Shanghai Museum: A Step Back into Ancient China

No first-time Shanghai itinerary would be complete without spending time at Shanghai Museum. It’s widely considered to be one of the best museums that China has to offer and is one of the top things to do in Shanghai.

Opened in 1995, the museum houses over 120,000 historical relics of various categories. Many of the ancient pieces date back more than 5,000 years.

The Shanghai Museum is shaped like an ancient bronze cauldron, mimicking some of the beautiful bronze artefacts housed inside. The building has a square base and round dome, symbolizing heaven and earth in Chinese culture.

What to expect at Shanghai Museum

The Shanghai Museum occupies four floors. They cover eleven galleries each containing some of the finest collections of Chinese art you’ll find anywhere in the world.

This valuable collection of artefacts comprises ancient Chinese art. This includes paintings and sculpture, ceramics, a jade collection and a comprehensive calligraphy display.

Rare bronze relics and sculptures

The bronze collection is arguably the most curious and unusual of all the museum exhibits. There are over four hundred exquisite bronze components on display.

Ancient Bronze @ Shanghai Museum

They date back as far as the 18th century BC. This collection is considered one of the best in China. It includes a number of rare and extraordinary pieces.

Move on to the Gallery of Chinese Ancient Sculptures. Here you’ll find a wonderful collection of ancient religious relics. Many are of the Buddha, some crafted from the finest jade.

The first seal collection on earth

The Gallery of Seals is the world’s first exhibition of its kind. Here you’ll find over 500 beautifully carved ancient seals. In bygone times, these seals served as signatures and to seal contracts. They were carved from various materials including crystal, jade, ivory and amber. The workmanship is intricate and quite remarkable.

China was one of the first countries in the world to use coins to trade. In the Gallery of Chinese Coins, among the more than 7,000 coins and notes on display, you’ll find some of the oldest money on earth.

The treasured ceramic display

More than 500 ceramic pieces that go back as far as the Neolithic age make up one of the most treasured collections in the museum.

The highlights include Tang dynasty Sancai ceramics and delicately crafted Qing imperial china. Look out for the ceramic pillows, an interesting, but not very comfortable, household additional.

From calligraphy to paintings

The Chinese calligraphy gallery traces the origins and development of this ancient art and culminates in some of the great works of calligraphic art. Also, on display at the Shanghai Museum, you’ll find 120 ancient Chinese paintings, many of them masterpieces from the largest collection of paintings in China.

Ancient household relics

Intricately carved furniture from the Ming and Qing Dynasty stand as a tribute to the fine craftsmanship of the ancient woodcarvers. All are made using Chinese jointing rather than nails or screws.

One of the most interesting sections is the minority nationality art, which contains jewellery clothing and utensils once used by Chinese ethnic minorities. These include Mongolian, Tibetan and Taiwanese people.

Useful advice for your visit to Shanghai Museum

  • The museum is located next to People’s Square in the centre of Shanghai.
  • Two million people visit the museum every year. If you want to beat the crowds, avoid the weekends.
  • It is worth investing in an audio guide as English signage in the museum is sparse and incomplete.
  • Opening times: 9am to 5pm
  • Entrance Fee: Free
  • Time to tour: Approx. 2 hours

Ryan O'Rourke is a seasoned traveler and the founder & editor of Treksplorer, a fiercely independent guide to mid-range luxury travel for busy people. With over 20 years of extensive travel experience, Ryan has journeyed through over 50 countries, uncovering hidden gems and sharing firsthand, unsponsored insights on what to see & do and where to eat, drink & stay. Backed by his travel experience and in-depth research, Ryan’s travel advice and writing has been featured in publications like the Huffington Post and Matador Network. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter/X at @rtorourke.

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