Archive for 'Shanghai'

The Other Shanghai: a sea voyage the hard way

“The year 1871 was not particularly important in the development of Shanghai as a physical place, but was noteworthy when it comes to historiography…the Oxford English Dictionary singles it out as the year during which “to shanghai” began to appear in newspapers.”

Jeffrey Wasserstrom,

Global Shanghai, 1850-2010: A History in Fragments


Currently enthralled with all manner of 19th Century appurtenances, San Francisco is home to a second golden age of handlebar mustaches and historic cocktails served in period-specific bars.  Luckily for 21st century patrons, the fascination is all surface: absent are the trapdoors and opium-laced cocktails that made the city’s storied drinking holes famous for shanghaiing.  Precious little romance was involved in the process, as quite a number of men died while being taken, and unseasoned civilians were just as likely to fall to a drugged drink or truncheon.  Once aboard, a man dared not tell how he came to be there–his hope lay in being able to jump ship or find his fortune at the end of the line in Shanghai.

Also called “crimping,” the system was essential to early San Francisco’s maritime trade for the simple reason that more money could be made from the land than from the sea.  A sailor shipping out of San Francisco could earn many times more than at any other port of call, yet very few chose seagoing toil when a potential fortune was to be found on land.  The shortfall was made up the hard way.

The practice was hardly unusual or mysterious–the British impressed enough American sailors into their navy so as to cause ill feelings between the two countries.  But in its inimitable way, San Francisco found a way to put its own mark on this ignominious history.

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If you didn’t get enough qipao in the Shanghai exhibition (it is a broad survey, after all), I recommend you see what Softfilm was up to at the Hong Kong Museum of History.  Nearly 300 examples of the classic dress are on view and not one that can be tried on–talk about heaven and hell.
Many thanks to Dave for the great photos!

Vestiges of a Process: Shanghai Shikumen

We get a lot of crazy questions in the museum store, like “How much is that?”  Ordinarily  this is not an unusual question, given the nature of our endeavors, but in this instance patrons are pointing out Jian-Jun Zhang’s installation, Vestiges of a Process: Shanghai Garden.

Even those who don’t follow the art market know that major Chinese contemporary art is priced out of the the means of most apartment-dwelling San Franciscans, so the question “How much is it?” is a question not asked casually.

tilt-shifting courtesy of TC

tilt-shifting courtesy of TC

If you’ve seen the Shanghai exhibition, Zhang’s work is the one comprised of bricks from dismantled shikumen, as well as life-sized silicon rubber scholar’s rocks and an unsettlingly flesh-hued vessel.  For those of you who require a little more  background, see this earlier post.

Happy news for those of us who like to buy art and afford lunch, as Zhang has proven in a multiple charting the disappearance of old Shanghai.  His Vestiges of a Process: Shanghai Shikumen, consists of an enevelope of nine photographs of the rapidly disintegrating past and a wee paper boat to help you travel the waters of memory.  Both the folded boat and envelope are fashioned out of a painted composite map of Shanghai showing the restlessness of the landscape.  The best part?  This artist’s work is $15.


(very not-to-scale)

There’s little chance that I’ll ever be able to buy anything that we exhibit in the museum–minus what’s in the museum store.  I’ll take what I can get, until someone wants to gift me one of the great rubber scholars rocks.

Shanghai in a minute

Here’s an amazing time lapse video of Shanghai.

Shanghai-ed | Shanghai In a Minute from Joe Nafis on Vimeo.

The Other Shanghai: Oakland?

photo courtesy of Bunky's Pickle

photo courtesy of Bunky's Pickle © used with permission

Although 1940s Shanghai had lost considerable luster courtesy of occupation, war, and revolution, another Shanghai was angling to take its place.  In the same fashion that Hollywood had been responsible for inspiring glamor the world over, nightclubs in search of their own golden era underwent a certain Shanghai-ification.  The city offered a powerful syllogism, an invocation that promised delight and unparalleled decadence.  Even pre-Castro Cuba with its tropical,  imperialist-friendly allure was home to a theater christened “The Shanghai.”

And then there was Oakland. 
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China in the 21st Century–discussion on KPFA this morning

Jeffrey Wasserstrom gave a really interesting interview on KPFA this morning about China. (He comes on at 34 minutes into the morning show).

The Morning Show – June 1, 2010 at 7:00am

Click to listen (or download)

It made me think anew about the rapid changes China has undergone over the past 40 years. When asked for his predictions for the future of China, Jeffrey said he expects China to keep surprising us since all predictions have been off base for a long time. Jeffrey, who is professor of History at UC Irvine, will be at the Asian introducing some films about contemporary China on September 5 at 11am and 2pm, and at 12pm will be signing copies of his books, including his latest Global Shanghai, 1850–2010.

Shanghai dioramas

A couple years ago, I traveled to Shanghai for the first time on a solo trip. It was awesome! With the World Expo now underway, it seems timely to honor our sister city’s huge “coming out” party with a personal celebration of the unique metropolis.

I’d like to share my pictures from the Shanghai Municipal History Museum. It’s located in Pudong, on the less “interesting” side of the Huangpu River (more developed, boring), in the basement of the iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower.

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Art outside our doors

If you’ve been around the museum this morning, you’ve probably noticed a flurry of activity across the street from us. In celebration of the Shanghai San Francisco Sister City 30th Anniversary Celebration, the  San Francisco Arts Commission is presenting a colossal sculpture by Chinese artist Zhang Huan, titled Three Heads Six Arms (2008).

We blogged about this upcoming addition to the neighborhood some months ago, and are now thrilled to actually see it going up right outside our doors!


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A Curator’s Notes – Women in Shanghai, Part 1

Historically, many battles have been fought over the body of the woman. So we knew that the images of Chinese women presented in the Shanghai exhibition would be a hot topic of discussion. Interestingly, the most passionate reactions expressed by the public have been focused on a group of images that have these two characteristics:

  1. The images were for commercial use, and
  2. The majority of them date to the 1920s and 1930s.

I am curious to understand why that is. So in this multipart series (I don’t even know how many blog postings I will need!), I will attempt to make connections that may have been missed or misread, using the artworks and the available texts in the exhibition, such as object labels, wall panels, and exhibition catalogue. But right off the bat, I must say, I am having fun with this topic and it is an incredible challenge!

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In case you were wondering,

THIS is what is going on in Shanghai right now.  And this.  But my favorite has to be this. These days I’m just as likely to click on Shanghaiist as I am SFist.  It isn’t enough that I have to keep up with what’s going on in San Francisco; I have to take our sister city arrangement very seriously.

While there’s plenty of excitement in all this potential energy, I’m actually more interested in what will remain after the Shanghai Expo.  We seemed to make out alright, didn’t we?


PS good job Shanghaiist!  We look forward to your reportage over the coming months.