It was a hot day in Shanghai. The sun was beating down. I only had a few more hours until my plane left. I was not ready to stop exploring.
“Where should I go?”
I walked to the Shanghai Museum. I would gladly recommend it to anyone who wants to view some of China’s national art treasures- bronzes, ceramics, calligraphy, paintings, jade and ivory pieces, bamboo and lacquer wares, coins, seals, and artifacts from ethnic minorities.
This modern museum is shaped with a square base and round top attached with arches. This design expresses the ancient Chinese philosophy of the universe- the earth is square while the sky is round. Once inside the atrium, I looked up. I was immediately impressed by the staircases.
China has an 8000 year history associated with jade carvings. Through the centuries, jade craftsmen have carved and polished jade for multiple applications- ritual implementation, ceremonial objects, wearing ornaments, burial objects, decorative objects, and daily utensils.
The ancient Chinese felt that jade had the capability of warding off evil spirits. Thus jade was worn as amulets, used in sacrificial ceremonies, and buried with the dead.
Confucius associated the qualities of benevolence, justice, wisdom, courtesy, loyalty, happiness, trustworthiness, heaven, earth, virtue, and truth with jade. This endorsement increased the popularity of this gem.
Archaeologists have found large quantities of buried jade in tombs of clan leaders and royal family members. Jade was considered a status symbol.
During the Zhou Dynasty (122 BCE to 256 BCE), it was a common practice to put jade ornaments on funerary faces. The jade pieces were sewed onto a face covering cloth.
During the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties (1271-1911) the craftsmen deviated their styles accordingly. The Yuan jade had deep engravings. The Ming jade was characterized by ruggedness and vigor. The Qing pieces were considerably more intricate and sophisticated.
This is a brush holder with a Nine Old Men Design.
Classical Chinese Furniture
Furniture was developed in the Han Dynasty (206 BCE- 220 CE) when the Chinese chose to change the habit of kneeling or sitting cross-legged on a platform. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, classical Chinese furniture was artistically decorated. Ming furniture has simple and elegant structures with an emphasis on proportion. Qing furniture is larger with elaborate carvings and inlaid decorations.
Examples of Ming Furniture (1368-1644)
This room showcases the Ming emphasis of using natural woods with lattice work and openwork carvings.
Likewise this six-post canopy bed with front rails exemplifies the notable soft features found in Ming furniture.
This simple room is an example of a reception hall in an ancient chinese house. It was usually the most decorated room and was a multipurpose room- sacrificial, wedding, and funeral ceremonies as well as a place to greet people. Traditionally, a long table was put near a movable wall. Chairs were placed in front of the table. Everyone had a designated place based on their position in the family.
Qing Furniture (1644-1911)
There were 3 stages of Qing furniture (1644-1911). The first was similar to the Ming style. The second stage concentrated on oversized furniture made of various types of wood. The third state was marked by a decrease in the quality of workmanship. The museum attributes this change to the influence of western culture. Since I am not a maven on furniture, it is hard to say whether this statement is based on fact or anti-west bias.
Qing screens included a combination of painting, calligraphy, carving and inlays. They were designed to keep out wind, light or separate rooms.
The screen to the left is in a stand with a removable wood-inlaid painting panel. The shorter table has a marble panel insert. The taller table is carved out of wood.
Throne chairs were designed for ancient chinese emperors. They resembled small beds that had bulging legs. The materials that were most often used were gold painting, red lacquer, and hardwood engravings. Oftentimes a large screen was placed behind the throne to enhance the setting.
This folding screen has a jade inlaid design that is carved on red lacquered wood. The throne chair has 9 dragons carved into the red lacquer.
This is a much more elaborate throne chair. It is engraved with a cloud and dragon design. The rectangular table and screen carry out the same theme.
The above matching set of 4 stools and a square table are made out of red lacquer. The carvings are in a floral pattern.
Chinese Ethnic Minorities’ Arts and Crafts
China has 56 ethnic groups. Their respective arts and crafts reflect each group’s history and identity. Costumes oftentimes act as symbols of the culture. In one room, I saw a unique set of costumes associated with a variety of Chinese ethnic groups. In the north, the Chinese tended to wear longer robes, fur hats, and leather boots. In the south, the clothing was lighter and favored tunics and loose fitting pants.
This costume includes a girl’s fur robe with a banded hem and patched motif. In another area, we saw different arts and crafts.
This fishing canoe was carved out of wood and includds painted designs that reflect Gaoshan nationality. It was made by people who live in Lanyu Island, Taiwan Province. It is brightly painted in the contrasting colors of red, white and black.
We also walked by an assortment of colorful Tibetan masks with exaggerated faces. They fell into 3 categories- decorative masks to be hung up, Cham dance masks, and opera masks. Some of these masks depicted gods, demons, and beasts.
The paintings in this room had distinct lines and brush strokes. The glare and lighting wrecked havoc with my ability to take clear pictures.
Man with a Bamboo Hat By Luo Pin (1733-1799), a hanging scroll Qing Dynasty.
One of the scrolls was labeled Eighteen Scholars by Du Jin. Du’s specific birth and death years are unknown. Some websites estimate 15th century. He lived during the Ming Dynasty His paintings include buildings, figures, flowers, birds and animals. He also is remembered for his poems and essays.
This hanging scroll painting is labeled Pheasant, Bamboo, and Chrysanthemum, by Hua Yan. It dates back to the Qing Dynasty(1682-1756).
Many of the bronzes on display were used for ceremonial purposes by the upper class. There were 3 major designs found on the ancient Chinese bronzes- animal mask designs, bird like designs, and dragon designs.
The above object is a food vessel with four ram heads. (Late Shang 13th- 11th century BCE.)
This wine vessel is from the same period.
This blog provides a cross-section of displayed items so that potential visitors can have a better idea of the Shanghai Museum’s holdings. Anyone who is interested in Chinese artifacts should definitely include this meticulously maintained museum on their Shanghai “must see” list.
Sandra Bornstein is the author of MAY THIS BE THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. It is available on Amazon. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons. The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and received an Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Award.