The collection is too big for one trip. Pick a couple of sections, whether they’re calligraphy, jades or bronzes, and really give them the time they deserve
Given China’s rich 5000 year history, it should really have better museums than it does — but the Shanghai Museum is one of its best. Found on the People’s Square, it is full of ancient Chinese art. The founding collection came mainly from confiscations by the Communist army and items sold by private collectors to the government due to political pressure during the purges. But in spite of its origins, it’s a collection you can’t miss.
The building is unmistakeable: it resembles an ancient Chinese ding vessel, with a round dome atop a square base that symbolises the ancient idea of a round heaven and a square land. Within it, the collection contains over 120,000 pieces. These include bronze works, lacquer furniture, ceramics, calligraphy, sculptures and precious jade carvings. The problems with lighting, curating and comically bad translations that dog other Chinese museums will not be found here: the Shanghai Museum is exemplary, by all standards.
Some of the museum’s pieces are national treasures. For example, it holds one of only three examples of a “transparent” bronze mirror from the Han Dynasty. But its two most precious works are an ancient cooking vessel emblazoned with a dragon pattern of the Shang Dynasty and an extravagantly free cursive style calligraphy work of The Red Cliff Ode.
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