Some of the PRC’s most influential figures have resided in Shanghai. Time Out takes a tour of five of the most prominent preserved homes to see if they’re worth a visit
Who is he? Zhou Shuren, better known by his pen name, is today one of China’s most celebrated literary figures. Having taken part in revolutionary activities organised by Sun Yat-sen (see below) as a student in Japan in 1902, Lu became a key figure in post-imperial China and founded the influential Chinese League of Left-Wing Writers in Shanghai in 1930.
The residence This three floor, red-brick townhouse is a memorial to Lu Xun’s final years – he lived here from 1933 until his death in October 1936. Sparsely decorated and dotted with faded sepia-toned photographs, the house remains mostly unaltered since the writer’s demise, and has not been converted into a glossy museum like some of the other dwellings on this list. The cupboards and cabinets still contain the books, bowls and bottles of medicine he left behind, with the smell of dust adding to the air of authenticity. The guided tour (in Chinese only) takes only a few minutes as you’re taken through the historical house at breakneck speed, barely pausing for breath beside the exhibits.
Best bit The neighbourhood. Be sure to knock on Lu’s door if you’re in the area, but the ten minute tour of the house doesn’t quite warrant a dedicated journey. The surrounding foreign concession-style lanes lined with plane trees and conifers are much more worthy of your time. The main drag of Duolun Lu cultural street may feel a bit tacky in places, but the alleyways that lead off from it provide plenty of distraction, as does the nearby park that bears the author’s name. To get the best out of the area, follow our Hongkou walk at www.timeoutshanghai.com/treasurehunt.
Verdict A visit to this humble home is just 8RMB (4RMB/student) for a reason: the viewing is quick and the guidance minimal. There are leaflets in English, but if you don’t speak Mandarin you’re better off swotting up on Lu Xun’s life before you visit.
Who is he? The tunic-wearing, cigar-smoking Communist leader is as iconically Chinese as the Great Wall.
The residence Mao is said to have visited Shanghai over 50 times, but this is his only former abode open to the public. The small residence situated in a shaded shikumen courtyard on Maoming Lu is where he spent his longest visit (in 1924). Inside you can tour Mao’s small living space: the entrance hall furnished with Qing dynasty tables and chairs; the bedroom of Mao’s mother-in-law; and the family bedroom, containing wax figures of Mao, his first wife Yang Kaihui and his two sons. The second floor has been converted into a simple exhibition room presenting Mao’s family life and revolutionary work through photography, old letters and personal artifacts including his favourite brand of cigar (Shifang, from Sichuan), a worn out leather chair, and earth from where his eldest son was buried.
Best bit It’s free. In addition, volunteer guides are happy to patiently show you through the upstairs exhibits in both English and Chinese, supplementing the already decent signage.
Verdict Only part of Mao’s original living space remains due to the upstairs exhibition conversion and a ‘VIP staff room’. Those who expect to see the house in its original condition might be disappointed, but the house still does a reasonable job of capturing the essence of the era along with providing an (unsurprisingly positive) introduction to the life of the Chairman.
Who is she? Also known as Madame Sun Yat-sen and one third of the famous Soong sisters, she helped shape modern Chinese politics through her involvement in both the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Communist Party, as well as becoming the first non-royal female leader of the country. Her sister Meiling married KMT leader Chiang Kaishek and their former residence is now Sasha’s on Dongping Lu.
The residence Contrasted against the frugal dwellings of some of the Communists on this list, Soong’s former wealth is palpable. The residence includes a mansion-style main building, a 2,200sqm garden with fragrant magnolias and camphor trees, a garage with two 1950s luxury limousines (one a present from Stalin), and a dovecot. The residence is as well organised as many fully functional museum. An exhibition hall tells the story of her life through belongings such as her handbag, record collection and Go set, which rest securely behind glass cabinets, while the home itself allows for an intimate wander through the lavishly furnished house of a political celebrity. Immaculate bilingual signage is supplemented by audio guides in five languages giving step-by-step explanations of Soong’s life and political work.
Best bit The home itself is impressive, mostly for the sheer wealth on display – from carved wooden lampshades and rosewood fireplace screens to original oil paintings.
Verdict With informative, well presented displays, an admirable garden and the house itself, the 20RMB entrance fee goes a long way. Whether you wish to soak up some history or just admire the magnolias, this historical landmark is a great alternative museum, and well worth dropping by.
Who? The first president of the Republic of China, Sun quit his job as a doctor to become a key leader of the rebellion against the Qing dynasty. His legacy is claimed by both the KMT in Taiwan and the Communist Party on the Mainland, although much of his political life was spent in exile.
The residence A museum adjacent to the house tells the story of Sun’s life in fastidious detail with rows of glass cabinets featuring both English and Chinese signs. The house itself, located beside Fuxing Park, displays everything supposedly as it was when Sun lived and worked there with Soong Ching-ling (see above) from 1918-1924.
Best bit The audio tour, which provides a colourful portrait of Sun. Delving into intricate detail, it can get a little dense at times, but it makes the exhibit worth seeing.
Verdict A must-see for those who wish to learn more about the father of modern China.
Sun Yat-sen 7 Xiangshan Lu, near Sinan Lu.
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Who is he? An influential revolutionary, Zhou worked closely with Mao (see above) as the first Premier of the People’s Republic of China from 1949 until his death.
The residence Located a few doors down from the Sinan Mansions complex and Sun Yat-sen’s former residence, Zhou’s four storey former French Concession house features sparsely decorated rooms with only a few belongings in each. More often than not, bare white walls are accompanied merely by replica beds, desks and signs declaring which room you’re in. As we went to press, scaffolding was thrown up around the building and it is now closed until November 15. We’re hoping the preservation work will include a revamp of the museum.
Best bit The garden – supposedly recreated to look as it did when Zhou held meetings there from 1946-7, when the house was the Shanghai Office of the CPC Delegation – is especially pleasant, if only as a break from the house’s bland rooms.
Verdict Zhou is an interesting figure, but the pre-renovation museum is not.
Colin Peebles Christensen