The unmistakeable pot-shaped Shanghai Museum (上海博物馆, shànghăi bówùguăn) is one of the city’s highlights, with a fantastic, well-presented collection. On the ground floor, the gallery of ancient bronzes holds cooking vessels, containers and weapons, many covered with intricate geometrical designs that reference animal shapes – check out the cowrie container from the Western Han dynasty, with handles shaped like stalking tigers. Most of the exhibits in the sculpture gallery next door are of religious figures – boggle-eyed temple guardians, serene Buddhas and the like, including a row of huge, fearsome Tang-dynasty heads. Tang-dynasty figurines again steal the show in the first-floor ceramics gallery, in the form of multicoloured ferocious-looking beasties placed to guard tombs.
On the second floor, skip the calligraphy and carved seals unless you have a special interest and investigate the painting gallery, which shows some amazingly naturalistic Ming-dynasty images of animals. The colourful top-floor exhibition dedicated to Chinese minority peoples is the museum highlight. One wall is lined with spooky lacquered masks from Tibet and Guizhou, while nearby are colourfully decorated boats from the Taiwanese minority, the Gaoshan. The silver ceremonial headdresses of southwest China’s Miao people are breathtaking for their intricacy, if rather impractical to wear. Elaborate abstract designs turn the Dai lacquered tableware into art. In the section on traditional costumes, look out for the fish-skin suit made by the Hezhen people of Dongbei, in the far north.