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  • The Jacquinot Safe Zone: Wartime Refugees in Shanghai
  • Wen-Hsin Yeh
The Jacquinot Safe Zone: Wartime Refugees in Shanghai By Marcia R. Ristaino. (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2008. Pp. xviii, 206. $27.95. ISBN 978-0-804-75793-5.)

This valuable volume uncovers, in intriguing details, new dimensions of human endeavors under Shanghai’s unique circumstances during China’s War of Resistance against Japan (1937–45). With Shanghai at its focus, the volume examines the creation of a “safe zone” for third-nation noncombatants in the 1932 Battle of Shanghai and in 1937, and the much less successful replication of the zones in Nanking and Hankou in 1937–38. With the actions of one French Jesuit, Father Robert Jacquinot de Besange, at the center, Marcia Ristaino resurrects from the trail of English and French archival papers the deeds of a seemingly forgotten Oskar Schindler or Raoul Wallenberg who helped save the lives of at least 500,000 Chinese. Drawing extensively on recent scholarly works, the volume helpfully offers a broad overview of pre-1937 European Shanghai under the International Settlement and the French Concession as well as decades of Western Catholic and Protestant missionary endeavors to alleviate the miseries of flood, famine, and war that inundated the Chinese.

In August 1937, when Sino-Japanese fighting broke out in the outskirts of Shanghai and tens of thousands of Chinese refugees were either pouring into the International Settlement or pounding on the shut gates of the French Concession, Jacquinot expertly went to work at the head of a multinational local committee of Westerners that included Protestants and Catholics, Shanghai settlement authorities, and civic leaders. Acting as a nongovernmental, third-party national, Jacquinot negotiated with Chinese and Japanese military and civilian officials and secured the terms for the “Jacquinot Safe Zone” that would lie outside the foreign concessions. The Japanese field command agreed not to attack the zone. Chinese authorities, for their part, pledged not to use it to mount resistance (known as terrorist acts) nor to shelter arms or troops. The tricky part clearly involved the monitoring of compliance under third-party (i.e., Western) oversight, which at first employed Chinese police (as the zone was in Chinese territory) and later the Japanese military police.

All parties, foreign concessions included, had reason to believe that they benefited from this arrangement. All agreed that the zone served noble humanitarian goals of universal appeal. Yet the tension and the shifting dynamics underneath a precariously arranged and ghettoized zone of peace were palpable. The Shanghai Jacquinot zone, which lasted for three years, was hailed by the Japanese commander and the Jesuit father as a model of success. The zone raised or received funding—including Chinese and Japanese monies—to shelter, feed, educate, treat, train, and repatriate back to the countryside tens of thousands of destitute Chinese refugees and contributed critically to their survival. [End Page 190]

In contrast, the Hankou safe zone of 1938 was a failure despite the Western desire to protect churches and other properties. Before the fall of the city Japanese diplomats communicated with the U.S. government, urging Western powers to pressure the Chinese to create a safe zone centering on former foreign concessions that the Chinese, in turn, would demilitarize. (The newly opened Chinese government archives held at the Hoover Institution promise to shed light on the Chinese end of the negotiations.) Coming after the Rape of Nanking and the Japanese violation of safe zones in the Chinese capital, the failure of the Hankou case underscored the point that the further inland the war moved, the less viable Jacquinot’s Shanghai model became.

Ristaino persuasively portrays Jacquinot as an independent-minded Jesuit of action who dedicated himself most resourcefully to wartime relief and rescue. Yet unlike Schindler and Wallenberg whose personal heroism had to be uncloaked from the secrecy vital to their rescue work, Jacquinot operated on a large scale in the open, shuttling back and forth among various secular national authorities and working in the limelight of the concessions’ international communal press. It thus deserves some explanation, as the author points out, as to why Jacquinot, who had accomplished so much, was so quickly forgotten or is...


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pp. 190-191
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