Sunday, Oct. 19, 2008

3. Shanghai Museum

Given its much-vaunted 5,000 years of history, China's museums are, in general, a sorry lot. Exhibits are badly lighted, the English information often a jumble of incomprehensible nouns. (In truth, some of China's finest artwork was carted off by the departing Nationalists in 1949, when they quit the mainland for Taiwan. But that still doesn't excuse the pathetic state in which most of the country's national treasures are displayed.) The Shanghai Museum, located on People's Square, is a welcome antidote to all that's dark and dingy. You don't — and shouldn't — try to digest it all in one go. My suggestion: Pick one section, whether it's calligraphy or jades or ceramics, and dig in. Personally, I find the bronzes strangely fascinating; in fact, the shape of the museum itself mimics that of an ancient bronze cauldron.