There are well over 3,500 museums in China, with more than 70 in Shanghai alone. Here, we’ve rounded up our top five cultural attractions in the city, from hidden gems to the metropolis’ contemporary heavyweights.
Shanghai Postal Museum
The former General Post Office building, done in Classical style, with Corinthian columns and an exquisite Baroque clock tower, dates back to 1924. Inside its light-flooded atrium are historic postal vehicles and a model airmail plane. The exhibitions detail the history of mail in China, starting from its earliest days when messages were scrawled on turtle shells. Collector types will also be taken with the slew of stamps and antique post boxes dating back to the Qing dynasty (1644–1912). The postal museum also delivers a small but tranquil outdoor seating area from which you can take in sweeping vistas of Suzhou Creek, the Bund and the Pudong skyline across the river. Make this landmark a stop on your Bund tour and you’ll be rewarded with one of the best free views in town.
An incredible treasure trove of propaganda memorabilia fills the humble digs making up this colorful museum. Founder Yang Pei Ming started off with just one poster in 1995, but he’s seen his collection grow to more than 6,000 posters that date from 1940 to 1990. Ming’s collection is truly unique, so much so that places such as London’s Victoria and Albert Museum have borrowed from him. Ming speaks impeccable English and is always happy to give tours. But beyond being a top-notch museum, the Propaganda Poster Art Centre is also a great place to get kitschy Communist souvenirs.
Founded in 2005, this museum may not be huge, but it’s got one of the loveliest settings — right in the middle of verdant People’s Park. It’s also where you go to see buzzworthy exhibitions such as last year’s highlight, Chanel’s The Little Black Jacket. MOCA Shanghai most recently hosted mega-show A Dream I Dreamed by renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, which opened to acclaim and was packed every day through its run that ended in March. Showing now through June 15 is the fun and family-friendly Animamix Biennale. Working under the theme of “Rediscovery” in 2014, the show highlights five other Asian museums and artists from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the U.K. and Korea while examining how animation crosses cultural borders.
A former power station on the 2010 World Expo site got a new lease on life in summer 2012, when it opened as a fantastic new contemporary art museum. The Power Station took over the hosting of the Shanghai Biennale from the Shanghai Art Museum that same year. Along with MOCA Shanghai, it has since become the go-to venue for large-scale contemporary exhibitions such as Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal and Electric Fields: Surrealism and Beyond, on loan from Paris’ Centre Pompidou. From April 26 through July 20, expect to see 15 Years Chinese Contemporary Art Award, a retrospective, which celebrates CCAA’s 15th birthday. The exhibition’s themes are time and figures, with 19 award-winning artists, including Ai Weiwei, displaying 50 pieces.
The big draw at this People’s Square museum is the massive scale model of Shanghai that takes up almost the entire floor. It’s impeccably done, carefully updated as Shanghai’s skyline shifts and evolves. Look for tiny World Expo pavilions and a not-so-small Shanghai Tower, standing tall above every other building. The detail on the model is incredible, so much so that even visitors will be able to pick out their hotels, particularly iconic buildings such as the Bund-side Peace Hotel. Beyond the scale model is a space for rotating exhibitions (20th century Russian Realism, for example) and, on the fourth floor, a series of interactive exhibits particularly good for kids. From the fifth floor, take in an expansive city view and ogle the vintage Shanghai drawings.
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