VISIT FROM CHINA is a documentary film about two refugees — an Austrian and a Chinese — and how fate brought them together in China in 1946. Ferdinand Adler (1903-1952) was a violinist from Vienna who escaped the Nazis for Shanghai in 1939, and Mingliang Sheng (1932-2023) was his pupil, who escaped the “Rape of Nanjing” under the Japanese invasion of China in 1937. The story unfolds through the eyes of their adult children, Christina Adler and Fang Sheng, who meet in Kufstein, Tyrol, to record a radio documentary for the Canadian broadcaster CBC.
Soon after his arrival in Shanghai, Ferdinand Adler became a well-known musician. He performed as a soloist, chamber, and orchestra violinist, and in coffee houses and nightclubs that had been opened by European refugees. Eventually he became concert master of the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra (today Shanghai Symphony Orchestra), and Professor of violin at the music conservatories in Changzhou, Nanjing and Shanghai.
Mingliang Sheng fled Nanjing to the Chinese war capital Chongqing with his father and brothers. Sheng and his brothers were soon orphaned when their father died. Sheng applied to and was accepted into the junior program of the music conservatory in Chongqing, where he got free room and board, and was assigned to learn the violin.
In 1946, Adler and Sheng first met. The music conservatory’s junior program had been re-established in Changzhou, near Shanghai, and Ferdinand Adler became Mingliang Sheng’s violin teacher. In the film, Christina Adler — Ferdinand’s daughter – who was born in Shanghai in 1945, meets Mingliang Sheng via video chat, as he recalls his life-changing time with Adler more than 70 years ago. In his time in China – together with other European musicians – Adler had a long-lasting impact on Chinese classical music through his teaching of young Chinese musicians.
After his return to Vienna in 1947, Ferdinand Adler resumed his musical career and became concertmaster of Vienna’s State Opera Orchestra. He died in 1952 unexpectedly during a rehearsal at the age of 48. In May of 1952, Mingliang Sheng travelled to Vienna – on a world tour with young Chinese artists – just months after his former teacher had passed away. Mingliang Sheng ultimately became a founding member of the Central Philharmonic Orchestra of China.
The film opens in a shop where Ferdinand Adler’s violin is being restored for an exhibition in the Jewish Museum in Vienna. The story ends on May 6, 2023, on the occasion of Ferdinand Adler’s 120th birthday, when the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra commemorates him on the streets of Shanghai. Concert Master Ming Liu plays Hebraic Melody by Joseph Achron in honor of her predecessor.
Outstanding archival materials (film, photo, text and music) bring this unusual story to life. The languages spoken in the film are German, English and Chinese.
It was very exciting to revisit the WWII Jewish exile to Shanghai.
This time the inspiration came from China, via Toronto: Fang Sheng was searching for information about the violinist Ferdinand Adler, the Austrian musician who was the first violin teacher of his father – Mingliang Sheng – from 1946 – 47 in Shanghai. I was able to help Fang Sheng since I knew Ferdinand Adler’s daughter, Christina, for more than 25 years.
This is how the radio documentary Finding Adler came about and ultimately became the basis for my film Visit from China. I had asked my cameraman Wolfram Wuinovic to film the radio recordings with Christina Adler in Kufstein. I sensed that this Chinese/Austrian encounter could be very interesting. That was 2018.
In 2020, the violin of Ferdinand Adler was restored for the exhibition Little Vienna in Shanghai at the Jewish Museum in Vienna. In 2023, the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra honored the 120th anniversary of Ferdinand Adler birth date, repaired his plaque on the Musicians’ path in Shanghai and commemorated him – with the current concert master Ming Liu.
I also drew from my rich collection of archival materials (35mm, 16mm, 8 and Super 8), added some exciting new discoveries – Ferdinand Adler on record, the first Beethoven performance in China in 1959 – and Visit from China was ready.
It means a lot to me that I was now able to examine the Jewish exile in Shanghai from a Chinese perspective.
 From 1994 to 1998 Joan Grossman and I made the film The Port of Last Resort – Zufucht in Shanghai. At that time, we were able to make the exile experience in Shanghai tangible through extensive research and eyewitness testimony.
 Mingliang Sheng was a refugee from Nanking (1937) and an orphan. Ferdinand Adler, a refugee from Austria, taught in the youth program of the Chinese State Conservatory.
Writer, director, editor & producer: Paul Rosdy
Co-producer: Fang Sheng
Cinematography: Wolfram Wuinovic aac
Sound: Sharon Wu
Isabel Wolte, China Film Consult
Download: complete end credits
Symphonie No. 9, d-minor, Op. 125
Hebraic Melody op. 33
Joseph Achron, performed by Ming Liu
Download Press photos
Tel.: +43 (0) 699 1217 0214