The Royal Asiatic Society presents:
Peter Hibbard MBE (RAS, Shanghai) – More than a Stuffed Bird Show: The RAS Legacy in Shanghai
In 1857 the founding fathers of the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (NCBRAS) in Shanghai foretold that the city was destined to be the greatest and most influential city in the Far East. With some essential civic amenities in place, including a church, a hospital, a racecourse and a park, they judged that the time was ripe for ‘social cultivation’ and ‘intellectual improvement’. Those pioneers embarked on their investigations into China in an age of huge profiteering when Shanghai’s unique cultural milieu was being melded as an outcome of the ravages of the Taiping Rebellion.
The Society opened its first building in 1874. A second building embracing a vision of the future in the mesh of the past opened in 1933. The building and all that it embodied was in many ways a projection of one man’s dreams and determination. That man was Arthur de Carle Sowerby, renowned naturalist, explorer, author, activist, curator of the museum and later RAS President, who decried accusations that the the Society was dull and its museum no more than a ‘stuffed bird show.’ The Society closed its premises in 1952 and Sowerby’s long held dream for the city to have its own modern art gallery was not realised for over 50 years when the Rockbund Art Museum occupied the former NCBRAS building in 2010.
Meanwhile the NCBRAS was re-convened as the Royal Asiatic Society China in Shanghai in 2007 with the ambition of pursuing and enhancing the Society’s original objectives in staging lectures, producing a journal and establishing a library. Whilst an archive has been established, the prospect of re-establishing a museum has yet to be realised.
Peter Hibbard will examine and illustrate the history, the vicissitudes and the revival of the RAS in Shanghai in its pursuit of promoting cultural life in the city and beyond, and explore the fate of its historical collections.
Peter Hibbard, historian and author, began studying the development of the Chinese tourism industry in 1983 and was a Visiting Scholar at Hong Kong University’s Centre of Asian Studies in 1985 before embarking on a lifetime of adventure in China. He has devoted much of his life to researching the historical development of Shanghai and of tourism in China. Peter is very much concerned with promoting links with the past and with fostering awareness, understanding and appreciation of Shanghai’s unique historical inheritance. He was founding preside