The Conservation of Shanghai’s Diverse Cultural Heritageby Chen Xiejun

Museum International


Conservation / Museology


The Conservation of Shanghai’s

Diverse Cultural Heritage by Chen Xiejun

Chen Xiejun, research fellow, is Director of the Shanghai Museum, a role which he combines with being an executive on the Museum Association of the Asia Europe Foundation and Vice

Chair of the China National Committee of the International Museum Association. He is also

Assistant Director of the Chinese Society of Museums and Assistant Director of the Shanghai

Association of Museums of Culture. His principal research interests are philosophy, modern urban culture, new scientific macroscopic theories, library studies and museology. He is the author of, among others, Time and Motion Studies in Life and Various Life Studies. He is currently studying for a doctorate at the Philosophy Department of St. Louis University,

Washington DC.

Following substantive developments in Shanghai’s culture in technological, economic and societal terms, the conservation of Shanghai’s diverse cultural heritage has increasingly become a topic of daily conversation and has gradually entered the common consciousness.

Shanghai Museum and the conservation of a diverse cultural heritage within the context of globalization

From a once sluggish trickle to today’s headlong rush, globalization has become a topical issue that museums simply cannot ignore. The International

Association of Museums held major conferences in

Stavanger in 1995, Melbourne in 1998 and Tokyo in 2002, at all of which the vital question of ‘globalization and museums’ was discussed earnestly. ‘Globalization’ and ‘Chinese-ness’, openness and nationalism, the melting pot and the individual – these opposing traditions cannot but 100 ISSN 1350-0775, No. 237–238 (Vol. 60, No. 1–2, 2008) ª UNESCO 2008

Published by UNESCO Publishing and Blackwell Publishing Ltd. strengthen demands for a distinctive cultural consciousness within museums.

Over the last half-century, the Shanghai

Museum – considered as one of the great windows onto classical Chinese art – has gathered together more than 1 million precious artefacts, including up to 120,000 priceless cultural relics. These can be categorized into bronzes, ceramics, calligraphy, silk paintings, oracle bones, steles, jade objects, dental items, silk tapestries, minority ethnic handicrafts, foreign handicrafts and various miscellaneous objects. Its three most prominent collections are bronzes, ceramics and painting and calligraphy. Since its opening in 1952, the

Shanghai Museum has been an enthusiastic instigator of change, taking a lead in hosting international exhibitions and strengthening transnational research through global informationsharing – one of the remarkable features of the ‘era of global museums’. Confronted with the realities of globalization, it has demonstrated the great importance it attaches to the protection of a diverse cultural heritage. This is mirrored in the museum’s approach with regard to practical questions concerning the implementation of new ideas, the creation of commercial products, and the scientific management and development of exhibition space.

The conservation of Shanghai’s cultural heritage and its impact on city life

Throughout its long history, Shanghai has developed an extremely rich and diverse cultural heritage. Evidence can be found of the ancient cultures of the Majiabang ( ) from 6,000 years ago, the Songze of 5,000 years ago, the

Liangzhu of 4,000 years ago, and the Maqiao of 3,700 years ago. Cultural remains from the

Neolithic period and the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties are clearly visible in Shanghai, constituting the origins and cultural roots of the city. Artefacts have been found in over twentyseven ancient cultural sites around Shanghai with great importance being ascribed to the ongoing search. In addition to requiring painstaking conservation, this priceless ancient cultural heritage must be developed and its cultural sources turned to good account as a vital part of the city’s cultural life.

During China’s period of industrialization,

Shanghai in the 1920s quickly established itself as a centre for the textile industry, railways and shipyards. These form the basis of what is still a rich urban industrial heritage. For this reason,

Shanghai needs to adopt differing conservation methods to meet varying needs and conditions.

If cooperation is established between neighbourhoods with specific cultural features, then comprehensive sets of plans can be implemented at industrial heritage sites. Lessons learned from the experience of New York garment workshops underline the need for ensuring the establishment of solid cultural foundations when transforming old districts and restructuring industrial wastelands. For example, 50 Moganshan Road was originally an old factory and warehouse whose history can be traced back to the 1930s. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, a group of artists took it over and transformed it into a modern art gallery. This regeneration succeeded in inspiring other industrial parks to incorporate visual art as a vital component of Shanghai’s cultural creativity. Other examples that can be cited include Tangshan

The Conservation of Shanghai’s Diverse Cultural Heritage

Chen Xiejun

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Road and Duolun Road, but the spirit of innovation can be found in places throughout the city, creating a diversified cultural scene and adding individual streaks of colour to a multifaceted urban landscape.

The principle raison d’eˆtre for a museum is the protection of cultural heritage, but this is not confined merely to the conservation of collections, but incorporates information and valuation systems for cultural heritage as a whole. It is immaterial to the valuation process whether the items are tangible or intangible. The concept of an overarching cultural heritage rests on the premise that one of the most important heritage mechanisms is the obligation incumbent on the museum to pursue rigorously its own conservation goals, including: heritage valuations, development targets and the application of appropriate technologies.