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

Open the CIT001 tour information page
China Highlights 11-Day Tour
Beijing – Xi’an – Guilin/Yangshuo – Shanghai
Open the information page for our China Highlights 15-Day Tour
China Highlights 15-Day Tour
Beijing – Xi’an – Guilin/Yangshuo – Shanghai – Zhouzhuang – Suzhou – Wuxi – Hangzhou
CIT003 icon - 75 x 75
Jiangnan Gourmet Cuisine / Yellow Mountain 10-Day Tour
Shanghai – Zhouzhuang – Suzhou – Wuxi – Hangzhou – Hong Village – Huangshan (Yellow Mountain)
Open the information page for our Magnificent Yangtze / Ancient Capitals Deluxe 15-Day Tour (CIT005)
Magnificent Yangtze/Ancient Capitals Deluxe 15-Day Tour
Beijing – Three Gorges (Yangtze Cruise) – Xi’an – Guilin/Yangshuo – Shanghai
Open the information page for our Mysterious Tibet 16-Day Tour (CIT008)
Mysterious Tibet 16-Day Tour
Beijing – Three Gorges (Yangtze Cruise) – Xi’an – Lhasa – Shanghai
Open the information page for our China Discovery 11-Day Tour (CIT011)
China Discovery 11-Day Tour
Beijing – Xi’an – Shanghai – Hong Kong
CIT012 tour icon - 75 x 75
Ancient and Modern China
13-Day Tour
Beijing – Xi’an – Guilin/Yangshuo – Shanghai – Hong Kong
CITSH1 icon - 75 x 75 Shanghai 3-Day Tour Extension

Happy Year of the Snake from China International Travel CA! Big thanks to all of our valued clients and travel partners for your friendship and support through this last year and into the new year! We wish you wealth, good health, and success in all your undertakings.

恭喜發財!身體健康!萬事如意!

In Shanghai, there was a special pre-New Year treat—snow on the ground:

Shanghai - February 2013 Chinese New Year snow
Shanghai - February 2013 Chinese New Year snow 2 - small - CIT - 400 x 300

And as you can see, the traditional Chinese New Year revelry continues in 2013, with a fortune in fireworks set off on New Year’s Eve in one spot in Shanghai alone:

Shanghai - Chinese New Year fireworks - rocket burst
Shanghai - Chinese New Year fireworks - rocket burst overhead
Shanghai - Chinese New Year fireworks - rocket burst overhead 2
Shanghai - Chinese New Year fireworks - rocket burst overhead 3
Shanghai - Chinese New Year firework remnants

For more photos (and video clips) of Chinese New Year fireworks, see our post from last year.

We pride ourselves on offering our clients exceptional value. These new discount tour packages will take you to some of China’s greatest wonders for an especially low cost:

CITS11 and CITC11 banner - 150 x 750

Jiangnan + 5-Star Yangtze Cruise + Chongqing
11-Day Discount Tour (CITC11)

Departing on May 18, 2012

Enjoy all of these tour features for the low, all-inclusive price of only $1980:

  • Visit these popular destinations: The Yangtze River’s Three Gorges and Chongqing, Suzhou, Wuxi, Hangzhou, and Shanghai
  • Travel through the spectacular Three Gorges on a 5-star cruise ship
  • Indulge in the comfort of deluxe 4-star hotels for the entire trip
  • Avoid wasting your time with a frustrating, ultra-cheap shopping tour: A limited, reasonable number of well-chosen shopping stops

Open our CITC11 tour information page to find out more!
打開 CITC11 的中文行程

Please note: As a limited-departure discount tour, CITC11 will be conducted in Chinese, and the tour guide may not be fully proficient in English. This tour is recommended for Chinese speakers or people traveling with Chinese speakers.

Beijing + Jiangnan + Yellow Mountain
11-Day Discount Tour (CITS11)

Departing on June 15, 2012

Enjoy all of these tour features for the low, all-inclusive price of only $1899:

  • Visit many of the favorite destinations of China travelers: Beijing, Suzhou, Wuxi, Hangzhou, Yellow Mountain (Huangshan), and Shanghai
  • Witness the grandeur of Yellow Mountain firsthand
  • Indulge in the comfort of deluxe 4-star hotels for the entire trip
  • Avoid wasting your time with a frustrating, ultra-cheap shopping tour: A limited, reasonable number of well-chosen shopping stops

Open our CITS11 tour information page to find out more!
打開 CITS11 的中文行程

Please note: As a limited-departure discount tour, CITS11 will be conducted in Chinese, and the tour guide may not be fully proficient in English. This tour is recommended for Chinese speakers or people traveling with Chinese speakers.

Image credits (top to bottom): Dave Lau, Tan Wei Liang Byorn, Gustavo Madico, Curt Smith, and J. Aaron Farr

Chinese New Year fireworks icon with text - 150 x 150To celebrate Chinese New Year in China, especially with family, is a fun and fascinating experience: the festive atmosphere, both at home and out on the town; the excessive consumption of food and alcohol; and, perhaps most exciting of all, the fireworks. In 2003 I spent Chinese New Year in Shanghai, and the amount of gunpowder detonated in that city in the 16-day period from New Year’s Eve through the Lantern Festival (on the 15th day of the lunar year) absolutely blew my mind. As a childhood pyromaniac who hadn’t indulged in fireworks in many years, I was on fire with excitement—though to some degree it was like being in a war zone, with so many fireworks going off at certain times that you could barely have a conversation outdoors and had to be constantly on guard against wayward rockets. My father-in-law and I burned a completely unjustifiable amount of cash on long strings of firecrackers, big batteries of missiles, and various other explosives. I strolled through the city streets, tossing firecrackers to and fro and setting them off in every nook and cranny to magnify the sound of the explosions. Obnoxious and environmentally irresponsible, to be sure…but also gloriously Dionysian, especially because it seemed like everyone was doing it. To put it simply, I had a blast. But I’m fortunate to have emerged from the experience with all ten fingers and all five senses intact.

In celebration of the lunar new year, I present some spectacular photos and a couple of video clips that will give you an idea of what the experience of celebrating Chinese New Year in China is like. We at CIT are looking forward to another successful year, and we’d like to wish all of our family, friends, and customers a prosperous Year of the Dragon. Thank you for your support!

Chinese New Year Fireworks Photo Gallery

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

Chinese New Year fireworks exploding in Shanghai, China fireworks exploding during Chinese New Year in Shanghai, China
Explosions amidst residential buildings…
(photo by Jaye Zhou)
…now THAT’s what the Chinese
term
熱鬧 (rènào; “lively”) means
(photo by Aapo Haapanen)
Chinese New Year fireworks exploding in Shanghai, China Chinese New Year - Shanghai fireworks store - Marc van der Chijs
Viewing from high-rise balconies is hazardous
(photo by Harry Alverson)
Fireworks stores pop up during the New Year
(photo by Marc van der Chijs)
Chinese New Year fireworks boxes - Christopher Chinese New Year fireworks - fountain
Let’s hope they’re well-shielded from stray sparks
(photo by Christopher)
“Fountains” light up streets and alleyways
(photo by Fox Z.)
extremely long strings of Chinese New Year firecrackers in Taipei, Taiwan Spectators turn their backs and shield their faces during a massive Chinese New Year fireworks explosion
Mile-long strings of firecrackers scare away evil spirits…
(photo by Ming-Yang Sue)
…and people, too, if they know what’s good for them.
(photo by Ming-Yang Sue)
a street covered by firework remnants left behind by Chinese New Year firecrackers in Taipei, Taiwan fireworks exploding during Chinese New Year in Shanghai, China
Firecracker aftermath
(photo by Ming-Yang Sue)
There is an ironic beauty in all
that potential destruction…

(photo by Jakob Montrasio)
view from the Bund of Chinese New Year fireworks exploding over the Huangpu River and Pudong in Shanghai, China Chinese New Year 2011 - Hong Kong fireworks - N.C. Burton - small - 300 x 200
…especially in picturesque places,
like Shanghai’s Huangpu River…

(photo by Sebastien Poncet)
…and Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour
(photo by N.C. Burton)
Chinese New Year fireworks over Hong Kong Island in 2009 Chinese New Year fireworks - fire - Jinjian Liang
Hong Kong’s 2009 Chinese New Year fireworks
(photo by N.C. Burton)
China during the Lunar New
Year: a country on fire

(photo by Jinjian Liang)

Check out these video clips to get an even clearer idea of just how crazy it can get (you might want to turn down the volume first):

A smoking man in the Huxinting Tea House in Shanghai, China The man Dos Equis claims is the most interesting man in the world
“I don’t always drink tea, but when
I do, I prefer Dragon Well.”

(photo by “Pitz76“; click to enlarge)
The SECOND most interesting man in the world.

This month’s Random Discovery Photo is a little different from my usual choices: a striking, artsy, black-and-white photo of a guy who exudes coolness and looks to me like he could give “the most interesting man in the world” a run for his money. The photo was taken in Shanghai’s famous Huxinting Tea House, which you can visit when you tour the nearby Yuyuan Gardens on any of our Mainland China tours that stop in Shanghai. Who knows, you might even run into this interesting character there and have a chance to imbibe some of his hard-earned wisdom along with a relaxing pot of tea. I know I’ll be on the lookout the next time I’m in Shanghai.

In a recent travel article for the Times, international journalist extraordinaire (and fellow American Chinese speaker) Nicholas Kristof recommends traveling to two countries above all others to gain a better understanding of the world in 2012: China and India. Among his recommendations for places to visit in China are Beijing, Shanghai, Guilin/Yangshuo, and Xi’an, popular destinations featured in a number of our Mainland China tour packages.

Some of his comments echo the perspective I tried to express in a recent blog post (and some earlier posts like this one) about the touching and exciting experiences that travelers can have in China’s rural and less-touristy areas:

But don’t just visit the giant metropolises. Go also to the countryside that is China’s soul[…]Wherever you go, drop in on a village. Residents will be surprised but hospitable, and if you have a Chinese speaker to translate, then you can have great conversations. Or drop by the local school, and you may find an English teacher delighted to practice conversational skills.

Kristof also mentions some amazing places that are less well known among Western tourists:

Visit a town like Datong, west of Beijing, home to stunning carved Buddhas several stories high. They are 1,500 years old and one of the most amazing sights in China, yet few foreign tourists know of Datong.

Not far away is the stunning Hanging Monastery, perched precariously on the side of a cliff. And Datong can be used as a base to see parts of the Great Wall that haven’t been restored. Nobody charges admission: they just sit there, waiting to be explored.

The Yungang Grottoes at Datong and the Hanging Temple (Hanging Monastery) at Hengshan are both featured in our Roots of Chinese Culture 14-Day Tour (CIT006).  Side trips to see unrestored sections of the Great Wall can also be arranged.

Another Times travel article published on the same day, “The 45 Places to Go in 2012,” also mentions a number of places we can take you to: Lhasa, Tibet; Ha Long Bay, Vietnam; and Moganshan, near Shanghai. Lhasa is the highlight of our Mysterious Tibet 16-Day Tour, and Ha Long Bay is one of the attractions on our Vietnam/Cambodia Highlights 7-Day Tour, which also features the ancient city of Angkor Wat. We’re also happy to arrange custom getaways to the tranquil mountain retreat of Moganshan, where you can relax in a new luxury hotel, admire its historic villas, and explore its tea fields.

If you want to create your own unique China travel experience, we are always happy to modify our existing tour packages to include the places and activities you want or to help you design your own, completely original itinerary.  Just contact us and let one of our agents know what you have in mind!

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.

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)
Shanghai - shikumen kitten - 250 x 188 Shanghai - shikumen kitten closeup - 250 x 188
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.

Shanghai - shikumen skyscraper 2 - 267 x 200 Shanghai - shikumen propaganda 2 - 150 x 200
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)
Shanghai - shikumen residents 2 - 267 x 200 Shanghai - shikumen skyscraper 1 - 150 x 200
Shikumen residents:
A disappearing way of life

(photo by CIT)
The face of change
(photo by CIT)
Shanghai - shikumen - curving lane - 267 x 200 Shanghai - shikumen walls - 150 x 200
A curving shikumen lane
(photo by CIT)
Shikumen walls
(photo by CIT)
Shanghai - sign - no bugles - CIT - small - 320 x 240
Enough with the bugle playing already, dude!
(photo by CIT)

Signs like this can be found all over Shanghai and probably other cities in China as well.  The first time I saw one, my first reaction (edited for added alliteration) was, “Wait, there’s a ban on bugle playing?  Are public binges of blasting by roving bands of buglers a problem here?”  But of course the horn is meant to represent a car horn, and as anyone who’s spent any time on roads in China can attest, excessive horn use IS a problem.  In certain areas like residential developments, these signs help discourage people from using their horn for everything from warning other drivers to warning pedestrians, warning cylists, urging traffic to move faster, expressing indignation, and apparently just asserting their right to blow their horn whenever they feel like it.

While I’m on the topic of  driving in China, I’ll go ahead and plug a book I read recently that I found moving, fascinating, and funny: Country Driving: a Chinese Road Trip, by Peter Hessler.  At some point I’d like to write a review of it in this blog, but for now I’ll just say that it’s required reading for anyone who wants to understand contemporary China and some of the effects that the rapid changes there have had on the lives of the Chinese people.

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