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Revisiting Shanghai homes in days of yore

June 28, 2020

Nostalgic and nationalistic, the exhibition “Old Shanghai, Our Home” in Yuyuan Garden brings visitors back to the days of yore through more than 100 old-fashioned furniture pieces and daily necessities once used in ordinary Shanghai households over the past century.
One’s childhood memories are suddenly restored and refreshed upon seeing old items, such as a rusty White Rabbit candy box, dusty Warrior volleyball shoes, broken wooden storage cases for Bright ice cream and a still operational Butterfly sewing machine.
“These are daily items once used by ordinary people with no commercial or artistic value,” said Chen Bai, founder and curator of the Collection Museum of Shanghai Modern that donated the collections to the exhibition. “But they are part of the city’s memories and the epitome of the public’s aesthetic consciousness.”
Set up in three typical living rooms of the time, the immersive exhibition features three different eras deeply imprinted with time brand marks — 1920s-40s, 1950s-70s and 1980s-90s — offering a reminiscent glimpse of traditional Shanghai homes.
The 1920 to 1940 Shanghai was a period of neon lights, rickshaws, movie theaters, ladies in qipao dress and lives of struggle in shikumen (stone-gate) houses. To revive a typical living room of the time, a German vintage radio in a wooden case sits on an old camphor chest of drawers, while the wall is decorated with a poster of the famous movie star Hu Die (1908-89). The calendar ends on April 19, 1933, and the leather suitcase by the door suggests the room’s owner is about to go on a trip.
Time flies to 1950-70 in the next living room, an epoch of changes, new hopes and turbulence. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Shanghai shouldered the task of supporting the nation’s construction due to the city’s strong industrial force, making “made in Shanghai” a guarantee of quality.
In this room, Shanghai-made products are everywhere, from Red Lantern radio to Zhonghua toothpaste. A Hero pen and Maries ink are on a desk, loaded with books full of Chairman Mao’s quotations and notepads.
A marriage certificate pressed under desk glass shows a couple married in 1959, and White Rabbit candies in a tray imply there are probably kids in the family. A marble bust of Mao in the room’s closet was a political and cultural symbol of the time.
The Shanghai living room of 1980-90 is upgraded with modern household appliances, such as a TV set, refrigerator and electric fan, thanks to government policies of reform and opening up to the world. Drawers are full of pop-star cassettes from Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the 1984 calendar, printed by Shanghai Jiangnan Paper Mill, shows the city with more tall buildings and busy streets.
Exhibition info
Date: Through August 1, 10am-8pm
Admission:Free
Address: 2F, 67 Wenchang Road (near the No. 8 Gate of Yuyuan Garden Malls)