Shanghai Natural Museum – Shanghai, China - Atlas Obscura
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Shanghai, China

Shanghai Natural Museum

This ratty natural history collection is a charming relic among a city rushing into modernity. 

With so much in Shanghai looking glitzy and new, finding an authentic gem from the old world is like a breath of air, even if it’s musty and more than a bit past its sell-by-date like the Shanghai Natural Museum.

Housed in the beautiful, but worn, old building of the former Cotton Exchange, the Shanghai Natural Museum (the name also appears as “Shanghai Natural History Museum” in some places) appears to have somehow been forgotten in Shanghai’s rush to modernization. The museum houses dinosaur skeletons, a pair of ancient Chinese mummies, row upon row of bleached-out specimens in jars, and assorted threadbare taxidermy, feeling exactly like what it is—a 1950s museum in a developing country. 

While the displays are interesting in their own right, and house some rare specimens, including a rotten-looking coelocanth, and the dinosaur skeletons are impressive as they loom in shadows of the main hall, the museum itself has its own shabby charm, with little heat or artificial light, and yellowed placards in Chinese.

There are plans for a new museum building across the road, but for now the Shanghai Natural History Museum is content to not keep up with the rest of the 20th century, and it’s the better for it.