Shanghai Museum is considered one of China's first world-class
The museum was founded in 1952 and was first open to the
public in the former Shanghai Racecourse club house, now at 325 West Nanjing
Road. The founding collections came principally from three sources: a batch
of artefacts gathered by the Communist 3rd Field Army during the civil
war from accidental finds and confiscations of private property and brought
to Shanghai upon the Communists' conquest of the city; artefacts confiscated
by the customs service; items sold by private collectors due to political
pressure during political purges and purchased by the government. The former
Shanghai Municipal Museum was also merged into the new Shanghai Museum.
In the next few years, the museum's collections were further
enriched from other private and institutional collections in Shanghai,
including the collection of the former Shanghai Museum of the Royal Asiatic
Society, which were moved to the museum as "foreign" institutions gradually
left the city in the 1950s. In 1959 the museum moved into the Zhonghui
Building at 16 South Henan Road, which housed insurance companies and bank
offices. During the metal-gathering campaign of the Great Leap Forward,
the Shanghai Museum participated in rescuing bronzeware from metal that
had been confiscated or donated and were sent to be melted down. Before
the Cultural Revolution, a tradition formed whereby Shanghai's wealthy
collectors would make annual donations to the museum.
The museum's work largely halted as a result of the Cultural
Revolution. After the end of the revolution, as one of China's most important
museums, the collections have continued to be enriched with the fruit of
donations, government purchases, and important finds from archaeological
The growth of its collections put enormous pressure on
the cramped premises. For his role in ensuring a large, purpose-built home,
it is said that Shanghai Museum owes much of its current existence to Ma
Chengyuan, its director from 1985 until his retirement in 1999. When a
new museum was omitted from Shanghai's five-year reconstruction plan in
1992, Ma lobbied Mayor Huang Ju for its rebuilding. After seeing the dilapidated
rooms of the Zhonghui Building, Huang agreed to allocate a prime site on
the People's Square, but the museum had to raise its own building funds.
Ma raised US$25 million by leasing the old building to a Hong Kong developer.
He also made many trips abroad to solicit donations, mainly from the Shanghai
diaspora who had fled to Hong Kong after the Communist revolution, raising
another $10 million. The money still ran short, but he eventually won another
140 million yuan from the city government to complete the building.
Construction of the current building started in August
1993. It was inaugurated on October 12, 1996 to wide acclaim. It is 29.5
meters high with five floors, covering a total area of 39,200 m².
Designed by local architect Xing Tonghe, the building
is designed in the shape of an ancient bronze cooking vessel called a ding.
It is said that the inspiration for the design was specifically provided
by the Da Ke Ding, now on exhibit in the museum. The building has a round
top and a square base, symbolizing the ancient Chinese perception of the
world as "round sky, square earth."