Robert Jacquinot de Besange

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Sculpture of de Besange c.1940 by Zhang Chongren

Robert de Besange (Jacquinot de Besange) (15 March 1878 – 10 September 1946) was a French Jesuit who set up a successful model of safety zones that saved over half a million Chinese people during the Second Sino-Japanese War.[1][2]

Jacquinot de Besange's family originates from aristocratic lineages in Lorraine, northeastern France. He arrived in China in 1913 as a missionary, and served the Portuguese congregation at the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Hongkou. He also served as chaplain to the Shanghai Volunteer Corps. De Besange had lost his right arm in an explosion while conducting chemistry experiments in his youth, and was known as the "one armed priest".

De Besange acted as president of the China International Famine Relief Commission during the 1932 Battle of Shanghai, where his relief work for refugees, including negotiating a 4-hour truce between the Chinese and Japanese armies to allow the evacuation of civilians and casualties from the warzone, made him a household name in Shanghai.

The "de Besange model" began with the Shanghai Safety Zone (南市难民区, "Nanshi Refugee Zone"), or "Jacquinot de Besange Safe Zone", in 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese War. This was a de-militarised zone for Chinese civilians located in a part of the Old City of Shanghai that was adjacent to the Shanghai French Concession. The de-militarised zone was respected by both side of the war and the concession authorities. It was administered by an international committee composed of representatives of the US, British and French communities, and policed by the Chinese police. The zone was credited with saving the lives of thousands of Chinese residents between 1937 and 1940, when it was abolished after de Besange left Shanghai. Aside from setting up the Safety Zone, de Besange was also responsible for arranging for refugee camps to be set up in the Tu-seh-weh orphanage and Fuh Tan College to shelter refugees fleeing the war zone.[3]

Following the example of de Besange in Shanghai, the foreigners in Nanking created the Nanking Safety Zone (南京安全区), managed by the International Committee for the Nanjing Safety Zone, led by German businessman John Rabe. The same model also inspired the Hankou Safety Zone, the Zhangzhou Safety Zone and the Shenzhen Safety Zone.

His work is acknowledged in the Protocols and Commentaries to the 1949 Geneva Convention.[4] A film of his life and work, Jacquinot: A Forgotten Hero directed by Krzysztof Zanussi, was featured in the 2009 Shanghai International Film Festival.[5]

On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the events, a memorial stone was unveiled in the Shanghai City God Temple in December 2017.[6]


  1. ^ Marcia R. Ristaino (14 February 2008). The Jacquinot Safe Zone: wartime refugees in Shanghai. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-5793-5. Retrieved 24 December 2010.
  2. ^ "WAR IN CHINA: Safety Zones". TIME. 7 November 1938. Retrieved 2010-12-25.
  3. ^ Time Magazine 7 November 1938 "WAR IN CHINA: Safety Zones"
  4. ^ "Robert Jacquinot de Besange, S.J." Theology as a Process. 5 September 2008. Retrieved 2010-12-24.
  5. ^ "Jaquinot: A Forgotten Hero (USA)" (PDF). Shanghai International Film Festival. 17 May 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 June 2013. Retrieved 24 December 2010.
  6. ^ Priest honored for saving thousands from invaders