I take an easy weekend and just walk around People’s Park (人民公园) and grab some coffee on a nearby Starbuck.


People’s Park (人民公园) Quite a gloomy weather on January.

From the People’s park I decide to visit the Shanghai Museum (上海博物馆). It’s a high time I visit one since to know the country you’re visiting, go to the heart summary of the culture, a good museum. Good thing it’s close to People’s square, only a block or two away from People’s park.

Shanghai Museum started in 1952 at Nanjing Road. After several decades of political climate, the collections are increase and the building can’t contain all the artifacts. The former director Ma Chengyuan (马承源) move the museum to its current location and raise funds to rebuilt the Shanghai Museum in its current incarnation. The Museum is open in 1996 with 29.5 meters high and 39.200m² with five floors. It was designed by Xing Tonghe (邢同和) with the modern interpretation shape of “round sky, square earth” (天圆地方, Tiān yuán dìfāng). In Chinese cosmology from Han Dynasty, Heaven is round and Earth is square.



The Lobby from the top floor. It’s a free entry to the museum.

Right from the start, I want to see the minority tribes custom and culture, so I go right up the the third floor at the Kadoorie Gallery of Chinese Minority Nationalities Art. What they call minorities in China are non-Han Chinese. There are more or less 55 minorities in China, in Chinese term Shaoshu Minzu (数民族, minority nationality) or sometimes called Ethnic groups.



Accessories from Tajiks (Tujik; 塔吉克族) ethnic group from Xinjiang, Uyghur Autonomous region. Early 20th century.

Another area I would love to visit, Xinjiang is the the northwest province in China, borderline with Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.


Woman’s batik garment from Bouyei (Buxqyaix,布依族) Zhenming, Guizhou. Early 20th century.

The Bouyei ethnic group comes from southern mainland China. Some of the people also live in north Vietnam. In China, the occupied Guizhou, Yunnan and Sichuan provinces and can speak Tai language and has similarity with Zhuang people.


Woman’s embroidered garment from Yi (彝族), Yunnan, early 20th century.

The Yi (彝族) people primary live in Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangxi. Some even settle in Vietnam and Thailand. The Yi ethnic tribe lives mostly in Yunan, southwest of China, borders with Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar. Other ethnic groups also considered as Yi (彝族) are Nasu people (纳苏), Lolo/Luóluó (猓猓, 倮倮, or 罗罗) and Pu (濮).

Ceremonial Dress, Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族), from Xiahe, Gansu, early 20th Century.

Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族) are ethnic group from Tibet Autonomous Region in China. Culturally, Tibetan art with deeply mythology and religious influence, language (The Tibetic languages, བོད་སྐད།) and practive Tibetan Buddhism religion with a small Bon and Muslim minority. Some of the people also live in India, Nepal and Bhutan as Tibet borders with these countries. Tibet is another place I would love to visit, despite the constriction and politics in the area.


Woman’s Ceremonial dress, Yugur or Yellow Uyghurs (裕固族), Zhangye, Gansu, early 20th century.

Yugur or Yellow Uyghur (裕固族) ethnic group live in Sunan Yugur Autonomous county in Gansu, northwest China. Gansu located between Tibetan and Loess plateaus and borders with Mongolia. Predominantly Tibetan Buddhist.


Ishan’s woolen garment and hat (left). Uyghur (ئۇيغۇر,  维吾尔族) and Woman’s grey cape with embroidery trim. Uzbek (乌孜别克族). Both are from Kashgar, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Early 20th century.

Uyghur (ئۇيغۇر,  维吾尔族), together with Uzbek (乌孜别克族) and Yellow Uyghur (裕固族) share a Turkic ethnic group living in central asia. Uyghur people are mostly now live in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. They are primary practice Islam and Xinjiang as one of the largest Muslim community and Mosque in China. 

Uzbek (乌孜别克族) is another Turkic ethnic group in Central Asia, with majority of the people came from Uzbekistan. Like Uyghur (ئۇيغۇر,  维吾尔族) people, they also practice Muslim Sunni. 

That’s it. I really want to go to Xinjiang one of these days.


Woman’s ensemble, Dai (傣族) ethnic group from Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, early 20th century

Dai (傣族) ethnic group live mostly in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture and the Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan. Since both areas are very close to Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, they shared mostly the same characteristic from culture, food, art, architecture and language. They even may speak Tai language like the Yi ethnic group.

The ethnic groups in China are famous for their dyeing, weaving and embroidery. They employ different techniques of monochrome paper board or multi colored woodblocks. There’s the Uyghur (ئۇيغۇر,  维吾尔族) with color printing, the Bai (白族) for tie dyeing and Miao (苗族) and Bouyei (Buxqyaix,布依族) for batik. Zhuang (壮族), Dai (傣族) and Tujia (土家族) weaving brocade with silk threads and cotton yarns and Dong (侗族) for colorful embroidery.



Batik sleeves, Bouyei (Buxqyaix,布依族). Zhenning, Guizhou province. Early 20th century.


Woman’s outfit embroidered with “bird-and-flower” motif. Tujia (土家族). Early 20th Century


Shoes with upturned toe and couching embroidery. Dong (侗族). Early 20th Century.


Child’s headdress with couching embroidery depicting “dragon amongst cloud” motif. Dong (侗族). Early 20th Century.


Baby carrier with horsehair embroidery, Shui (水族), Sandu, Guizhou province. Early 20th century.


Scarf embroidery with floral motifs (left), Uyghur (ئۇيغۇر,  维吾尔族), Xinjiang, Uyghur Autonomous region. Brocade (right), Tujia (土家族). Early 20th century.


Embroidered baby carrier, Zhuang (壮族). Early 20th Century.


Embroidery Satin Collar (left), Bai (白族), Dali, Yunnan. Wallet Embroidery with mayinghua flower (middle), Yi (彝族), Weishan, Yunnan (middle). Wallet embroidered with flowers and trees (right), Yao (瑶族), Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Early 20th century.

Ethnic groups also wear masks for religious ceremony and/or important celebration. The masks can portray the gods, demons, beasts.


Nuo God (傩 公) and  Nuo Goddess (傩 母) masks for Nuo Opera (儺戲), Tujia (土家族) ethnic group

Nuo Opera (儺戲) is mostly a religious performance in Nuo folk religion from the Tujia (土家族) ethnic group. Nuo means oath or words of exorcism, and was known as Nuoji (傩祭) or sacrifice ceremony to worship the gods and ancestors. The dance, singing and opera-like performance is said to drive out the evil spirits and negative influence/negative energy. In the time of the dynasties, it becomes a performance dance opera and popular during the spring festival.

The masks are important to establish characters and the actors use their body and dance language to convey emotion. The masks are made of poplar (light and durable) and willow (said to ward the evil spirit). Masks are also a symbol and carried the gods’s spirit, therefor the actors can move and dance but must not speak.


Painted lacquered masks used for Cham (འཆམ་, 跳欠) dance. Guide, Qinghai. Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族) masks. Early 20th century.

Cham (འཆམ་, 跳欠) dance in Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族) ethnic group is a dance performance with constume and masks in Tibetan Buddhism and Buddhist festivals. 

The masks are symbols of wrath deities to drive the evil in the hearts of men away. The masks speaks of calm and enlightenment with the dance ‘teaching’ the Buddha’s compassion for all beings. It’s another form of meditation and prayers, contemplating of Buddha’s teaching with chants/music/repeating sacred mantras (invocations) incorporate with the dance.

Cham (འཆམ་, 跳欠) masks are made of cooper, brass or paper-mache because Tibet as higher altitude than Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and India, where they use wood for the masks.

Painted lacquered masks used for Cham (འཆམ་, 跳欠) dance. Guide, Qinghai. Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族) masks. Early 20th century.

Pottery, Lacquer, cane and bamboo wares are the staple of ethnic groups in China. The style have an unique characters to it. Maonan (毛南族), Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族) and She (畲族) can make bamboo hats in their native ethnic character. Yi (彝族) people craft their lacquerware in bright colors and simple ornaments. Ect.


Hand plaited Bamboo hat, Maonan (毛南族). Guanxi Zhuang Autonomous region. Early 20th century.


Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族) bamboo hat and She (畲族) bamboo hat from early 20th century


Rattan basket from Derung (独龙族), Gongshan, Yunnan. Cane basket and hand braid oval box from Jino (基诺族), Xishuangbanna, Yunnan. Early 20th century.


Lacquered basked with a painted flower motif and golden decoration.Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族). Yunnan. Early 20th century.


Lacquered box with a painted motif used for holding cooked flour, Mongol (蒙古族) (left). Donut-shape lacquerware box with gold decoration, Bai (白族) (right). Dali, Yunnan. Early 20th Century.


Dinner service painted in lacquerYi (彝族), Sichuan Province, early 20th century


Leather armor from Yi (彝族), Qing Dynasty.


Carved bamboo xiangmie and canister from Lisu (傈僳族), Nujian, Yunnan. Carved bamboo comb from Jingpo (景颇族), Ruili, Yunnan. Early 20th century.


Carved wooden hat stand, Bai (白族), Dali, Yunnan province, Qing Dynasty.


Flute made of Eagle bone, Tajik (塔吉克族) (top), Tashkurghan, Xinjiang Ugyur Autonomous Region and Carved wooden stick for printing, Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族) ) (bottom), Huangzhong, Qinghai. Early 20th century.

Carving in China are made from local materials such as bamboo, wood, ivory and animal horns, stone or bone. The carving, chiseling, paring, grinding and pressing made household objects and decorative works. Carving from Gaoshan (高山族) people are bold with human figures and painted fishing boats. The Uyghur (ئۇيغۇر,  维吾尔族), Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族)Miao (苗族) and Dong (侗族) are famous for ox-horns carvings.


Ox-horn vessel with a relief motif of an exorcism,Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族) from Tibet Autonomous region, Qing Dynasty.

Ox-horn gunpowder holder with a carved motif, Miao (苗族), Guizhou.

Phoenix shaped gunpowder holder made from ox-horn, Dong (侗族), Rongjiang, Guizhou. Early 20th century.


Ox-horn cup with silver inlay depicting images of ancestors (top). Ox-horn cup wit a silver inlay of a dragon and phoenix motif (bottom). Miao (苗族), Ronjiang, Guizho. Qing dynasty.


Ox-horn gun powder holders with a carved motifMiao (苗族), Guizho. Early 20th century.


Wooden fishing boat with painted and carved motifs Replica from Gaoshan (高山族) ethnic group, Lanyu, Taiwan. Early 20th century.


Book shelves with 4 folds, unfolded. From Uyghur (ئۇيغۇر,  维吾尔族), Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, early 20th century.

Ethnic groups with metalwork craft include hammering, chiseling, carving, hollowing, twisting and gilding. For example the Uyghur (ئۇيغۇر,  维吾尔族) people copper-ware decoration with exotic motifs to Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族) metalworks with decoration from the Esoteric sect of Buddhism.


White copper bottle with carved motif and Arabic lettering (left) and white copper cup with carved motifs and lacquered inlay also with Arabic lettering (right). Uyghur (ئۇيغۇر,  维吾尔族). Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region. Early 20th century.

Copper pitcher with an openwork design and a looped handle (left) and Copper pitcher with a carved motif and a lacquered inlay (right). Uyghur (ئۇيغۇر,  维吾尔族). Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region. Early 20th century.


Copper urn with silver decoration (left) and copper pot with silver decoration (right). Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族) metalworks from early 20th century.


Brass carving knife and scabbard with enamel flowers, birds and human figures. Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族). Early 20th century.

Gilt-brass figurine of Manjusri (འཇམ་དཔལ་དབྱངས།, 文殊, Mañjuśrī, Gentle Glory) (left), Gilt brass figurine of Ushnishavijaya (གཙུག་གཏོར་རྣམ་རྒྱལ་མ།, Uṣṇīṣavijayā, Victorious One) (right). Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族). Qing Dynasty.


Various stupas and statues from Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族). Qing Dynasty.


Silver prayer wheel with a hammered motif (left) and Bras Vajra axe (right). Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族). Qing Dynasty.


Wooden bowl coated with silver (left). Silver (middle) and cooper (right) snuff bottle with Cloisonné inlay. Mongol (蒙古族). Early 20th century.


Cooper basin with carved arabic motifUyghur (ئۇيغۇر,  维吾尔族). Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region. Early 20th century.


Brass tool boxUyghur (ئۇيغۇر,  维吾尔族). Shache, Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region. Early 20th century.


Silver-plated sheath and saber with pommel. Jingpo (景颇族) ethnic group from Dehong, Yunnan. Early 20th century.


White copper saddlebox carved with a design of two dragons chasing a pearlTibetan (བོད་པ,藏族). Qing Dynasty.


Helmet or head bowl made of bronze with esoteric design. Tibetan (བོད་པ,藏族). Qing Dynasty.

What a rich culture, eh? Well this is just a very, very, very small part of the 55 ethnic cultures of China. And we haven’t touch the Han and Dynasties with various cultures from its neighbouring countries (and influence by conquest, trade or sharing culture).

Please do continue to: Shanghai Museum Continue to Part II

Source Information: Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Museum London Edition ISBN-13:978-1857594997, ISBN-10: 1857594991, Chinese Ethnic Groups’ art book by Shanghai Museum, Cham Dancing, Tibetian art, Cham culture.