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Exhibition features the tales of two cities: Shanghai and Hong Kong

     Shanghai and Hong Kong started to develop almost simultaneously and shared the same pattern of development. The stories of the two coastal cities began more than a century ago around the Huangpu River and Victoria Harbour respectively. Magnificent architecture sprang up along the coasts and the building clusters later became the Bund in Shanghai and City of Victoria in Hong Kong. In the two cities, the foreign interacted with the local, the traditional merged with the modern, and the new fused with the old to form a unique cosmopolitan lifestyle.

     To give the public a better idea of how the two cities developed, the Hong Kong Museum of History has organised an exhibition, entitled "Modern Metropolis: Material Culture of Shanghai and Hong Kong". The exhibition illustrates how Shanghai and Hong Kong pioneered China's modernisation, showing the two cities' open, innovative, diversified and commercial way of life through clothing, food, living environment, public transportation, culture and entertainment through 240 sets of exhibits.

     Jointly presented by the Shanghai Administration of Culture Heritage and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, and organised by the Hong Kong Museum of History and the Shanghai History Museum, the exhibition will be held at the Museum of History from tomorrow (April 29) to August 17.

     The development of modern infrastructure in Shanghai and Hong Kong began simultaneously. Within a short period, Guangzhou's prestigious status as China's window for foreign trade was taken over by Shanghai and Hong Kong. During the 1920s and 1930s, Shanghai and Hong Kong boasted an image of modernity, and the cities were known across China for their consumer culture, leisure and entertainment industries, modern thinking and living. As foreign travels were not yet common, the people of China savoured glimpses of Shanghai and Hong Kong as their first encounter with modernity. The sights and sounds at the Bund in Shanghai and on the northern coast of Hong Kong Island echoed far beyond the cities' borders, while urban facilities like coffeehouses, cinemas, amusement parks, dance halls, restaurants, hotels and racecourses enthralled residents and visitors alike.

     Behind the veil of vibrant material culture, the spiritual culture of Shanghai and Hong Kong also thrived at the forefront of China's development. Due to the cities' cosmopolitan outlook and unique establishments, the most radical thoughts and trends took root in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Their international perspectives accommodated new ideas, which were manifested in leisure readings, advertisements, foreign films and Western fashions. The entrepreneurial spirit of the twin cities enabled a receptive attitude to change, which led to reform of old customs. The expression "modern" thus embodied much more than merely materialistic prosperity.

     The First Opium War, from 1839 to 1842, opened a new chapter in the history of Shanghai and Hong Kong. When the war ended in 1842, China signed the Treaty of Nanking with Britain, the first unequal treaty in modern Chinese history. Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain and Shanghai was opened as a trading port, marking the start of modernisation in the cities. In the following 100 years, Shanghai and Hong Kong led the rest of China in urban development.

     Shanghai and Hong Kong assumed special status as the hub of everything foreign due to the special historical circumstances of the 19th century. With travelling merchants stopping by frequently and the influx of new foreign objects and ideas, the two cities opened the window to modern Western civilisation for Chinese people. During China's quest for modernisation, the two cities grew, with development centred around Shanghai's Huangpu River and Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour, which later evolved into the Bund in Shanghai and City of Victoria in Hong Kong. Their relatively advanced economy and stable social environment, in contrast to the turbulence that troubled Mainland China at the time, drew people from all over the country to Shanghai or Hong Kong. At the same time, the two cities played host to many foreign merchants, missionaries, tourists and adventurers and this rapid flow of people helped accelerate modernisation. In a city full of skyscrapers, native residents of Shanghai and Hong Kong developed a unique cosmopolitan way of life, with their Chinese lifestyle having been strongly influenced by Western habits, cultures and systems. The two cities epitomised modern living and were synonymous with "new lifestyle" and "modernisation".

     The emergence and development of Shanghai and Hong Kong, along with their interactive relationship, is significant. "A Tale of Two Cities" has always deeply fascinated scholars in China and abroad. This exhibition presents a rich collection of artefacts and photographs, which illustrate how Shanghai and Hong Kong have developed, adopting new thoughts, technologies, lifestyles and professions from the West, and how these innovations became commonplace throughout China.

     The Museum of History is located at 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday and from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays). Admission is $10, with a half-price concession for full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

     For details of the exhibition, please visit the Museum of History's websites at or, or call 2724 9042.

Ends/Tuesday, April 28, 2009


One of the exhibits, "Calendar poster of The Nanyang Brothers Tobacco Company". Registered in Hong Kong, The Nanyang Brothers Tobacco Company was founded by brothers Kan Chiu-nam and Kan Yuk-kai in 1905. After the 1911 revolution, the National Products Movement was in full swing. The company set up a factory in Shanghai in 1916, and in the four years that followed, recorded profits of more than one million yuan annually. Painter Pan Dawei was appointed chief of advertising in 1913 and he participated in the design of calendar posters and cigarette cards to boost sales.


One of the exhibits, "Letter by Qiying to Hong Kong Governor John Francis Davis". Qiying was the leading Qing official responsible for the negotiations for and signing of the Treaty of Nanking. From 1844 to 1848, as Governor-General of Guangdong and Guangxi, he and John Francis Davis negotiated issues such as foreigners' entry to Guangzhou and the return of Zhoushan to China. Davis was the second Governor of Hong Kong as well as the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to China at the time. In this letter, Qiying writes, "the entry issue is a small one; Zhoushan is much more important". His plan was to allow British people to enter the city of Guangzhou in exchange for the return of Zhoushan. Located close to Shanghai, Zhoushan occupies a strategic position at the mouth of the Yangtze River. The letter was translated into English by Karl Gutzlaff, a German missionary who was appointed Chinese Secretary to the Colonial Government of Hong Kong in 1843.


One of the exhibits, "Studio camera". Hong Kong' s first photo studio opened in Central in 1845. Before the Second World War , photographers used glass negatives, instead of plastic filmstrips, to take photographs. Photosensitive solution was applied on the glass negative before a photograph was taken. Yet because it took longer for the glass negative to respond to light, the subject often had to pose in front of the camera for more than 10 minutes before one photograph was taken.


One of the exhibits, "Short-sleeved velvet qipao". During the early 20th century, Western-style ladies' clothing became popular in Shanghai' s cultural and social circles. Around the 1930s, women mainly wore the qipao. Modern women such as film actresses were especially fond of the qipao.


One of the exhibits, "Snooker cue and balls". In the 1880s, snooker, referred to as "danziqiu", emerged in Chinese amusement parks. The first Chinese-owned snooker halls in Shanghai were found in teahouses on Fuzhou Road as well as high-end hotels. At the time, many snooker players were sons of rich families.  


One of the exhibits, "Advertising poster featuring girl in tennis attire". When tennis was first introduced to Shanghai in the late Qing Dynasty, it was only played by foreigners in their own clubs. After the 1910s, a tennis frenzy swept Shanghai, revolutionising fashion and marking the popularisation of sportswear. The trendy woman was characterised by culottes and a tennis racquet in hand.


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