A time-lapse movie of the Shanghai skyline would be a fascinating study in urban development, but how do you come to grips with a city that swaps faces faster than a Sichuanese opera performer? Head to these five museums to help gain a foothold in a place where the only constant is constant change.
This is the
only place in Shanghai where the city’s future-now mantra need not apply. One
of the top museums in the country, the Shanghai
Museum houses masterpieces of Chinese art that date back as far as the
Neolithic period, providing an impressive but manageable overview of the path
of beauty within the Middle Kingdom. Even if you do not know Su Shi’s brushwork
from a Jingdezhen piece, fret not – you do not need to speak Mandarin to
appreciate the artwork here. From the shamanistic origins revealed in the
Bronze Gallery to the minimalist landscape paintings of the 14th-century master
Ni Zan, the Shanghai Museum walks you through more than 6,000 years of
traditional artwork in various media, including bronzes, ceramics, sculpture,
ink painting, calligraphy and furniture making.
Shanghai History Museum
hidden in the basement of Shanghai’s landmark Oriental Pearl Tower is this
surprisingly fun and clever history
museum. Shanghai has had many pasts, but these exhibits take you back to before
the opium traders and gangsters conspired to give Shanghai a bad name (though
it does cover the juicy bits too). Yes, once upon a time Shanghai was an honest
little port that traded in nothing more than cotton, fish, silk and tea, and
its biggest worry was being raided by Japanese pirates. Waxwork figures and old
artefacts embellish displays, and the interactive presentations will be a hit
if you have children in tow.
Rockbund Art Museum
2010 as part of the Back Bund renovation project, the Rockbund is one
of the city’s premier modern art museums. And as far the heritage of local
architectural goes, the museum’s Art Deco home is a feel-good story – it was
originally built for the Royal Asiatic Society in 1932, one of the first modern
museums in China. Exhibitions focus on contemporary Chinese artists and explore
themes that pertain to life in a fast-changing society.
Propaganda Poster Art Centre
communism was certainly no friend to the arts, denying any form of expression
that was not socialist in nature. But from a historical perspective, some of
the mass-produced propaganda issued in the 1950s and ’60s is fascinating,
particularly now that the horrors of the Cultural Revolution stand in such
sharp contrast to present-day China. Stop by this underground
gallery to enter the bizarre world of cheerful peasants, cherubic children,
heroic soldiers, revolutionary Red Guards, and, of course, innumerable
depictions of the Great Helmsman himself.
Urban Planning Exhibition Hall
quest to unseat Hong Kong as China’s leading financial centre has been
officially underway for some time now. At times, it seems as though Shanghai
has light years to go before it can truly compete with Hong Kong’s
sophistication and first-rate business services, but drop in at the Urban
Planning Exhibition Hall and you will realize just how far Shanghai has
come in the past two decades. Start with historic photos and maps of old
Shanghai before moving on to the highlights, an enormous scale model of the
future city (circa 2020) and a 3D virtual tour.
The article 'Shanghai’s top five museums' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.