As China’s most cosmopolitan city and in a country that I was a little nervous about visiting, I knew that I wanted to dig into Shanghai‘s cultural roots.
I could have joined one of these small group tours to China that I had been reading brochures about to help me feel better prepared for my visit but really who better to help me get the inside scoop on China than two expats – Chris and Heather.
First on their list of suggestions of what to do was a visit to the Shanghai Museum, what is widely considered to be China’s best museum.
Located centrally in People’s Square, the Shanghai Museum is easily noticeable by it’s unique design. It’s designed to look like a ding, an ancient cooking vessel, but also, with it’s round top and square base represents the ancient Chinese perception that the world has a “round sky, square earth.”
There were some English signs in the museum instructing us on what we were seeing, but to fully understand and make the most of our trip the audio guides were a worthwhile investment to really understand what we were seeing – and there’s a lot to see! With displays on bronze, calligraphy, jade, oriental furniture, more we easily spent half a day in the museum and still rushed through a number of galleries.
I loved exploring the Gallery of Chinese Ancient Bronze, there were so many styles of bronze sculpture throughout history. One common feature was animal faces, generally found as a decorative piece on the handles.
This is an example of a ding (food vessel) with interlaced dragon and scale design from the early 6th century, similar to the vessel which the exterior of the building was modelled on.
When I think of interesting shaped pillows, I think of something similar to the padded neck rails that Geisha’s in Japan used to sleep on, so I was really interested in the ceramic pillows which were found in the ceramic gallery. Two examples are these pictures (above and below) which are called ‘child-shaped’ pillows.
I’ve always been a big fan of European history so to see The World of Fabergé exhibition on in the Shanghai Museum – and we were there on the last day of the exhibition!
The collection on display was from the Romanov dynasty (19th and 20th century) and featured not only personal pieces of the Tsar and family, but also pieces created by Carl Fabergé, one of the most impressive jewllers of his time.
Imperial Easter Eggs for the Tsar family were created by the House of Fabergé every year from 1885 til the end of the Russian Empire in 1917. Gilt in gold, silver, and other precious metals the craftsmanship and beauty of the four Easter eggs on display.
[To read more about The World of Fabergé display click here!]
When I think of Chinese art, one of the first things that comes to mind is the decorative white porcelain bowls and there are several hundred of these bowls on display. Each piece seems to tell a story, as well as showcasing how porcelain art evolved during the ages.
The first gallery of its type in the world, the Shanghai Museum has a huge space dedicated to seals. As something that is rarely seen today, to see how decorative some of the seals are is special. This dragon seal in particular caught my eye, with plenty of detail to it’s body and the seal that it prints (see top right hand corner).
Did you know that China was one of the earliest countries to use coins? It was something that surprised me when visiting the Gallery of Chinese coins. From primitive coins which almost look like blades, to the time when round coins entered circulation, as well as a section on foreign currencies which began to appear after the Opium Wars, including ones used on the silk road – with over 7,000 coins and notes on display you could look at them all day.
One of the most fascinating displays at the museum features the Minority Nationalities’ Art. The room was filled with cabinet upon cabinet of clothing, jewellery, and everyday utensils used by China’s ethnic minorities across the years, including from the Tibetan, Mongolian and Taiwanese people.
Each ethnic group has a defined style which can help easily identify if they are from the North, the South, or from certain tribes. For example, groups in the North are more likely to wear long lose robes, fur hats and leather boots; whilst groups from the South are more likely to wear light materials in pale colours, such as tunics.
It gives you a real perspective into the lifestyle of some of these groups of people. From delicately crafted hair combs for decorative purposes, to a tea set and utensils (pictured below) with tribal inscriptions and even a full-sized fishing canoe by the Lanyu-people in Taiwan.
Do you visit museums when you travel?
What are your favourite museums you’ve visited?
201号 Renmin Ave, People’s Square