Shanghai Archives Bund branch hosts family artifact exhibition
Nearly 1,000 love letters weighing 4 kilograms, tickets, household bills recording family living costs and payroll stubs reflecting the increase of local residents’ income… These and other precious exhibits representing the vast changes in Shanghai family culture over the past 40 years are exhibited at the new hall of Shanghai Municipal Archives at the Bund for one month.
Organized by the Shanghai Women’s Federation, the free exhibition showcases the history and achievements of Shanghai’s development since China’s reform and opening-up, with over 100 exhibits, multimedia and interactive experiences on display.
According to Xin Yingna, curator of the exhibition and deputy director of family and children department from Shanghai Women’s Federation, the exhibits were collected from local residents and private collectors since the project was first launched in July.
One of the most impressive exhibits are the 971 written love letters containing 970,000 Chinese characters that weigh 4 kilograms. Since modern telecommunications such as email and WeChat have been popularized in China, handwritten letters on paper are more precious to audiences.
The love letters between a local couple, Chen Caixuan and Lu Caiying from Anting, Jiading district, were written over the span of 15 years in the 1960s and 1970s while the couple were living apart. They first met each other when they were in the army.
Since they had few opportunities and little time to meet each other, they had to communicate through letters before and after tying the knot. The letters were kept by the couple for nearly 50 years, although the couple lived apart for many years after they got married and moved house in the progress.
“I used to be a soldier as well. I think the couple have very deep feelings toward each other,” said 74-yearold Fan Gongming, who joined the army in 1964.
Tickets, including food coupons (aka liangpiao), bus tickets, bathing tickets and registration tickets for wedding furniture, are also on display. Among them, food coupons, a kind of voucher issued by the Chinese government during a specific economic period from the 1950s to the 1980s, evokes memories of a past generation.
The earliest types of food coupons included grain stamps and edible oil tickets. The food coupons were divided into national and local varieties. The national food coupons referred to those which people could purchase food supplies wherever they went in China.
If people wanted to go on business or visit relatives in other provinces, they had to use local food coupons in exchange for a certain number of national food coupons. Local food coupons were issued by the food bureaus of provinces, cities and autonomous regions. The denominations of the tickets varied from place to place.
According to Xin, the minimum denomination of local food coupons was usually 50 grams, but the minimum denomination of food coupons issued in Shanghai was 25 grams, which shows the carefulness and meticulousness of Shanghainese citizens.
Frozen egg blocks
“I started working in 1975, and the reform and opening-up started in 1978, so I have deep feelings toward this period of history,” said a 61-yearold local woman named He Defen who was born in 1957.
According to He, when she was young, all material supplies were scarce. She liked eating meat, but tickets for meat issued to her family were not sufficient. She still remembers that one day, while riding his bike home, her brother lost all the meat he had bought with the meat tickets her family had saved up.
According to He, eggs were not sold intact. Eggs were instead broken up and whisked together into a mixture added with water and then frozen. They were sold as frozen “egg blocks.”
Watermelons were usually only sold to patients with a high fever and a doctor’s prescription. People could choose to eat their watermelons at a fruit shop, but they were not allowed to take the watermelon seeds away from the shop. “So the smell of the fruit shop was always terrible,” He said.
Another interesting exhibit are records of yasuiqian (gift money given to children on the Chinese New Year’s Day) from between 1978 and 2000. The records demonstrate the great economic changes to society that have taken place.
“I had a complex life. I went to university in Beijing. After graduation, I was assigned a job in another province. Later, my husband and I were sent to [Southwest China’s] Guizhou Province to support the construction of inland provinces. After that we were transferred back to Shanghai and worked here till we retired,” a 75-year-old local woman surnamed Fang told the Global Times.
“The reform and opening-up brought great changes to my life and I feel very satisfied with my current life,” Fang added.
“Many local parents are taking their children to this exhibition,” Xin said. “While parents can recall their life in the past, children can receive an education through this exhibition. With such education, children will treasure their current life more.”
As an old Chinese saying goes “a harmonious family cultivates prosperity.”
Different types of food coupons displayed at the exhibition
From top: Fan Gongming admires items at the exhibition; Handwritten love letters on display; Red envelopes for yasuiqian