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February 10, 2017

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Home » Feature » Art and Culture

Royal Asiatic Society back to continue original mission

TODAY’S Rockbund Museum, a five-story building, opened in 1933 as the office of the North-China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. It housed reading rooms, a voluminous library of books on the Orient, a lecture hall and a museum filled mainly with stuffed birds, many of them shot and donated by local Shanghai sportsmen.

The history of the Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) dates to 1857, when it was founded to acquaint foreigners with Chinese customs and help them adjust to life in Asia. The society also furnished contributions to the knowledge of natural history, geography and other sciences, in addition to literature.

According to F. L. Hawks Pott’s 1928 book “A Short History of Shanghai,” despite the fact that “a large part of the community was not deeply interested in the society and regarded it as a dry-as-dust institution,” the society “has had a long and honorable history and has carried on valuable research in the language, custom, ethics, history, etc, of China.”

For a long time the society had no regular home until Sir Rutherford Alcock, the second British consul general to Shanghai, helped grant a site on Museum Road (today’s Huqiu Road) to build the old RAS office in 1871. The building housed a small museum that contained rare animal specimens and fossils.

Owing to white ants damage to the building, a new premise designed by George Wilson of Palmer & Turner was erected in 1932 and officially opened in 1933. Wilson chose Art Deco, the style in vogue at that time, and artfully incorporated Chinese elements into the building that housed a society to study China.

Display rooms of the museum were located on the upper three floors, showcasing nearly 10,000 specimens, according to the book “Architectural Features and Evolution of Waitanyuan Phase 1 Microscopic Historical Evolution.”

Old exhibits in the building, together with those from Musee Heude were relocated to the old Natural History Museum on Yan’an Road E. in the 1950s. They are now displayed in the new Shanghai Natural History Museum on Beijing Road W.

The RAS returned to Shanghai in 2007 and continued its activities and missions from over a century ago. The former RAS building had been transformed into the Rockbund Museum, a popular venue that regularly hosts cultural activities.


• The RAS Building (now Rockbund Museum)

Address: 20 Huqiu Rd

• Old Natural History Museum

Address: 260 Yan’an Rd E.

• New Natural History Museum

Address: 510 Beijing Rd W.

• Shanghai Entomological Museum

Address: 300 Fenglin Rd


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