“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Rudolf Hamburger – SMC Architect and Soviet Spy – But What did he Build in Shanghai?

Posted: November 21st, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Here’s a question from some recent reading that I thought someone out there may be able to add some information to….

Rudolf Hamburger (1903-1980) was a German architect who had studied in Berlin. In 1929 he married Ursula Kuczynski, also from Germany. Ursula had joined the German Communist Party (KPD) in 1926 at just 19. She went on to work in a library and then a publishing house in Berlin before losing her job for political activities in 1928. She briefly went to New York t work in a book store and then returned to Berlin in 1929 and married Hamburger.

In 1929 Hamburger heard about a possible vacant post in China from a friend and applied for a job in Shanghai. He got it and was appointed as an architect with the Shanghai Municipal Council. While in Shanghai Ursula (later codenamed “Sonya”) was recruited to Soviet Intelligence – probably by Agnes Smedley (who also probably recruited the former Mi5 boss Roger Hollis around the same time in Shanghai) at the infamously left wing Zeitgeist Bookstore (about which I’ve blogged before). The rest is espionage history and at some point Hamburger was roped in too.


Rudolf Hamburger remained in Shanghai until 1937 – i.e. through one of the city’s most voracious construction booms. His career as a spy is fairly well documented, but what did he build in Shanghai??

The only building I can firmly attribute to Hamburger is the Victoria Nurses Home (below), completed around 1933. It was an excellent Bauhaus-inspired building with some splendid iron work adorning the interior staircases. The building was on Great Western Road (Yanan Road now) adjacent to the Country Hospital (now the Huadong Hospital). The building remains though in a much modified form that, true to modern Shanghai, does little to reveal its original architectural features, many of which I believe (at least in terms of the interior) have long been stripped out.

102I believe Hamburger was also involved in the design of a new Middle School for Chinese girls in 1935 – but I’m not sure which school this was/is I’m afraid. He was also involved in designing an extension to the Ward Road Jail (Tilanqiao prison as was until a few years ago – now slated to be an “arts hub” or some such) – a new juvenile block I believe, but may be wrong about that. Certainly the prison, the world’s largest at the time, did undergo pretty much constant renovations and additions from the late 1920s up till 1937 and the Japanese attack on the city.

If anyone knows any other buildings he was involved in I’d like to hear?

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3 Comments on “Rudolf Hamburger – SMC Architect and Soviet Spy – But What did he Build in Shanghai?”

  1. 1 Thomas Kampen said at 2:01 am on February 8th, 2017:

    He was probably not involved in other big projects.
    I think he already left Sh. in 1936 and went to Poland.
    He returned in 1939, but was arrested in 1940.
    (It is unlikely that Agnes recruited him.)

  2. 2 Paul French said at 5:52 pm on February 8th, 2017:

    once again many thanks

  3. 3 Thomas Kampen said at 5:11 pm on May 8th, 2017:

    Middle School = Huaren nüzi zhongxue = Shanghaishi diyi zhongxue


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