Related News

Home » Metro

Medals issued to commemorate French missionary who set up Jacquinot Safe Zone in Shanghai during WWII

About 770 bronze medals were issued on Saturday to commemorate French missionary Robert Jacquinot de Besange, who set up a “safe zone” in Shanghai during World War II to protect about 300,000 people.

The medals, minted by Shanghai Normal University, Beijing Art Medal Culture Co and Nanjing Mint Co, also mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. Likely to become collectors’ items, the medals will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis at a price of 500 yuan each (US$79).

“It is important for us to remember de Besange,” Thomas Rollet, deputy French consul-general in Shanghai, told Shanghai Daily. “Few people now know what he did during the war. He is not even well-known in France. In fact, I had no knowledge about him until two years ago. But when I came to know his life, I was surprised at the huge contribution he made.”

The medals are 7 centimeters in diameter. On one side is a portrait of the Jesuit missionary, his Chinese and French names and his signature. The flip side shows de Besange and two refugee children, a map of the so-called Jacquinot Safe Zone and the words “Geneva Convention.”

De Besange arrived in Shanghai in 1913 when he was in his 30s. He was known as the “one-armed priest” because he lost his right arm in an explosion while conducting chemistry experiments in his youth.

In 1937, he persuaded the Shanghai government and the Japanese army to agree to the establishment of a demilitarized safe zone, called the Nanshi Safe Zone, near the French Concession. It operated until 1940, offering refuge to about 300,000 civilians, said Su Zhiliang, a history professor at Shanghai Normal University.

The zone was divided into nine areas, each with a leader elected by the refugees. The zone encompassed facilities such as hospitals, schools, a mosque, a Taoist temple and a Buddhist monastery, Su said.

De Besange’s efforts drew donations from China and beyond. In 1938, he had the honor of meeting US President Franklin Roosevelt, who announced an aid package for the effort, Su said.

The success of the safe zone was replicated in other Chinese cities and later in France. After the war, de Besange went to Berlin to do postwar relief work. He died there of leukemia in 1946, aged 68.

A film of his life and work, Jacquinot: A Forgotten Hero, directed by Krzysztof Zanussi, was featured in the 2009 Shanghai International Film Festival.

The Jacquinot Safe Zone is mentioned by name in parts of the Geneva Convention of 1949, which requires all parties to protect civilians in wartime.

“De Besange deserves our respect not only because he had saved so many Chinese and French people, but also because he helped Germans after the war,” said Rollet. “His humanity crossed politics, cultures and borders.”

Professor Su said his legacy is even more important to remember today in a world beset by regional conflict and refugees.

“We need more people like him to prevent tragedies like the three-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi, who drowned at sea when his family was trying to reach Europe,” Su said.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend