When I heard about the stampede that resulted in 36 deaths and 49 injuries on New Year’s Eve at The Bund in Shanghai, China, I wasn’t too surprised. I clearly remember the underground Metro train coming and the crowd moving forward so crushingly that I didn’t have to walk onto the car. The movement of people propelled me forward, so I understand how a stampede could easily happen at The Bund, which is festive and busy every night of the year. It’s often the first place where tourists head when they visit this city of more than 14 million. It certainly was for us.
The Bund was Shanghai’s financial center when it was becoming the trading capital of East Asia at the beginning of the 20th century, and its Beaux Art buildings wouldn’t be out-of-place in New York or Paris. We found The Bund mighty impressive but it wasn’t our favorite attraction. The Shanghai Museum was.
If you tend to complain and a museum of ancient Chinese art sounds a bit unappealing, you’d be sounding exactly like me as Ruth and I waited, and waited, to get in to the Shanghai Museum. Those who don’t get in line before it opens often don’t get to enter this vast circle atop blocks that honors the ancient Chinese belief that the earth is a square under a round sky. This museum is free, and only the first 8,000 visitors are permitted entry each day. If you’re lucky enough to visit, take this restriction seriously and endure the line. Once you’re inside, the enormous crowd spreads out rapidly.
Seeing the Shanghai Museum’s rooms full of calligraphy, furniture, ceramics, etc. was like getting a visual crash course in Chinese history. There were eleven galleries to explore, and Ruth & I quickly learned that we didn’t want to miss a single one. I was especially fond of the exquisite Chinese landscape paintings that attempted 3-D effects. They were like scroll maps showing landmarks and flowering trees instead of black lines and dots. There were rooms containing wallpaper, jades, and deep explorations of the many different ethnic groups that have called China home over the millennia. After several hours the costumes, lacquer ware, and pottery became way too much for my brain to handle. Often Ruth & I would say to each other, “Enough! It’s time to leave.” But then we’d turn around and get totally engaged in yet another display. There were 3 temporary exhibition halls, but we saw only one by an artist who cleverly used back lighting to make his scenes more vivid. We decided we’d better focus on the permanent stuff and skipped the others.
Around only since 1952, the Shanghai Museum staff has already collected over 1,000,000 objects. I’m glad I wasn’t in charge of packing when it moved in 1996 to its current location on People’s Square in the very center of Shanghai. You can walk there from The Bund.
The Chinese people will actually celebrate their traditional new year on February 19, 2015. This is the year of the goat, but I didn’t take a picture of a goat in the Shanghai Museum. People born in 2015 will be gentle, shy, kindhearted, and creative. Many will become interior designers, illustrators, etc. and some will certainly find their works in the Shanghai Museum. The year of the rooster is not until 2017.