For those who have walked past People’s Square, you might have noticed this iconic clock tower attached to a Neo-Classical building. Although this elegant architecture appears dwarfed by the surrounding high rises, the arrival of the new Shanghai History Museum is gaining it public attention once again.
Following the hype around its recent opening, here’s what families can expect to see at the new Shanghai History Museum.
The new Shanghai History Museum occupies the former grounds and buildings of the Shanghai Race Club (SRC). The building, with its elongated Neo-Classical facade running along Huangpi Bei Lu, was constructed between 1925 and 1928, and served as the administrative quarters of the SRC. Now, it is the museum’s west wing, with offices converted into exhibition rooms showcasing the buildings’ architectural history and other museum projects. The building with the clocktower running parallel to the west wing functioned as the clubhouse since it was erected in 1934. It now houses the majority of museum collections across four levels, which roughly follow a chronological order from bottom to top.
The permanent exhibition starts with the pre-modern section on the second level, which showcases 3,000 years of local and national history, condensed into a dozen cabinets. Owing most of its collection to the Shanghai Museum just a stone’s throw away, this level might seem like a miniature version of the former, except perhaps with a more pronounced focus on Shanghai's geography and history. Remnants of ceramic pots and stoneware point to micro civilizations from Jiangsu, Henan and Fujian provinces moving into Shanghai as early as 2,400BC. Over time, these have distilled into a sophisticated culture where the incorporation of natural resources and artisanship can be seen in embroidered silk gowns (Ming Dynasty) like the one below.
One level up on the third floor, the narrative progresses steadily into the 19th century and begins with the outbreak of the Opium War. Old photographs, every-day objects and furniture, reconstruct the lifestyle from the period and how the ‘Shanghainese’ cultural identity changed dramatically once the borders opened.
The fourth and final exhibition level orchestrates episodes from modern Chinese history leading up to the formation of the Chinese Communist Party, using (an overwhelming amount of) photographs, video clips, soundtracks and multimedia.
All in all, the new Shanghai History Museum probably won’t make it to the best kid-friendly museum list, as it's directed more towards teenagers and adults. It does however feature several interactive zones, where kids can 'design a vase' or 'make a qipao' using computer projections.
The rooftop, on the other hand, offers an impressive panoramic view of People’s Square, which can be enjoyed over a plateful of European fare at Roof 325.
Given the collection is in no way new or groundbreaking, the Shanghai History Museum is a case where the architecture is more interesting than its contents. That said, entry is free, and families can always visit the west wing to acquire a better understanding of the buildings themselves. As for history geeks craving for more locally excavated relics from the past, make a follow-up trip to the Shanghai Museum, where a considerably larger treasure trove awaits.
See a listing for the Shanghai History Museum here.