The Shanghai Museum is a world-class museum whose collection of approximately one million pieces primarily consists of Chinese relics from throughout China’s dynastic history. Nearly 130,000 items in its collection are considered national treasures. Located in the People’s Square near Nanjing Road in downtown Shanghai, the museum hosts nearly two million visitors a year (1,944,820 in 2012). The museum was originally established in 1952; its current location opened in 1996.

The museum has ten galleries for permanent collections and three for special exhibits. The museum’s permanent exhibits (listed from the ground floor up) include the following:

Ancient Chinese Bronze Gallery

This sprawling exhibit features over 400 bronze relics, the oldest of which date to the 18th century BCE. The relics include numerous weapons, along with many ancient vessels used in religious rituals.
Noteworthy piece: “Large Ding Made for Ke”, from the reign of King Xiao (late 10th century BCE) of the Western Zhou Dynasty, pictured below.

Ancient Chinese Sculpture Gallery

The approximately 120 sculptures in this gallery include examples from the Warring States Period (475-221 BCE) to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE). Many of them are Buddhist artworks such as Bodhisattva statues and steles, reflecting the importance of Buddhism in the development of Chinese art.
Noteworthy piece: “Stone Statue of Bodhisattva,” from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), pictured below.

Closeup of a statue of a Heavenly Guardian in the Shanghai Museum
Statue of a Heavenly Guardian
(photo by Colin J.)
Ancient Chinese Ceramics Gallery

This fantastic exhibit of over 500 pieces of pottery and porcelain covers an 8,000-year period, from the Neolithic Age (approximately 10000-2000 BCE) to the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It includes such items as vases, statues, cups, bowls, flasks, dishes, and teapots. The adjacent Zande Lou Ceramics Gallery displays an additional 130 pieces.
Noteworthy piece: “Famille Rose Vase with Peach and Bat Design” from the Yongzheng period (1723-1735 CE) of the Qing Dynasty, pictured below.

Chinese Painting Gallery

This collection includes Chinese paintings from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) through the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE), of which approximately 140 are on display at any time.
Noteworthy piece: “Flowers,” completed in 1859 by the Qing Dynasty artist Zhao Zhiqian, pictured below.

Chinese Calligraphy Gallery

This outstanding collection comprises about half of the calligraphic artworks in all of China’s public collections, of which about 60-70 are on display at any given time. The earliest examples of Chinese calligraphy are characters inscribed on oracle bones and bronze relics. The items in this gallery range from such early Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) examples through Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE) masterpieces.
Noteworthy piece: Cursive Poem by Wen Peng, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE), pictured below.

Chinese Seal Gallery

Also called chops or stamps, seals have been used in China since the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE). The approximately 500 seals in this exhibit extend from the Western Zhou Dynasty (1029-771 BCE) to the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE).
Noteworthy piece: “Gilded Silver Seal with Qilin-shaped Knob,” the Seal of the Prince of Duo Luo Ding, from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE), pictured below.

Jade cup in the Shanghai Museum
Jade cup
(photo by Allan Siew)
Ancient Chinese Jade Gallery

A stunning variety of jade relics and artworks are on display in this gallery, from jewelry and ornaments to cups and figurines. The collection’s 300 pieces include relics dating back to China’s pre-2000 BCE Neolithic period, as well as more sophisticated Ming and Qing masterpieces. This gallery emphasizes the profound cultural and historical significance of jade in Chinese civilization, which was the first to mine and use jade.
Noteworthy piece: “Model of a Mountain with Figures,” Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE).

Chinese Currency Gallery

This large collection of over 3,300 pieces covers a period of 1,000 years, including the origins of Chinese currency. The gallery features a special exhibit of ancient coins from nations along the Silk Road.
Noteworthy piece: “Reward of the Western King Coin,” issued by the rebel leader Zhang Xianzhong (1606-1657 CE), pictured below.

Chinese Ming and Qing Furniture Gallery

About 100 pieces of high-quality hardwood furniture from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE) are displayed in this gallery, including tables, chairs, beds, and bookcases, along with rarer items such as funerary furniture models.
Noteworthy piece: “Rectangular Table with Engraved Cloud and Dragon Design” and “Throne Chair with Engraved Cloud and Dragon Design,” Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 CE), pictured below.

Chinese Minority Nationalities’ Art Gallery

This gallery comprises more than 600 exhibits of a wide variety of artworks from China’s nearly 60 ethnic minority groups, including clothing, embroidery work, metalware, and masks.
Noteworthy piece: “Hand-painted Wood-carved Fishing Boat,” from Taiwan’s Gaoshan (“high mountain”) people, second half of the 20th century, pictured below.

Tips for visiting the Shanghai Museum

Admission: Admission to the museum is free. Keep in mind that the museum limits the number of visitors to 8000 per day and does not admit new visitors after 4 PM. Also, visitors may not be allowed to enter when the galleries are overcrowded.

Planning your visit: If you don’t have at least half a day to tour the museum, be sure to decide in advance which galleries you want to focus on. (Refer to this floor map of the museum.) For anyone interested in Chinese art, culture, and history, it’s easy to spend an entire day exploring all the galleries.

The exterior of the Shanghai Museum in the People's Square
The Shanghai Museum in the People’s Square
(photo by xiafenfang_1959)

Gift shop: The gift shop on the ground floor has a great selection of books. Not only does it have museum guidebooks (including an excellent, thorough guide in English currently available for US $12); it also has photo books in both Chinese and English devoted to each permanent exhibit (currently only US $5 each). You can essentially take the museum home with you via these books and save yourself the effort and distraction of taking a ton of photos during your visit.

Guided tours: For those going to the museum without a local tour guide, audio tours in English and a number of other languages are available on the ground floor. Daily guided tours are also available; information about them is posted next to the information desk in the lobby.

Tour packages: Normally, all of our standard tour packages that include Shanghai feature the Shanghai Museum. Read about them on our Mainland China Tours page. Although our current value tour packages (EBIV and EBXF) do not include the Shanghai Museum, it’s easy to fit in a visit to the museum at the end of your tour. Contact us for details and options.

Facts about the Shanghai Museum:

  • The shape of the museum building, designed by local architect Xing Tonghe, is meant to suggest the shape of an ancient Chinese food vessel called a “ting” or “ding” (鼎, dǐng).
  • The Da Ke Ding (“Large Ding Made for Ke”), unearthed in Shaanxi Province in 1890, is considered the museum’s greatest treasure and is cited as the specific inspiration for the museum’s architectural design. See the photo of the Da Ke Ding below.
  • The building’s circular shape and square base reflect the ancient Chinese conception of the heavens as round and earth as square.
  • The museum’s collections of Chinese bronzeware, ceramics, calligraphy, and paintings are considered among the best in the world.

Further reading and resources:

  • View or download a floor map of the Shanghai museum.
  • Read more general information about the Shanghai Museum on Wikipedia.
  • Get more specific and up-to-date information about the museum on its official website.
  • See a great selection of photos of the museum and its collection via this search on Flickr. In many cases, these photos are of higher quality than the ones on the museum’s official website.

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Shanghai Museum Photo Gallery

Click on any photo below to see a full-sized version.

The main entrance of the Shanghai Museum Da Ke Ding food vessel in the Bronze Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
The main entrance to the museum, whose design
was inspired by the Da Ke Ding on the right

(photo by CIT)
Large Ding Made for Ke
(Da Ke Ding)

(photo by CIT)
Dui with Inlaid Geometric Pattern food vessel in the Bronze Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Bells of Marquis Su of Jin in the Bronze Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Dui with Inlaid Geometric
Pattern (food vessel)

(photo by CIT)
The Bells of Marquis Su of Jin
Click here to listen to the bells
(photo by CIT)
Zi Zhong Jiang Pan water vessel in the Bronze Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Ox-Shaped Zun wine vessel in the Bronze Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Zi Zhong Jiang Pan (water vessel)
(photo by CIT)
Ox-Shaped Zun (wine vessel)
(photo by CIT)
Drums in the Bronze Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Drum Stand with Openwork Coiled Dragon Design in the Bronze Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Bronze Drums
(photo by CIT)
Drum Stand with Coiled Dragon Design
(photo by CIT)
Stone Bodhisattva in the Sculpture Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Stone Buddhist Stele in the Sculpture Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Stone Thousand-Buddha Stele in the Sculpture Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Stone Statue of Bodhisattva
(photo by Kris)
Stone Buddhist Stele
(photo by CIT)
Thousand-Buddha Stele
(photo by CIT)
Polychrome-Glazed Pottery Statue of Heavenly Guardian in the Sculpture Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Wooden Bodhisattva painted in color and gold in the Sculpture Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Celadon Jar with Cloud and Dragon Design in the Ceramics Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Statue of Heavenly Guardian
(photo by CIT)
Painted Wooden Bodhisattva
(photo by CIT)
Celadon Jar with Cloud and Dragon Design
(photo by CIT)
Famille Rose Vase with Peaches and Bats Design in the Ceramics Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Famille Rose Eight Immortals Vase in the Ceramics Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Red Vase in the Ceramics Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Underglaze Blue Landscape Vase in the Ceramics Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Famille Rose Vase
with Peaches and Bats

(photo by Bill Taroli)
Famille Rose Vase
with Eight Immortals

(photo by CIT)
Vase with Red
Underglaze Design

(photo by CIT)
Underglaze Blue
Landscape Vase

(photo by CIT)
Prince of Duo Luo Ding Gilded Silver Seal with Qilin in the Seal Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Display of seals from the Qing and Ming dynasties in the Shanghai Museum
Gilded Silver Seal with Qilin Knob
(photo by Bill Taroli)
Display of seals from the Qing and Ming dynasties
(photo by CIT)
Seal with Eight Immortals Relief Carving in the Seal Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Flowers by Zhao Zhiqian in the Painting Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Cursive Script Poem by Wen Peng in the Calligraphy Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Seal with Eight Immortals
(photo by CIT)
Flowers, Zhao Zhiqian
(photo by CIT)
Cursive Poem, Wen Peng
(photo by CIT)
Wood-Carved Fishing Boat in the Minority Nationalities Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Reward of the Western King Coin in the Currency Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Belt Plaque with a Dragon-Through-Peonies Design in the Jade Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Wood-Carved Fishing Boat
(photo by Dennis Jarvis)
Reward of the Western King Coin
(photo by Bill Taroli)
Belt Plaque with Dragon and Peonies
(photo by CIT)
Flying Apsara in the Jade Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Model of a Mountain with Figures in the Jade Gallery of the Shanghai Museum
Flying Apsara, jade
(photo by CIT)
Model of a Mountain with Figures, jade
(photo by CIT)
Rectangular Table and Throne Chair in the Furniture Gallery of the Shanghai Museum Strange cartoon figure that adorns some displays in the Shanghai Museum
Rectangular Table and Throne Chair
(photo by CIT)
Strange cartoon figure adorning some displays
(photo by CIT)

Shanghai Museum-Related Words

Study the words below on Quizlet:
Complete List: Characters, Pinyin, and English
Detailed Lists: Characters and English | Pinyin and English
Reversible Lists: Characters and English | Pinyin and English | Characters and Pinyin
Chinese Language Resources page

上海博物馆 (Shànghǎi Bówùguǎn): the Shanghai Museum, world-class museum located in the People’s Square in downtown Shanghai with a collection of approximately one million pieces, including nearly 130,000 pieces classified as national treasures

  • 人民广场 (Rénmín Guǎngchǎng)
    the People’s Square, public space in downtown Shanghai near several important cultural centers
  • 古物 (gǔwù)
    ancient object; antique; antiquities
  • 文物 (wénwù)
    cultural relic; historical relic; artifact (measure word: 件, jiàn, or 个, )
  • 珍贵文物 (zhēnguì wénwù)
    masterpiece; museum piece officially recognized as a masterpiece according to a grading system including first-class (一级, yījí), second-class (二级, èrjí), and third-class (三级, sānjí) rankings
A spiked bronze food vessel in the Shanghai Museum
Bronze food vessel
(photo by
Dennis Jarvis)
  • 出土 (chūtǔ)
    to be unearthed or excavated; to come up out of the ground
  • 收藏 (shōucáng)
    to collect; collection (e.g., museum collection)
  • 艺术品 (yìshùpǐn)
    artwork; art piece; work of art (measure word: 件, jiàn)
  • 展览 (zhǎnlǎn)
    display, exhibit; to put on display, to exhibit, to show

中国古代青铜馆 (Zhōngguó Gǔdài Qīngtóngguǎn): Ancient Chinese Bronze Gallery, ground-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of bronze relics

  • 古代 (gǔdài)
    the period in Chinese history from remote antiquity to the mid-19th century; also, ancient times in general

中国古代雕塑馆 (Zhōngguó Gǔdài Diāosùguǎn): Ancient Chinese Sculpture Gallery, ground-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of Chinese sculptures

Wooden Head of Kasyapa in the Shanghai Museum
Head of Kasyapa
(photo by Khalid Albaih)

中国古代陶瓷馆 (Zhōngguó Gǔdài Táocíguǎn): Ancient Chinese Ceramics Gallery, second-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of Chinese pottery and porcelain

  • 陶瓷 (táocí)
    pottery and porcelain; ceramics

中国历代绘画馆 (Zhōngguó Lìdài Huìhuàguǎn): Chinese Painting Gallery, third-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of Chinese paintings

  • 历代 (lìdài)
    successive dynasties; past dynasties (refers to the various dynastic periods of imperial China)

中国历代书法馆 (Zhōngguó Lìdài Shūfǎguǎn): Chinese Calligraphy Gallery, third-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of Chinese calligraphy

  • 书法 (shūfǎ)
    calligraphy; penmanship

中国历代印章馆 (Zhōngguó Lìdài Yìnzhāngguǎn): Chinese Seal Gallery, third-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of Chinese seals

中国古代玉器馆 (Zhōngguó Gǔdài Yùqìguǎn): Ancient Chinese Jade Gallery, fourth-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of Chinese jade artifacts

  • 玉器 (yùqì)
    jade artifact
Spear with Cloud and Thunder Pattern in the Shanghai Museum
Bronze spear
(photo by Dennis Jarvis)

中国历代货币馆 (Zhōngguó Lìdài Huòbìguǎn): Chinese Currency Gallery, fourth-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of Chinese coins and other forms of currency

中国明清家具馆 (Zhōngguó Míng-Qīng Jiājùguǎn): Chinese Ming and Qing Furniture Gallery, fourth-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum displaying antique furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties

中国少数民族工艺馆 (Zhōngguó Shǎoshù Mínzú Gōngyìguǎn): Chinese Minority Nationalities’ Art Gallery, fourth-floor gallery in the Shanghai Museum featuring displays of clothing, artworks, and handicrafts from many of China’s ethnic minorities

  • 工艺 (gōngyì)
    arts and crafts; handicrafts; technology

For many more Chinese vocabulary lists and information about tools and resources for learning Chinese,
visit our Chinese Language Resources page.

CIT Tour Packages Featuring the Shanghai Museum

The standard tour packages below include a visit to the Shanghai Museum. Although our current value tour packages (EBIV and EBXF) do not include the Shanghai Museum, it’s easy to fit in a visit to the museum at the end of your tour. Contact us for details and options.

包括上海的中文特價團更豐富!請觀看特價團網頁的中文版
如果您想要在上海多呆一天,參觀上海博物館,請與我們聯絡

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In 2004 my wife and I took a trip with some friends to Jiangxi, an inland province that, while no doubt changing rapidly, is still lagging behind the coastal regions in terms of development.  Although it wasn’t the most luxurious trip I’ve taken in China, a little less comfort and a little more local flavor make a trip more memorable, and this one was certainly both fascinating and stimulating.  While there, we visited Mount Lu (廬山, Lushan) and a truly poor local village, among other places, but one experience that also sticks out in my memory is the raft trip we took at Longhushan (龍虎山), whose name literally means “Dragon and Tiger Mountain.” (I was told that the area’s ridges and peaks suggest the forms of a dragon and a tiger, though as in many other places I’ve visited in China, the resemblance seemed pretty vague to me.)

One thing about China is that you can truly get away from it all there, especially in inland rural areas like Jiangxi.  This raft trip was a profoundly relaxing experience.  Check out the trained cormorants catching fish for the fisherman on one of the rafts!

On our Yunnan Highlands Local Culture 11-Day Tour, you might see cormorant fishermen in action on Lake Er at Dali.

Waaaaaarm beer!  Peanuts!  Get yer warm beer and peanuts!  A bamboo raft trip at Longhushan: just like a baseball game, but without that loud obnoxious drunk shouting and crowding your space, and without the threat of a foul ball bashing your head in unexpectedly, and…Ok, it’s nothing like a baseball game; it’s much better, though that beer could have used a little refrigeration. And that raft vendor could use a little more charismatic sales patter.

Our tours that include Guilin feature a raft trip like this one; those that include Dali, the Three Gorges, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Zhouzhuang, and/or Suzhou all feature gondola or boat trips that you may find even more relaxing or stimulating.

During the last part of the trip, we walked overland as the bamboo rafts were portaged past an impassable section of the river.  It was a good opportunity to get some footage of the beautiful farmland in the area, record the deafening sound of the obnoxious local cicadas, check out an ancient Taoist temple (where an immortality pill was created by a Taoist master, who unfortunately doesn’t seem to be around any longer to tell us how he did it), and take a rickshaw ride.  At one point during the walk, a local man started to talk with me, and you can hear him saying that I look like an American before the conversation is cut off.  (The identification of “Caucasian” with “American” is very common in China, and comments like that always make me want to launch into a lecture about why such assumptions are wrong—but maybe he just meant that my flagrantly casual clothing and wide-eyed, foolish manner were unmistakably American, in which case I can’t argue with him.)  After the raft trip resumed, we watched a flashy “cliff acrobat” rappel down the side of the mountain as a prelude to a “hanging coffin” show; the area was once home to the Guyue people, a minority (non-Han) culture that placed its coffins in grottoes in the cliff face.  Unfortunately, either my battery or my tape ran out at that point, so I was unable to record what followed.

If you’re interested in these “hanging coffins,” our tours that include the Three Gorges feature a boat trip that will allow you to see similar ones.

Although Jiangxi attractions like Longhushan and Mount Lu aren’t featured in our tour packages since they aren’t popular destinations for Western tourists, we welcome you to contact us to arrange a custom tour to Jiangxi (or anywhere else that isn’t included in our tour packages).  I highly recommend both of these places for adventurous tourists.

After our leisurely stroll through downtown Hong Kong (see Part 2 of our HK trip), we decided to take a ferry to Cheung Chau (長洲), a small island in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. I had fond memories of it from a previous trip there in 1997.

The cliché that the journey is more important than the destination can be quite literally applied to a ferry trip in Hong Kong (though in our case the destination was pretty sweet, too). Although Hong Kong is a terrifically stimulating environment, it can also be stressful, but a leisurely, comfortable ferry ride forces you to relax and smell the figurative roses—roses that in this case happen to be colossal towers of glass and steel, along with the magnificent mountain and ocean scenery that surrounds them. Depending on how hot it is, you might choose to enjoy the view from an indoor seat, where the Asgardian air conditioning system will make you feel like you’re closer to the North Pole than the sweltering South Pacific. Personally, I’d never want to miss the breeze and the sun on the outdoor deck. The only thing that could have possibly made our trip better? A cold six-pack of Tsingtao.

Click on any photo below to open a full-sized version in a separate window.

A view of the skyscrapers and wharves of downtown Hong Kong from the Cheung Chau ferry A distant view of the Kowloon waterfront and a ship from the Cheung Chau ferry

Left: As you pull away from the ferry terminal, you have a great view of some of the tallest buildings in the world, including 2 International Finance Centre and the Center. You’ll also see a great variety of vessels in the harbor (one of the busiest in the world, of course), some of them pleasantly quaint, such as this tugboat.

Right: In this photo you can see Kowloon’s International Commerce Centre, the tallest building in Hong Kong and #4 in the world, which was still under construction at the time this photo was taken. The ship in the foreground appears to be some kind of naval vessel.

A view of the buildings of downtown Hong Kong from the Cheung Chau ferry A view of Hong Kong Island from the Cheung Chau ferry

From the ferry, you can enjoy constantly varying views of endlessly varied Hong Kong. And as you cruise farther away from Hong Kong Island, a bigger scene unfurls before you—a picturesque combination of city, mountain, sea, and sky.

Right: This is a view of Hong Kong Island from the west; the area on the left is the downtown area (the Central and Western Districts), and the area on the right is Aberdeen, in the southwest part of the island.

A view of boats in Hong Kong's Cheung Chau Harbor from the ferry Sunlight reflects off the surface of the water in Hong Kong's Cheung Chau Harbor

As you enter Cheung Chau Harbor, you can see that the local fishing fleet is still quite robust.

Right: Here, you can see the breakwater protecting the harbor from large waves. The late-afternoon sun glints off the furrowed surface of the water.


The chance to enjoy the scenery while we recovered from hours of walking was itself more than worth the cost of the ticket, let alone the opportunity to relax and eat seafood on Cheung Chau. (video by CIT)

Boats near the ferry pier in Hong Kong's Cheung Chau Harbour Pedestrians, bicycles, and stores on the waterfront at Hong Kong's Cheung Chau Harbor

Left: This is the view alongside the ferry pier. Both small ferryboats, such as the one pictured here, and much larger ferry ships, serve the people of Cheung Chau. Some of the ferries we saw appeared to be something like “water taxis,” run for the locals by private operators.

The waterfront near the pier shows the influence of the West and the influence of the tourist trade (a Circle K, a 7-Eleven, and a McDonald’s all in a row; small shops selling knick-knacks, bric-a-brac, tchotchkes, curios, trinkets, and souvenirs), but most of the island is charmingly and convincingly local. In fact, I was delighted to find that it seemed as though nothing had changed since my visit 12 years earlier. In the modern world, that kind of reassuring consistency is hard to come by.

Food and beer at a seafood restaurant on the waterfront of Hong Kong's Cheung Chau Harbor Seafood tanks at a restaurant on Hong Kong's Cheung Chau Island

There are a number of restaurants along Cheung Chau’s waterfront, specializing in seafood, of course. We chose one, more or less at random, and in our eager hunger inhaled a bountiful meal (I was so hungry that I forgot to take a photo until these dishes were all that remained). To my wife’s discriminating Shanghainese palate, it was not the best seafood she had ever had but quite enjoyable nonetheless. Surprisingly, I recall the vegetables as being my favorite dish—simply prepared yet intensely flavorful. And there’s nothing like a cold beer in a shady spot with a view of the ocean, except perhaps a cold beer on a Hong Kong ferry.

Right: I’ve always found seafood tanks like these rather cruel, but I suppose their redeeming quality is that they force you to be more aware of where the pleasantly dead food on your plate came from than do most Western-style restaurants that hide the uglier bits of the preparation process—and they have the added virtue of allowing you to confirm that your food is indeed fresh.

Hong Kong's Cheung Chau Beach A distant view of Hong Kong Island from Cheung Chau Beach

All in all, I would describe Cheung Chau as an oasis of relaxation, a refuge from the bustle of the city. The part of the island that best epitomizes that quality is Cheung Chau Beach, a crescent-shaped stretch of sand just a few minutes’ walk across the narrow part of the island from the waterfront.

Right: From the beach, which faces Hong Kong Island to the east, you can admire the distant view of downtown HK while you relax, far away in both mind and body. The visible distance somehow makes it easier to let go of the urban insanity of modern life—which, paradoxically, is only a convenient ferry ride away when you need a little craziness. If I ever suddenly retire from human society to live as a nomad, this is one of the places I’ll go. Call me “the convenient recluse.” Tibetan monasteries are just too darn extreme.

Although my little pocket camcorder doesn’t really do justice to the vividness of Hong Kong, I think this clip does capture the serenity of Cheung Chau Beach on the evening we relaxed there for an all-too-brief time. (video by CIT)

Boats in Hong Kong's Cheung Chau Harbor at dusk Large store billboards and crowds of shoppers near a night market in Hong Kong's Kowloon district

Left: As night began to fall, I took this photo of Cheung Chau Harbor.

Right: After two days chock full of endless walking and flagrant gawking, we didn’t have the energy for much partying by the time we got back to the city, but we did stroll around to do some shopping and take in the impressive bustle.

With stores, clubs, bars, night market stalls, street performers, and restaurants galore, there is never a shortage of nighttime activities in Hong Kong—even a simple stroll along the streets can be entertaining. (video by CIT)

Two of my favorite memories of Hong Kong are things that I unfortunately didn’t capture on film.

One of these memories is passing by the basketball courts on Cheung Chau where I had seen locals playing an intense style of pickup basketball—with one of them even dunking in the short time I watched them—on my first trip there in 1997. As a basketball fan since early childhood, I was deeply impressed. Way back then, when Chinese basketball was not yet on anyone’s radar, I began to realize that it was only a matter of time before Chinese players would begin to emerge on the international scene. This time no one happened to be playing when we passed by, but just the sight of the same courts put a smile on my face.

Later, while strolling along the streets of Kowloon, I watched a small crowd gather outside a media store that was showing a Michael Jackson concert DVD at the entrance. Although I haven’t been a big Michael Jackson fan since I was about ten, I’ve always appreciated his magnetism as a performer, and to see it attract Chinese locals to a little TV on a street in Hong Kong several months after his death was somehow touching—the kind of thing that reminds us of our essential unity. As travelers, we seek the exotic and the new, but ultimately what we want to find, in spite of all our differences, is a deep connection with the people and places we visit, something that transcends the superficial, the local, and the temporal. I felt that in Hong Kong, as I’ve felt it everywhere I’ve gone in China, and it has made those travel experiences both exciting and comforting.

—originally published on our old blog on August 6, 2010

If you’d like to experience Hong Kong yourself with an itinerary that will allow you to do your own independent exploring, sign up for our Hong Kong 3-Day Tour or our China Highlights 11-Day Tour. Please visit our Hong Kong Photo Gallery and Information Page for more photos and information.

On our second full day in HK, we struck out on our own and enjoyed some sights and experiences no less beautiful and stimulating than the more touristy experiences we had had the day before. And of course, we only scratched the nanosurface of all that there is to do and see in Hong Kong.

If you’d like to experience Hong Kong yourself with an itinerary that will allow you to do your own independent exploring, sign up for our Hong Kong 3-Day Tour or our China Highlights 11-Day Tour. Please visit our Hong Kong Photo Gallery and Information Page for more photos and information.

Click on any photo below to open a full-sized version in a separate window.

A narrow street walled in by buildings in the Kowloon area of Hong Kong The storefront of the Chinese Noodle Restaurant in Hong Kong's Kowloon District

We started off in Kowloon, whose claustrophobic urban canyons, crammed with billboards, have a bit more character than the more modern, sterile, finance-oriented buildings of the downtown area. Just the sight of it is highly suggestive, rich with the possibilities of so many lives in such a small space.

In the morning we each had a tasty bowl of spicy noodles at a little eatery with the almost hilariously unimaginative name “Chinese Noodle Restaurant.” (Its Chinese name, 四川麻辣米綫, which I would translate as “Spicy Sichuan Rice Noodles,” is a bit more descriptive.) When eating at places like this, be careful not to let them make you pay the “foreigner tax.” Sometimes people who are obviously foreign (especially Westerners) are charged extra; this did in fact happen to us at one restaurant, but it wasn’t here.

Sichuan-style rice noodles at a restaurant in Hong Kong's Kowloon District Crowds of transit passengers in the Hong Kong subway

The food in Hong Kong is world renowned, and although as a semi-vegetarian I’m not as crazy about HK’s Cantonese and seafood-oriented cuisine as I am about some of China’s other regional cuisines, even my persnickety palate was pleased by the food we had there. These noodles were an even better morning stimulant than coffee.

Afterward, we took a subway ride from Kowloon to downtown HK, the Central District of Hong Kong Island. Although the subway ride was convenient and comfortable, I don’t want to imagine what it must be like during a sweltering August afternoon rush hour. I just hope it has a massively powerful ventilation system.

The central atrium of the Landmark, an upscale shopping mall in downtown Hong Kong Another view of the central atrium of the Landmark, an upscale shopping mall in downtown Hong Kong

The Landmark in downtown HK is probably one of the finest shopping malls in the world, with many of the most exclusive brands represented. As someone with rather plebian tastes and an utter lack of sartorial style, I felt about as comfortable as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. It was beautiful and impressive, but I don’t think anyone with a philosophical bent can help feeling a bit alienated by the hordes of worshippers at downtown Hong Kong’s altar of Mammon.

After we emerged from the Landmark with our bank account fortunately still more or less intact, we witnessed an impressive phenomenon: the lunch rush amidst the office buildings in the Central District. Every day, tens or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of worker drones descend from their mile-high celestial cubicles simultaneously to swarm the streets and mingle with the crowds of shoppers and tourists. This video clip doesn’t fully capture the intensity of it, but it was quite a sight (and sound).

A human billboard puts a costume on to advertise on the streets of downtown Hong Kong The storefront of the Kosmo Wellness Cafe in downtown Hong Kong's Central District

We also witnessed the amusing sight of this “human billboard” (on the aptly named Theatre Lane) preparing some kind of costume—a sun, a sunflower, a strange mythical creature? I can’t tell. Actually, “costume” doesn’t do it justice. “Promotional siege engine” is a more accurate description.

Soon we took shelter from the crowd in the Kosmo Wellness Cafe, an oasis of calm with tasty (and at least nominallly healthful) beverages and friendly service.

A refreshing fruit smoothie and iced milk tea in downtown Hong Kong's Kosmo Wellness Cafe Skyscrapers (including the Center) rise into a blue sky over a street in downtown Hong Kong

Our beverages: a smoothie and some milk tea. I suppose drinking milk tea in Hong Kong is disappointingly predictable, but it was indeed good.

With all the time I’ve spent in places like San Francisco and Shanghai and New York, you might think I would be fairly gawk-proof at the sight of gleaming skyscrapers, but downtown HK is stimulating even to jaded eyes. As the scads of photos (many more than I’ll inflict on you here) I took there prove, I spent a lot of time gazing upward at the impressive buildings, playing the role of slack-jawed American yokel, to the amusement of the locals around us, no doubt. At one point my wife even offered to buy me a bib. Well, she didn’t say that, but I’m pretty sure she was thinking it.

Hong Kong's 2 International Finance Centre, one of the tallest buildings in the world Glass-sided skyscrapers (the Bank of China Tower and the Cheung Kong Centre) reflect a cloudy sky in downtown Hong Kong

I don’t think you can blame me for gawking, though—by some measures Hong Kong has the best skyline in the world, and it currently boasts five of the the twenty tallest buildings in the world, including Two International Finance Centre (left photo), which comes in at #4.

Right: The Bank of China Tower (left) and the Cheung Kong Center are the 12th and 52nd tallest buildings in the world, respectively.

A busy intersection in the Central District of downtown Hong Kong Trolleys in the Central District of downtown Hong Kong

Despite all of the industrial towers of steel and glass, downtown Hong Kong somehow manages to be rather charming, too, with its many shops, its cultural distinctiveness, and its pedestrian-friendly environment.

The trolleys, in particular, are rather quaint to an American’s eye.

A demonstration against Citibank in downtown Hong Kong An anti-Citibank protester in Hong Kong wearing a t-shirt that reads 'pyscho' and 'God destroys'

One somewhat unexpected sight we came across was this anti-Citibank demonstration. This and some other things we observed on our trip, along with the recent [at the time this post was originally written] news about factory workers in China going on strike and successfully demanding better wages, gives me hope for the “little people” of China who have thus far largely been left behind by China’s remarkable economic success.

Right: This protester is wearing a shirt that reads “psycho” (or “insane”) at the top, and it looks like the bottom part says “God destroys.” At least I’m pretty sure he was a protester, not an actual self-declared psycho. In any case, I didn’t even consider messing with him, and as you can see I waited until his back was turned to take this photo. My experience suggests that it’s best just to take people labeled “psycho” at face value.

Next up: our ferry ride to Cheung Chau and a taste of Kowloon nightlife. I’ll chronicle the rest of our trip next week.

—originally published on our old blog on July 20, 2010

If I had to sum up my perception of Hong Kong in one phrase, it would be “a place of extremes constantly juxtaposed”: the ultramodern and the traditional, the fabulously (or perhaps absurdly) wealthy and the poor, the East and the West, the artificial and the natural. And as fast-paced and intense as it can be, there are even places in HK where you can truly slow down and relax. It is an incredibly dense microcosm of the world, and increasingly of China itself. Obviously, for a tourist or traveler, few places in the world are more fascinating and fun than Hong Kong.

In November 2009 my wife and I had a chance to visit HK; it was her first time and my first time in twelve years. First, we took the half-day tour (it actually ended up being a bit longer, which was fine with us), and then we did some exploring on our own. Here are a few photos and video clips that show the many different sides of Hong Kong that we experienced.

You can see all of these places on our Hong Kong 3-Day Tour or our China Highlights 11-Day Tour. Please visit our Hong Kong Photo Gallery and Information Page for more photos and information.

Click on any photo below to open a full-sized version in a separate window.

The front of Man Mo Temple, a Taoist temple in downtown Hong Kong High-rise apartments looming over Man Mo Temple in downtown Hong Kong with a tiny moon visible in the sky

The first stop on our tour was Man Mo Temple, a charming old Taoist temple in downtown Hong Kong. It lies sheltered amidst tall apartment buildings, almost as if it were worshiping at the feet of modernity. Let’s hope not—modernity could use a little more Taoism, not the other way around. (And by the way, yes, that is the moon up above in the photo on the right, tiny as it looks.)

A row of Taoist idols with offerings of burning incense in Hong Kong's Man Mo Temple Tourists absorbing the Taoist atmosphere of Man Mo Temple in downtown Hong Kong

Literally, there is a thick Taoist atmosphere in the temple, including a tranquil, sunlight-streaked central area with incense coils suspended in midair that my little digital camera couldn’t do justice to. (You can see a somewhat better attempt here.) This little nook is labeled “Hall of Ten Kings.”

From what I saw, there tend to be more tourists at the temple than regular worshipers, but they are usually quiet and respectful and do not spoil the tranquil, meditative atmosphere.

A gold incense vessel in Hong Kong's Man Mo Temple A closeup of the front gate and roof of Man Mo Temple in Hong Kong

Many visitors to the temple do pray and burn incense, however, regardless of where they may be from.

Right: A closeup of the entrance to the temple, which was built in 1847.

The interior of Man Mo Temple

The ride up to Victoria Peak on the Peak Tram

A view of downtown Hong Kong Island, Victoria Harbour, and Kowloon from the Peak Tram A view of Victoria Harbour and skyscrapers in downtown Hong Kong from a cafe in the Peak Tower

Afterward, we took the Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak, which looms over downtown Hong Kong.

Left: The ride up the peak feels even steeper than it looks in this photo, and it’s a fun trip, especially when the weather is as good as it was on that day. A spectacular view of Hong Kong’s vast cityscape and harbor spreads out beneath you as you climb the mountain.

Right: After you exit the tram, you can sit down at this comfortable cafe and enjoy a drink as you take in the view from the Peak Tower, one of the best city views to be found anywhere in the world.

A view of downtown Hong Kong, Victoria Harbour, and Kowloon from outside the Peak Tower A closeup view of the side of Victoria Peak with Victoria Harbour and Kowloon in the background

Left: I’ve seen a million variations of this photo, but it’s nice to have been able to take a pretty decent one myself, even if it’s not very original.

Right: For those who have time to hang out on the mountain, there’s a pleasant path that circles the mountaintop here, starting near the Peak Tower.

The Peak Tower, at the end of the Peak Tram line on Victoria Peak The main entrance of the Peak Galleria on Victoria Peak

The Peak Tower, where the Peak Tram line ends, is (at least to me) an interesting work of modern architecture that augments the natural beauty of the mountain. Not quite Frank Lloyd Wright, perhaps, but I like it.

Right: I guess it was inevitable given all the tourists with time and money who visit Victoria Peak, but yes, there is a shopping mall next to the Peak Tower called the Peak Galleria.

The view to the west-southwest from Victoria Peak, including Cheung Chau and part of Lantau Island The twin summits at the top of Victoria Peak

Left: If you walk around the area near the Peak Tower, you can enjoy some beautiful views of the rest of Hong Kong Island and the surrounding area. Facing approximately southwest, you can see Cheung Chau (長洲) and part of Lantau Island (大嶼山) in the distance.

Right: These peaks lie to the west of the Peak Tower.

This is the breathtaking view that greets you right outside the Peak Tower at the end of your tram ride up the mountainside: an army of skyscrapers, millions of people, and a long view out across one of the busiest harbors in the world to Kowloon.

Boats in Hong Kong's Aberdeen Harbour Hong Kong - Aberdeen - boats - CIT - small - 267 x 200

At Aberdeen, you can take a relaxing boat ride around the harbor and check out the sampans and boathouses of the local fishermen, whose traditional way of life continues today.

Although fewer fishermen and families actually live full-time on the boats at Aberdeen these days, it is aptly described as a “floating community.” I imagine life here must be profoundly intimate, both with other people and with the elements. Even a glimpse of it caught during a brief boat tour is fascinating.

The Jumbo Floating Restaurant in Hong Kong's Aberdeen Harbour

The harbor at Aberdeen also features the internationally famous Jumbo Floating Restaurant, which is exactly what it sounds like: a restaurant on what appears to be a very large boat.

This video clip shows the essence of Hong Kong: that it is a place of extremes. Large yachts and speedboats owned by the fabulously wealthy float beside small junks and sampans owned by poor fishermen.

Hong Kong's Repulse Bay Hong Kong's Repulse Bay

The south side of Hong Kong Island is much less developed than downtown Hong Kong on the north side, and when the weather is good, it is a truly beautiful and relaxing place. These photos show tranquil Repulse Bay.

Some of our favorite moments in Hong Kong came after the tour was over and we had time to explore the area on our own—and on our Hong Kong itineraries we give you time to do the same. I’ll share photos of and thoughts about those experiences in my next blog post!

—originally published on our old blog on June 28, 2010

Original post (September 2009): One of the nice things about being in Shanghai late in the year—besides avoiding any possibility of hot weather—is the opportunity to experience a Christmas atmosphere in China. It’s one of the consequences of American cultural influence that Christmas is now celebrated by a lot of people there, primarily in the form of decorations and shopping. (What it comes down to, naturally, is that Christmas is another way for the purveyors of materialism to get people to engage in some good old American-style self-indulgence.) I find it all good fun, personally, because there’s no danger of 5,000 years of Chinese culture being done in by a fat, bearded white man in a red suit, but depending on your opinions about globalization I suppose it could be quite disturbing. In any case, it’s certainly a bit surreal to hear “Jingle Bells” in a random Shanghai store and to see statues of Santa Claus, local people dressed up like Santa (not always very convincingly, mind you), enormous Christmas trees, and Christmas lights side-by-side with symbols of Chinese culture. And it’s fascinating to see the Chinese interpretation of Christmas—in some cases you would think you’re in the US, and in other cases they get it horribly or hilariously wrong:

Click on each photo below to open a full-sized version in a separate window.

December 6, 2009 Update: As usual, the “Christmas spirit” of commercialism is in full evidence in Shanghai this year, filling Chinese shoppers with Western cheer. I didn’t see any evidence of killer Santas, lame Santa costumes, or hip-hop Christmas choirs this time, though, so it appears that (as in everything else) China is making progress in its celebration of Christmas. And as you can see from the last photo below, taken in the lobby of Kunming’s Weilong Hotel on November 17th, the imperial presence of Christmas in China isn’t limited to coastal cosmopolitan centers anymore—it has extended its dominion far into the country’s interior:

Click on each photo below to open a full-sized version in a separate window.

September 23, 2011 Addendum: Although this photo wasn’t taken in Shanghai, it seems appropriate to include it here since it’s Christmas-related. On the same November 2009 trip that yielded the photos above, we posed as snowmen for this photo taken deep in a cavern in a remote mountain area of Guangdong Province. That’s right: in a cave in the middle of nowhere in November, there were Western-style snowmen and fake “snow” that you could cause to fall down from the ceiling to take Christmas photos. Another amazing fact about that cavern was that we could get crystal-clear cell phone reception on an international call. Considering I can’t even get cell phone reception in suburban parking garages here in the Bay Area, that was pretty mind-blowing.

Have any anecdotes about your Christmas experiences in China? Feel free to share them with us!

The barrage of information—sensory, cultural, linguistic, emotional—experienced by a Westerner traveling in China can be both thrilling and overwhelming. Depending on your personality and interests, certain things tend to cut through that noise and grab your attention. For me, one of those things is dogs. On our November 2009 trip to China, my traveling companions and I found ourselves taking photos of the dogs we saw in all the different places we went. Although the phenomenon of “toy dog as fashion accessory” is definitely catching on in major Chinese cities, most of the dogs we photographed were living in more rural areas in a more traditional man-dog relationship, which is to say they were not relentlessly groomed and spoiled. In some cases the conditions they lived in were a bit pitiful. Like dogs anywhere else, however, one thing that all of these Chinese dogs seemed to share was personality.

Given the familiar and purposeful way with which he trotted down Dali’s Foreigner Street, the center of night life in the city, this party animal seemed to be running an errand or something. In fact, the more “urban” dogs we saw all seemed to share that sense of purpose and to live faster-paced lives, much like the cities’ human denizens.

Watching this weird-looking dog in Dali, however, really made me sad. A still photo doesn’t do its weirdness justice; the way it moved made it seem somehow broken, or as if a mad scientist had assembled it from leftover dog parts. It was clearly suffering from some kind of debilitating affliction.

These guys were enjoying the sunlight partway up Lijiang’s Jade Dragon Snow Mountain at White Water River, hanging out with tourists and yaks. They were apparently used to having their pictures taken, as they were uninterested in our presence and utterly nonchalant. Begging for food was clearly beneath them, too, so they also must have been quite well fed. Something about the self-assured coolness of that second dog somehow reminds me of Jack Nicholson or Marlon Brando.

This dog in Lijiang’s “old town” area of Baisha (“White Sand”) hung out with us in the open-air restaurant where we ate, begging for scraps, which it got quite a few of. At first I thought the owners wouldn’t want us feeding it and thus encouraging it to keep begging, but it didn’t seem to occur to them that some people wouldn’t want a dog underfoot as they ate. It didn’t bother us, at any rate. But this dog sure seemed to have a sense of entitlement—it made me feel like a total jerk for even considering not feeding it. A couple of other restaurants we ate at in Yunnan and Guangdong also had dogs hanging around, and they actually lent a certain charm to these places. Reminded me a bit of the dog lying on the bar at Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar in Bandera, Texas, a “dude ranch” town I used to frequent as a kid.

a cute puppy in Lijiang, China a cute dog in Shuhe Old Town, Lijiang, China
A cute puppy in Lijiang
(photo by CIT’s Tracy Liu)
Another cute dog in Lijiang
(photo by CIT’s Tracy Liu)

I don’t even remember seeing these dogs that Tracy, a friend working in our Shanghai office, got photos of, but they’re cute little fellows.

This dog in Shuhe, our favorite “old town” area of Lijiang, on the other hand, made quite an impression on us and probably a lot of other tourists, too. We all agreed that this is one homely pooch, clear proof that “ugly” is an international language. It’s no Sam, mind you, but not very attractive. Since it seemed like a nice dog, though, I’ll refrain from talking any further smack about it. Poor guy.

a friendly dog wagging its tail at Xianggelila (Shangri-la), China three toy dogs pulling a cat in a patriotic chariot during Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China
Mmmm…gimme some more o’ that!
(photo by CIT)
Pussycat-whipped
(photo by CIT)

As you can see from its blurry tail, this dog roaming the streets of Xianggelila’s Old Town was quite pleased, presumably because it was being fed.

These poor dogs were pressed into service to pull this preening, pompous pussycat in its own chariot—a flagrant perversion of the natural order, in my caninocentric opinion. But far stranger stuff than this goes down in Shanghai.

a classic Chinese dog raised for food in Shaoguan, China
In memoriam: Rover
(photo by CIT)

I’ve saved the most tragic dog for last. This dog that we met briefly in Guangdong seemed like a perfectly serviceable companion—healthy, apparently well behaved, and even reasonably good-looking. As we passed by, our local tour guide made a comment that this dog would “上桌子,” which literally means “go up on the table.” You can probably guess what he meant, but I unthinkingly and naively replied with something like “Oh, lots of dogs have a tendency to jump up on the table.” Foolish foreigner. What he meant, of course, was that the poor dog was destined to be someone’s dinner. As I understand it, in many places in China dogs are generally not eaten, but Guangdong is one of the exceptions. Man’s best friend, indeed. Although I try not to be culturally judgmental, I must admit this is one practice that seems just barbaric to me. On the other hand, if you don’t see anything barbaric, you’re not really traveling. That should be a saying. In any case, rest in peace, O Tasty Rover.

Today we’re reintroducing the first three images in a series of free desktop wallpaper (desktop background images), with more to come in the near future. The photos used for our wallpaper were all taken by CIT partners and representatives.

Click on the wallpaper image to display a full-sized image, then right-click on it and choose an option
such as “Set As Desktop Background” or “Save As…” to save it on your computer.

View of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak
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Crepuscular Rays at Lijiang’s Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Yunnan
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Vivid Green Algae in the Water at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
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In a previous post [to be re-posted in expanded form soon], I mentioned China’s “economic miracle.” The most miraculous thing about it is that it has not (so far) been accompanied by crippling social instability or insurmountable problems. However, the costs of this revolution are also quite real and multifaceted. One of these costs is the rapid loss of China’s traditional culture, including the environments in which this traditional culture was born and has thrived. Although the government is making efforts to preserve the most important examples of its cultural heritage (especially sites that are of value to the tourism industry), in many places old buildings and other manifestations of China’s historical legacy are being destroyed wholesale in favor of rapid modernization.

In Shanghai, for example, vast tracts of the city filled with traditional buildings are being razed and replaced with new high-rise buildings. Though they provide people with cleaner, more comfortable, more modern living and working environments, these new buildings seem to result in a much more isolated and less intimate community atmosphere than the traditional neighborhoods that the majority of Shanghai’s population used to live in. These neighborhoods were built around a style of house called “shíkùmén,” or “stone gates,” which over time often became extremely crowded as they were subdivided into smaller units.

Shanghai - shikumen doors - 250 x 188 Shanghai - shikumen laundry and furniture - 250 x 188
Shikumen doors
(photo by CIT)
Laundry and furniture in a shikumen lane
(photo by CIT)

When I first visited my wife’s grandmother’s neighborhood nine years ago, my impression of these shikumen was that they were usually dirty and unbelievably cramped, and that no one who lived in them could have any privacy whatsoever, or even real comfort. Some of them, in fact, reminded me of rabbit warrens or bunkers of some sort, with ladders, steep stairways, and narrow, dimly-lit hallways connecting their cramped rooms. They were definitely not the kind of place I could see myself ever getting used to.

Shanghai - shikumen residents 1 - 250 x 188 Shanghai - shikumen propaganda 1 - 250 x 188
Shikumen residents
(photo by CIT)
“Humankind has only one planet
Everybody attend to the population problem”

(photo by CIT)
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Tiny kitten on a shikumen ledge
(photo by CIT)
A shikumen haiku: Kitten on the edge
Small patch of urban ledge-grass
Precarious life

After having spent some time there and having observed the residents’ lifestyle, however, I came to see the other side of life in the shikumen: the sense of intimacy, interconnectedness, and community responsibility that they fostered, especially given the fact that the same families have often inhabited these houses for generations. For someone who had grown up in such a place, the shikumen way of life would no doubt seem natural and comfortable in a way that life in one of the newer buildings could probably never be. With activities like washing clothes and playing chess often done outside, in the small lanes on which these houses are located, neighbors inevitably interact every day and come to know one another well. In Shanghai’s newer buildings, on the other hand, neighbors often don’t seem to know each other, and they have little incentive to get to know each other, because they’re all comfortably shut away and don’t have to interact. I’ll admit that, yes, I too would much rather live in one of these comfortable new units, which are much more like the apartments many Americans are used to living in. But l can’t help feeling that the disappearance of the shikumen and the resulting fragmentation of Shanghai’s communities has a tragic side as well.

This, then, is a tribute to Shanghai’s shikumen, in the form of these photos I took during a 2007 visit to my wife’s grandmother’s neighborhood. It’s entirely possible that in the next few years these homes, too, and with them a great deal of history, will disappear.

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Looming skyscraper in the haze:
Better than the shikumen?

(photo by CIT)
More increasingly rare
propaganda: “Proposal for
establishing a safe family”

(photo by CIT)
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Shikumen residents:
A disappearing way of life

(photo by CIT)
The face of change
(photo by CIT)
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A curving shikumen lane
(photo by CIT)
Shikumen walls
(photo by CIT)
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