I think the coolest (and weirdest) thing I did in Shanghai was visit this underground propaganda art museum! Even on paper it sounds cool. While I like to think I was briefly part of some secret, rebellious movement, the government are actually aware of it’s existence and licensed it in 2012.
Still, a bit of context, it’s controversial to some extent because after Chairman Mao died, Deng Xiaoping (the then-President of China) had many propaganda posters destroyed to ‘cleanse’ the country of it’s brutal recent history. Clearly many posters survived this cull and a large number are displayed in this private museum. The owner of the museum began collecting them in 1995 and set up the museum in 2002 as he wants to preserve these pieces of history, no matter how uncomfortable it might be to relive.
One of the best (and weirdest) parts of visiting the museum is it’s location. If I hadn’t have read about how to get there online beforehand, I would have been utterly bemused. The museum is located in the former French Concession and is about a 15/20 minute walk from the nearest station Jiangsu Road. However, it’s precise location is in the basement of a residential housing block! Feeling very James-Bond-esque, you have to approach the security guard at the gate of the building complex and, without saying anything, he’ll give you a small card which has directions to the museum written on it.
When you’re walking down those stairs of the buliding, it definitely feels like the kind of place your mother would ban you from ever stepping foot in but stick with it. When I went, I heard two English people walking not too far behind me so thought nothing too terrible could happen to me. And if we were to be kidnapped, at least us 3 Brits would be together.
Entry to the museum is 20RMB and more than worth it. There are two big rooms full of more than 6,000 posters dating from the 1940s right up to the 1990s. The museum staff seemed very willing to answer questions. Most of the biggest posters, and some of the smaller ones, have translations and explanations in English and French. Some posters don’t have any translation but you can get the general gist of the poser from it’s English title plus they date every poster and they’re all displayed in chronological order.
I know there were signs saying not to take photos, and I have no excuse really, but other people were taking sneaky phone photos too!! So here are a couple of the posters:
The museum also has a well-stocked gift shop where you can buy various books about Chinese art and propaganda history as well as a massive selection of poster prints and sizes to buy plus lots of postcards. Since space (and money) was at a premium for me, I got a generous stack of propaganda postcards. (But for those buying the prints, where are you sticking that 5 foot poster of Chairman Mao?? I would love to see the home or office you inhabit).
This visit was such a unique cultural and historical experience that really added to my China experience. Don’t let the awkward location put you off from visiting!