One of China’s four largest museums, the Shanghai Museum (Shànghǎi Bówùguǎn, 上海博物馆) is primarily dedicated to showcasing artifacts from China’s long history, including rare specimens of jade, bronzes, ceramics, calligraphy and painting. It also exhibits major traveling exhibitions from around the world. One hall displays traditional ceremonial outfits from many of the remarkably diverse ethnic groups living with the territory governed by the People’s Republic today.
With an exhibition area of 12,000 sq m (3 acres), 12 special exhibition halls and around 120,000 historical relics, it’s best to pick a few exhibitions to focus on rather than marching yourself through the entire place (the jade exhibit, spanning some 4,000 years, is particularly strong) in a visit.
Located on the southern edge of People’s Square, the striking museum building, completed in 1996, is itself a point of interest, embodying an instance of contemporary Chinese architecture’s obsession with blending traditional Chinese characteristics with super-sized modernist monumentalism.
The museum is intended to resemble an ancient bronze cooking vessel (dǐng, 鼎) and to also reflect the ancient Chinese belief that “the sky is round and the earth is square.” The effect has an awkward charm, especially when considered alongside People’s Square’s other major recently built cultural institutions, the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum and the Shanghai Grand Theatre, both of which boast a certain Chinese space-age vibe.
Finally, the Shanghai Museum makes a great part of a full day out exploring People’s Square, especially for art lovers—the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art and the Shanghai Art Museum, housed in the old concession-era Jockey Club building, are within easy walking distance.