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The fleeting time--advertisements in early 20th century Shanghai
Author:Shi Yuehan  Date:2018-08-02  Clicks:

The revolution of 1911 overthrew the Qing Dynasty, prompting great changes to Chinese society. Subsequently, Chinese people started to pursue a modern lifestyle, and this was when advertisements first caught people’s eyes. Now, 107 years later, from 8 May to 1 July, 76 paintings from those advertisement works are displayed in the Wanlin Museum, which is situated at the foot of Luojia Mountain.

The Entrance of the Exhibition

The exhibition consists of eight themes——Historical Stories,Popular Legends,Literary Legacy,Stars & Socialites,Modern Ladies,Seasonal Fashions,Seasonal Landscapes and Family Harmony. Visitors can easily find a variety of advertising slogans from posters promoting different brands of clothes, tobacco, knives, fashion clothes, drugs and batteries. They are impressive and offer some insight into citizens’ consumption trends at the time. People who advertised these products were the famed movie stars of the period of the Republic of China. One of these was Shanghai-born Zhou Manhua, -who was a huge movie star during the 1930s and 1940s.

Some advertisements serve as decorations in theaters, as well as for commercial promotion. In the Historical Stories and Popular Legends section of the exhibition, a variety of picture posters can be found on which visitors can recognize various popular scenes from the Chinese traditional classic dramas, such as A Dream in Red Mansions and Goddess Marriage. These paintings are as real as though the characters are alive.

Stars & Socialites, and Modern Ladies

Besides the portraits themselves, what may enchant visitors are some landscape paintings. Every collection has the potential to connect people with the magnificent Chinese classical poems written by the ancient literary giants. The horses, trees, clouds and hills——all of these images are likely to reflect the painters’ profound understanding of classical poetry.

In recent years, advertising posters have experienced some ups and downs. They were first brought into Shanghai in 1896. 30 years later, they became surprisingly popular in the city. Not only were they plastered on every street corner, but also within most ordinary people’s houses. Then, as the economy boomed and citizens became wealthy, the calendars started to look extravagant. However, when the war broke out and people were dispossessed, they disappeared seemingly overnight.

Nowadays, those advertisements have become just one of the favorite items of antique collectors. As for ordinary people, we can admire them in museum exhibitions, roaming around the ocean of paintings, experiencing the passage of time and tremendous changes in China.


Photo by Guo Yutong

Edited by Li Yunzhen, Wang wei & 施维娅


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