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July 10, 2010

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Turning old Shanghai memories and mementos into a home museum

FOR the past 20 years Peng Xuewei has been collecting memories of old Shanghai, from posters of pop stars to famous Dog's Head socks, and his small house-cum-museum in Pudong is open to all. Tan Weiyun pays a visit.

Peng Xuewei is busy these days looking for a bigger space to relocate his precious collection from Shanghai's golden age of the 1930s and antiques from around China -- all stuffed into a 130-square-meter flat.

Peng says he has more than 4,000 collectibles and antiques from almost 30 countries.

"Only my son's room is clean, and I've traded some objects to raise money for my son's forthcoming marriage," says the 55-year-old man living in Shanggang Community in the Pudong New Area.

It's a virtual museum.

In fact, in 2000 Peng did open a museum on Duolun Road featuring treasures and nostalgia of Shanghai in the 1930s. He had to close it a year later because of high rent.

There's good news: He is considering a suggestion from Huangpu District government to work together on a century-old museum on Nanjing Road.

"I'm not exaggerating when I say my collection could fill two such museums," says Peng with pride.

The living room, bedrooms, balcony, kitchen and even bathroom are filled to overflowing, floor to ceiling, with his collection.

A major collection category features China's entries into World Expos. They include Shanghai Dog's Head socks that won the Gold Award in the 1933 Chicago World Expo, the zisha (purple clay) teapot displayed in the 1915 Panama Pacific World Exposition in San Francisco, a children's book by the Shanghai Commercial Printing House honored in the 1926 Philadelphia World Expo, and the made-in-Shanghai Three-Star tooth powder and soaps exhibited in many Expos in many countries.

There are posters and portraits of pop singers and movie stars, yellowed with age but carefully mounted and framed under glass. Hats produced by Sheng Xifu, an almost 100-year-old brand in Shanghai, are neatly lined up on a shelf.

An enamel water filter from England sits on a beautifully carved table, next to an old-style gramophone pasted with a portrait of 1930s super singer Zhou Xuan. He has a cinematograph (movie camera/projector), a made-in-Britain typewriter, a sewing machine, a famous-brand Wahson mini electric fan -- it's a little rusty but still works well.

The collection includes row on row of bronze statues and decorated tin biscuit containers. In the corner are piles of old handbags and leather suitcases.

"See the label on that suitcase?" he says. "It was a popular advertisement back in the time when hotels put the sticker on a guest's luggage to remind him to book there the next time he came to Shanghai."

Drawers are filled with souvenir pins made by old Shanghai enterprises, 1930s records and group wedding pictures shot 80 years ago.

Peng even has a 1928 map of Shanghai and a guidebook from the 1930s that meticulously printed in Chinese and English the city train timetables, big companies' telephone numbers, locations of police stations, parks, nightclubs, dance halls and restaurants.

Peng's passion for collecting started in 1988 when he found a bronze pin in a small stand on Changchun Road in Hongkou District. It was a Japanese pin engraved with a picture of Mt Fuji on one side and a map of Japan on the other.

"I just couldn't take my eyes off it. It was so beautiful," he recalls.

As a salesman, Peng has many opportunities to travel around the country and he carried his zeal for collecting along the way.

In the past 20 years he has visited almost every big antiques market in China, such as Panjiayuan in Beijing, Shenyangdao in Tianjin, Nanhu Park in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, as well as the market on Fuyou Road in Shanghai.

Once he found a bronze antique on a business trip to Beijing and the owner charged nearly his one month's salary. Peng paid.

"I remember clearly that when I got back to Shanghai, starved and exhausted, I only had 0.11 yuan in my pocket -- that's an interesting memory," he recalls.

"But much of my collection comes from small, shabby street stands and mysterious-looking antiques shops," Peng says. "Only there can I find what's really precious."

He mostly collected items from 1930s Shanghai because he's a Shanghainese and loves his city.

"I'm doing the right thing to save the city's past glory and its culture and history for our next generation," Peng says.

Several years ago a collector offered him a lot of money for the zisha teapot. "I refused, I just love it too much to part with it," Peng says.

He says he is happy to lend any part of his collection to a public exhibition if it's nonprofit and for the public good.

"It's not only my hobby anymore," he says. "It's my career."

Peng's house-cum-museum is open to anybody interested in old Shanghai.

Admission is free.

Address: 118 Xiying Rd, Pudong

Tel: 5872-8576, 1370-1770-556


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