Shanghai’s Secret Gurdwara

In an affluent neighborhood on the outskirts of Shanghai, a Sikh family has set up a gurdwara on the top floor of their luxurious house.
The gated and guarded Western-style neighborhood is atypical of most in China where houses are rare and people rent or own small apartments. The residents of this neighborhood, about a 40-minute taxi ride from downtown, are foreign businessmen, as is the Sikh owner of this house. He and his family were traveling abroad when we visited on Friday, April 29, 2011. They had left a caretaker to look after the property.
The gurdwara was established about five years ago, the caretaker said. Approximately 100 people, mostly Sikh, but also Sindhi and Hindu, gather there during gurpurabs, and about 30 are there every Sunday, the caretaker said, on condition of anonymity. No one knows that there is a gurdwara here except for the local Sikhs and Indians, she said in Punjabi. “If the Chinese government found out, there will be a problem.”

During the Cultural Revolution in 1966, religion was condemned as feudalistic, and those who practiced religion were persecuted. By the end of the revolution, a decade later, thousands of houses of worship were destroyed or converted for other use. But some of the big mosques and Buddhist temples that were built before the revolution are still standing today, especially in the big cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

Religion is more accepted now in China. Tour guides routinely talk about the minority Muslim population in China, and point to the mosques as they drive by. They also talk about how the Chinese adopted Buddhism from India. Buddhist temples are considered tourist sites where foreigners visit by the busload.


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