors of the building attempted to combine western and Chinese constructional traditions and practices. The colonists believed they were educating the workforce in the (purportedly superior) methods of the west, but they succeeded only in producing a constructional hybrid, with disastrous consequences. As a work of construction, the first Trinity Church reveals the problematic nature of building production in early treaty-port era Shanghai, while as a cultural construct it stands as a failed example of the so-called pedagogy of imperialism.

Research Article
© The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain 2023

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