Although I’m sure we didn’t plan it this way, our second day in Shanghai turned out to be a day of cultural restoration, and I was astounded by what I saw.
We began with a morning outing to the Shanghai Museum of ancient Chinese art. Since it was rush hour, we elected to take the subway and thus avoid Shanghai’s notoriously difficult traffic. Although I had received repeated warnings about how crazy and packed it might be during rush hour, I was looking forward to the subway ride. While the train we boarded was certainly crowded, the station and its platforms weren’t. They were nowhere near the claustrophobic feel of a Green line station after a Red Sox game.
We exited the subway at the People’s Park, which is rich in history and beautiful to behold even in winter. We cruised around it twice before someone finally realized that we didn’t know how to get through the park and to the museum.
When we finally arrived at the museum, the curator of the bronzes was there to meet us and introduce us to their amazing collection. It was fascinating to watch those in our group who had grown up in China react to the pieces that they had studied growing up. I was reminded again of how little of China’s history I had learned while growing up.
From the bronze exhibits, the museum staff took us upstairs to see how they restored and maintained the objects in the collection. From looking at the pieces on display, I had assumed that they had found the objects largely intact. Nope. We were introduced to the one person they had on staff to restore the ancient bronze pieces the museum collected. This person would painstakingly spend months restoring just a single object. To my surprise, he didn’t just clean the object; he rebuilt objects. They showed us one piece, a bronze bowl, which was found mostly destroyed, and then reconstructed by this person. Since a little over half the bowl survived, the gentleman in the bronze restoration department rebuilt the entire bowl by assuming the missing part was a mirror image of the surviving part. To a layman like me, I couldn’t tell the original part from the reconstructed part. Is this what happens in U.S. museums?
Around lunchtime, we departed the museum for a “little” restoration project on the outskirts of Shanghai. This was creative reconstruction on a massive scale. The project involved the transplantation of thousands of 1,000-year-old trees and 30-some centuries-old houses of government officials from one part of China to a former industrial park outside of Shanghai. This dilapidated industrial park was going to become a beautiful new resort where guests could relax in 7-star accommodations built inside centuries-old framing.
I’ve included here pictures of the model home (you’d rent the entire house), one of the trees currently sitting in a tree farm awaiting its final destination, and a stone carving from one of the deconstructed old houses. Like we witnessed at the Shanghai Museum, here we watched one guy restoring the houses’ stone carvings. In this case, fixing the damage done during the Cultural Revolution. One guy creating new heads on century-old bodies, in whatever creative, historically similar way he chose. Fascinating.