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It’s all Greek to some: Mystery letter unveiled

    The Beichuan Apartment where the letter and photos were found.

    A local resident who found a scratchy letter written in the 1930s in an unrecognized foreign language is looking for the owner of the letter and photos.

    The letter, which was found during a house renovation in 2010, has turned incomplete and yellowed with age saying. At the top it says “Shanghai July 11, 1939” but the remaining part is difficult to recognize.

    One photo shows an elegant, well-dressed young Chinese woman, while the other is a group photo of 26 people of the then Financial Administration of east China’s Anhui Province. The portrait was taken on April 10, 1939 at the Shanghai Wangkai Photography Studio, according to a date written on the photo in a handwriting style similar to that of the letter.

    The letter and photos were found hidden behind an old fireplace in a room at the historic Beichuan Apartment in Hongkou District where famous Chinese writer Lu Xun and poet Feng Xuefeng once lived in the 1930s. Lu lived in the room next door to the owner of the letter.

    “The letter was inside a homemade envelope with the same unrecognized language when found, but the envelope remained opened and no stamp was stuck, so it must be an unsent letter,” the owner of the apartment, surnamed Bao who has lived there for over 40 years, told Shanghai Daily yesterday.

    The letter and photos were well-wrapped in a piece of paper dropped down along with some poker cards when Bao and her husband dismantled an old fireplace during a house renovation in July 2010, Bao said.

    Bao kept the letter and invited many friends who can read foreign languages to recognize the content, but in vain. She then publicized the letter and photos to local media to ask for help.

    The mystery was partly solved yesterday when Shanghai Daily found a local university teacher who identified the language as Greek. Wang Xiaoying, who teaches Greek at the Shanghai International Studies University, deciphered the salutation and part of the letter:

    “Dear Mr Sparati (according to the pronunciation),

    I wrote you a letter 10 days ago, and I haven’t received your reply yet.

    I had a surgery these days and I’m now hospitalized.

    Business is quite sluggish these days.

    We all miss you very much.”

    Wang said the rest of the letter was unreadable, even to her.

    “It might involve some last wishes of a senior people, so I hope anyone who was related can read it,” Bao said earlier.

    “The residents living inside the apartment that was built by an Englishman named Ramous in 1928 were either Chinese celebrities or foreigners,” said He Ying,  deputy director of the Honkou District Cultural Relics Management Commission.

    However, she said the commission could not identify the former owner of Bao’s apartment.

    The five-story building at 2093 Sichuan Road N. is made of concrete and steel and its modern decoration style on the facade and stairway has been kept intact through the years. It is listed as a protected historic building of Shanghai.