With the exception of Shanghai history specialists and the curious wayward wanderer, even some of the city’s local residents have never entered the small building inscribed ‘T’ou-se-we Museum’ (also known as Tushanwan 土山湾 Museum) on its red façade. Located at 55 Puhuitang Lu (蒲汇塘路) off the busy Caoxi Bei Lu (漕溪北路), the remnant of the former Spanish-styled compound of dormitories, classrooms, and workshops on a sprawling 5.5 hectares is now but a mere shadow which once housed, fed, and taught destitute young Chinese boys. While rich in history, the quaint and well-kept museum unfortunately possesses only a few actual artefacts produced during the period when the orphanage was instituted in 1864 until its formal closure in 1962.
The craft school, which was distinctly tied to the identity of the orphanage, served a crucial social and artistic need in Shanghai for about 80 years during times of both political turmoil and commercial prosperity. Regrettably, the few available books in the English language, especially those published by Shanghai’s Xuhui District (徐汇区) tend to be outdated and offer a static narrative. This talk strives for a renewed examination of the Tushanwan orphanage craft school. By incorporating the evidence of recent scholarship, as well as a critical assessment of the artworks produced, this continuing research seeks to re-address and re-evaluate the legacy of Xuhui’s understudied history which remains relatively insular to the world- at-large.