Katya Knyazeva (avezink) wrote,
Katya Knyazeva

The Red Attic

When I came across Hugues Martin's September blog post about Mikhail Borodin's career in China, I recalled a related story I haven't shared with anyone yet.

There is actually an obscure and beautiful landmark connected to Borodin in the French Concession.

In 1927, after the Communists in Shanghai were crushed by the Guomindang, the Soviet agitator Borodin and his Comintern comrades were blacklisted by Chiang Kaishek and had to go into hiding. One sympathetic Russian merchant sheltered Borodin and the others in the attic of his mansion. That merchant, named Wassily (Vasily) Emelianovich Ulanoff, was born in 1881 and had been a successful entrepreneur in Shanghai for many years, working for an established Hankou-based Russian enterprise that exported Chinese tea. Ulanoff had actually supported the Communists since 1921, but by offering his house to the fugitives, he risked his family, his business and his life. Luckily for Ulanoff, Borodin and friends went undiscovered during their sojourn in the manor.

Ulanoff and his family had always lived in the same mansion on Route Dupleix, and stayed there until the mid-1940s. In 1933 Ulanoff became the head of the import-export company Asia Trading Co, and in 1939 he was elected chairman of the Russian Chamber of Commerce. All the time, according to some sources, he was acting as a Soviet agent.

Ulanoff might have secretly labored for years to secure the Communists victory, but the Soviet government was not particularly grateful. In 1945, after the end of the war, Soviet agents smuggled Ulanoff out of Shanghai and sent him to the USSR. There he was tried for promulgating "anti-Soviet propaganda" and condemned to ten years of forced labor. He died in a Far Eastern gulag, aged almost 70.

The house where Ulanoff sheltered Borodin still stands: it is the brooding and angular gothic mansion at 255 Anfu Lu. The estate has always had an air of witchcraft about it, thanks to its unusual architecture and the feral garden behind the high wall. It is true that baleful atmosphere has been diluted recently by a vegan café on the first floor. It is possible though, that above the café, florists, key-makers and the scores of Chinese families who live in the building, some whispers of Soviet espionage still echo in the attic.

Tags: french concession, route dupleix, russians, shanghai

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