I’m not really a museum person, which I learned after dragging myself to every art museum in Venice before remembering that, oh yeah, I don’t really love art. However, whenever it started pouring down rain in Shanghai I would quickly find the nearest museum to seek shelter in. It rained a lot.

The Shanghai Museum

Billed as “the best museum in China,” by various guidebooks, I actually planned on going to this one. It was okay. I explored the four floors under the guidance of my English audio guide which was 40 yuan (about $7) plus a 400 yuan deposit. Because it didn’t cost too much, the audio guide was worth it. However, it’s not a necessity because all captions are translated into English. The museum featured:

  • The Bronze Galley: Mildly boring except I did like the section that showed how one went about making a bronze item back in the day. The Chinese would create molds out of clay and then pour molten bronze into the molds, waiting until things hardened up before breaking the clay mold.
  • The Sculpture Gallery: Essentially a gallery or Buddhas and Bodeshatvas. It was a bit more interesting, mainly because I like looking people more than things.
  • The Maori artifacts Gallery: A special exhibit that will be in Shanghai until October. I especially liked the bird trapping devices featured here.
  • The Ceramics Gallery: It’s interesting how much our normal chinaware of today resembles ceramics and china from centuries ago. Talk about lasting art!
  • Coin Gallery: The initial six rooms of coins can be sped through, but the last exhibit on Silk Road currency was pretty interesting.
  • Jade Gallery: Lots of jade. It’s green. What else can I say?
  • Furniture Gallery: This is pretty interesting, but if you’ve been to any museums that are former residences of rich guys, you’ve already seen it. I liked the fact that not only were folding chairs were around in the eighteenth century, but to sit in one was a seat of honor. At my family’s Thanksgiving dinner table, my parents sit in the folding chairs and save the nice seats for our guests.
  • Chinese Minority Gallery: This was the most interesting exhibit, and sadly the last one I went to. By the time I’d reached the top floor I was running out of museum patience. I wish I would have started here. On display were various costumes and traditional dress of the people from the outer reaches of China (Tibet, Inner Mongolia, the Uighur Muslims, etc).    

The Shanghai Museum is free. It’s open Monday through Friday from 9-5. To get there, take metro line 1 to the People’s Square. Inside the immense metro station, follow the signs to exit 1 (there are 19 exits). The address is 201 Renmin Ave, but the entrance is on West Yan’an Rd.

MOCA: The Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai

I blew into this museum absolutely drenched, despite the fact that I had an umbrella. The museum was heavily air conditioned. Plus, as previously mentioned, I’m not a huge art fan. So I was prepared to be irritated.

Luckily for me, the featured exhibit was Disney’s PIXAR. How can you be unhappy when surrounded with Toy Story and Ratatouille characters? I didn’t learn anything about China, but I did enjoy watching the animation process come to life. There is no permanent exhibit at this museum, but I hear that things are usually laid out pretty well here. That was certainly the case with the PIXAR exhibit.

MOCA is in the middle of People’s Square, at 231 Nanjing West Road. Take metro line 1 to People’s Square and follow the signs. The PIXAR exhibit will be featured until the end of October. The MOCA fees change depending on the exhibit. I paid 80 yuan (about $10). The museum is open daily from 10 to 6.  

Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum and Ohel Moishe Synagogue:

I LOVED this museum! It was only two rooms plus the synagogue, but I spent more time here then at the entire Shanghai Museum. This was probably because I was taking pictures of every artifact as I planning lessons (whole units, actually) for my non-existent students. I am really going to miss teaching next year.

Unbeknownst to me, as the rest of the world was shutting its doors to Jewish immigration during the 1930’s Shanghai became one of the few places where fleeing Jews could go. The Chinese explanation on this is that the Chinese people/government is just that much more caring than the rest of the world. However, I suspect that the lack of visa regulations and laws in Shanghai (which was an international city at the time) might have a little do to with things as well. Jewish refugees congregated near what is today the museum and built a life of sorts in Shanghai. The museum houses many of their stories and artifacts. Inside the synagogue is a database of the Jewish refugees and a continuously running TV program (one hour long) about some of the Jews that have returned to Shanghai for nostalgic purposes.

The Jewish Refugees Museum and Synagogue is 50 yuan. It is open daily from 9-5. They have free tours every 45 minutes, which seemed a little unnecessary since I was one of three patrons and everything was in English. The museum is at 62 Changyang Road. Take metro line 4 to the Dalian road station and head east for about three blocks. You can check out Huoshan Park on your way there, also a Jewish site. I didn’t linger due to the thunder, lightening, and rain pouring sideways, but it looked nice.

Site of the 1st National Congress of the CPC:

This museum is the old house of one of the first champions of communism, and one of the sites were meetings were taking place. When the police were tipped off on the location of the underground group, Mao and his men finished up their plans in a tourist boat on a nearby lake. The crowded museum was not super interesting. The two or three rooms featured mostly pictures of Mao and his cohorts. At the end of the museum is a 3D model of the revolutionaries at a table, drinking tea and sorting out their red plans.

The site of the 1st National Congress of the CPC is open daily from 9-5. It is located in the middle of Xintiandi, an upscale shopping center in the middle of the French concessions, which is kinda funny. Admission is free, naturally. No sense in having a Communist museum if the bourgeoisies are the only people who can afford to frequent it. You do have to collect your free ticket before entering the museum. Take metro line 1 to the Xintiandi station and head into the shopping quarters. Maps (in English) are all over the place and can direct you to the museum. 

Shanghai Urban Planning Museum

This vestige of last years Shanghai Expo is a geography teachers dream. The museum uses old maps, pictures and 3D models to show off the city’s past and hopes for the future. The entire third floor of the museum is a model lay-out of the city. Shanghai apparently has a “leave no space un-skyscrapered” approach to urban planning.

The museum also features

  • A photography exhibit glorifying construction workers
  • A laughable “Green Living” section
  • A kids section where little ones can design their own Expo site on touch screen computers
  • Models of metro station hubs and computer simulations of people living in houses during different historical periods
  • The 5th floor is a “photo story” of the rise of the Communist Party. It doesn’t really match the rest of the museum, and is the only exhibit not translated into English

The Shanghai Urban Planning Museum is open daily from 9-5 (Friday – Sunday until 6). Ticket prices start at 30 yuan, with discounts for seniors, students, and children. The museum is located on the west side of the People’s Park. To get there, take metro line 1 to the People’s Square and take exit #2 out of the station.