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Through the looking glass of culture, we see ourselves clearly
By Fei Lai

GOOD-BYE to stuffy public museums, where solemn interiors often scare people away from art appreciation. A privately owned gallery in Minhang is a trend-setter in bringing culture and people closer together. Fei Lai visits.

Meibo Art Gallery, the first privately owned art gallery in Minhang, has proven to be a hit with the public since it opened last October. More than 20,000 visitors have crossed its threshold.

The gallery, located on Liming Road, has eight exhibition halls and amenities such as a teahouse and restaurant.

It is owned and operated by Shanghai Li'an Culture & Art Co. Chairman Chen Hui said his main motivation is neither profit nor fame.

"We want to stir public interest in art and popularize it among average people," Chen said.

Unlike public art museums, which can sometimes be so lofty that they are intimidating, the Meibo Art Gallery puts on no airs. Its informality invites visitors to come in, browse and experience art on their own terms. There is no entry fee.

About 200 pictures are on exhibit, with familiar scenes of mountains, rivers, birds and flowers. Sculptures adorn the corridors.

The most recent exhibition, which ended on April 17, displayed 160 calendars from Old Shanghai. They dated back to the 1920s and 1930s, and were drawn from archives across the city. The exhibition attracted more than 1,000 visitors.

Meibo is keen to cultivate local artists by providing modest subsidies and the chance to display their works.

An increasing number of new artists are holding exhibitions in the art gallery. The exhibition calendar is full through the end of August.

Zhu Guorong, vice chairman of Shanghai Artists Association, praised the Meibo as a forward-looking institution, deeply rooted in the idea of the "people's art."

The Minhang government has provided some funding for the gallery, though its administration is privately financed.

Chen personifies the essence of the gallery.

In 2008, he helped financed a book series called "Art Expo." A year later, he founded Li'an and then developed his dream for creating the Meibo Art Gallery.

"The idea of a privately owned art gallery draws on overseas experience," Chen said. "To make money, such a gallery has to find favor with the public. Rather than depending on ticket sales, the gallery finances itself by selling artworks by local residents."

The architecture for the gallery and its support facilities came from US designers, Chen said.

The spirit of the gallery is spilling out into the street, if Chen has his way.

He said he wants to turn adjacent Xiuwen and Liming roads into a "cultural street," drawing on the theme of art.

"I just had this idea," he said. "Amid the hustle and bustle of the city, we need a tranquil place to commune with art."

Wu Hong, a visiting professor from Chicago University in the US, said private art galleries have become an integral part of the art scene in major cities around the world.

"They combine entertainment with education and knowledge," he said. "Visitors to an art gallery can learn much about history and the arts. These galleries become favorite tourist destinations, providing commercial value in a modern city."

Wu said the success of such an art gallery depends on how it is operated.

According to Chen Shenglai, director of the Literature Department at the Shanghai Academy of Social Science, a private gallery needs to operate on a self-sustaining basis.

"It should not rely on government subsidies," he said. "Neither should it be blatantly profit-oriented. Private donors can be sought to help provide resources."

The government can help by giving private galleries concessions on taxes and property development, he added.

Water view tour

THE Huangpu River has endowed the Minhang District with abundant resources.

Efforts to develop visitor sites along the waterway have been combined with a campaign to preserve and protect a valuable resource through conservation and landscaping.

The Zizhu Forest Peninsula in the heart of Zizhu National High-Tech Park is one place where old and new come together in harmony.

There, visitors can jog, fly kites or just sit and contemplate the world amid a tranquil, natural environment.

Near the forest peninsula is an aquatic park that has become a popular attraction for visitors. This time of year, the magnolias are in magnificent bloom.

Another place to enjoy water views is the Hanxiang Water Garden, famous for its antique bridges and trees.

Zizhu Forest Peninsula

Address: At the intersection of Jiangchuan Rd E. and Zixing Rd

Hanxiang Water Garden

Address: 3805 Jiangchuan Rd W.

Old factory tour

THE Shanghai Steam Turbine Factory belongs to the golden age of heavy industry in Minhang District, dating back six decades.

Here, again, old meets new.

The plain, somewhat old workshops remind us of the vital role played by steam turbines in industrial development.

Inside the workshops are modern assembly lines with the latest technology.

For more than half century, the factory consistently stood at the forefront of steam turbine manufacturing in China

Other old factories in the district include the Shanghai Electrical Machinery Plant on Jiangchuan Road, the Shanghai Boiler Factory at 250 Huaning Road and the Shanghai Heavy Machinery Plant on Jiangchuan Road.

Shanghai Steam Turbine Factory

Address: 333 Jiangchuan Rd

China-Hutong Chinese Academy

CHINA-HUTONG Chinese Academy is a school that takes the preservation and promotion of traditional culture very seriously.

Located on Gumei Road, it is a place where people can go to learn the ancient arts of calligraphy, seal cutting, painting, the game of go and traditional tea ceremonies.

Small wonder that the school attracts so many people curious about the best our history has to offer.

The facility is housed somewhat inconspicuously in a two-storey building hidden by trees. Upon entry, one is immediately struck by an air of simplicity and peace.

Pictures on the walls depict an old man teaching young people ethics and ways of thinking. They are also flanked by works of calligraphy and paintings by masters. Many of the works by more modern artists are for sale.

"The charm of ancient culture made me lose all my vanity and shed my worries the moment I stepped into this place," said Xi Yu, a local student. "It has the feel of an old-style Chinese private school."

Wang Qiao, founder of China-Hutong Chinese Academy said that people are often overcome with a feeling of aesthetic freedom when they visit.

China-Hutong Chinese Academy

Address: 388 Gumei Rd

Rural cultural tour

FARMING was the core of Minhang before modern development changed the landscape.

Springtime is a perfect season for visiting areas where urban meets rural on the fringes of the district. Many suburban farmers welcome the interest from city slickers and are happy to share their experiences living off the land.

In the food cycle, this is the season for strawberries. Every weekend, families flock to the strawberry garden in Pujiang Town to pick the plump, ripe fruit.

"It is enjoyable to experience nature and the fresh air of the countryside," said Yan Yin, a visitor from the Jing'an District in downtown Shanghai. "Eating freshly picked fruit is very special. Moreover, for kids who think everything comes from supermarkets get a valuable lesson about where our food is grown."

For Yan, the ancient town of Zhaojialou in Minhang is a place of special cuisine.

"The town is a wonderful place to experience farm life and eat local foods," Yan said. "Its Pujiang dumplings are not to be missed on a visit."

The town hosted the first annual Sunflower Festival in mid-April. Sunflowers cover an estimated 13 hectares in the Fangyuan Ecological Park.

"It is such a beautiful place for photography, boating, fishing and picnics," said Wang Xiang, a local resident. "There's nothing quite like enjoying a barbecue surrounded by sunflowers."

Not far away from the ancient town are the Sea Shark Ecological Farm, which serves authentic local foods, and the Taojia Leisure Farm, which has ponds where visitors can fish for their own meals.

Guyu Strawberry Garden

Address: Lane 2008, 88 Jinzha Rd

Taojia Leisure Farm

Address: 2018 Yongnan Rd

Sea Shark Ecological Farm

Address: 110 Liansheng Rd

Top 5 cultural attractions in Minhang

Classic sites:

1. Qibao Ancient Street

Address: between Qixin Rd and Xinzhen Rd

2. Jinjiang Amusement Park

Address: 201 Hongmei Rd

3. Laowai Street

Address: 3338 Lane Hongmei Rd to 797 Hongxu Rd

4. Old Wisteria Park

Address: 148 Lincang Rd

5. Xinzhuang Park

Address: 421 Xinbin Rd

Emerging sites:

1. Minhang Cultural Park

Address: 2019 Wuzhong Rd

2. Shanghai Jiao Tong University Minhang Campus

Address: 800 Dongchuan Rd

3. Museum of Hanlin Inscription Boards

Address: 731 Hongxu Rd

4. Old Minhang History and Culture Exhibition Museum

Address: 366 Heqing Rd

5. Hongqiao Antique Store

Address: 528 Jinhui Rd

Customer Service: (86-21) 52920164