On our last day in China as a group, we were visiting a cultural site I had been looking forward to the entire trip: the Yuyuan Garden. The Yu Garden was one that I had researched for the class’ pre-departure presentation, and I think knowing a little bit of the history behind the garden really helped enhance the visit. The Yu Garden was originally built as a private classical garden for the parents of a government official. At the time of its construction in 1577, it was the largest private garden in Shanghai, and it was situated right in the middle of the Old City. It’s been damaged and renovated dozens of times over its lifetime, but the Yu Garden was opened for all to enjoy in 1961.
Our tour guide Alex led us through the garden, stopping first at The Great Rockery. This was a piece of art designed by the most famed artist of the Ming Dynasty, Zhan Nanyang.
Alex told us that bridges were made to be zig-zag so that evil spirits would not be able to cross it, they apparently aren’t very good at moving around the material world. The Yu Garden is filled with symbolism, including designs built into the pathways. There are coins for wealth, turtles for long life, and deer for good luck.
Since the garden was normally a place for the family to spend time and relax, there were many buildings in addition to all the fauna. One notable structure was the House of Heaven; the place where the owner of the garden smoked opium.
We then stopped at the centerpiece to the garden, the Exquisite Jade Rock. Like the gongshi we saw in the Forbidden city, this massive porous rock was believed to be the solidified cloud of the heavens. While this rock obviously isn’t made of jade, it is considered to be even more valuable because of it’s large size. The patterned rock ground around the Exquisite Jade Rock is designed to be walked on with bare feet, something that encourages blood flow and is said to have health benefits.
In a back courtyard, there was a group playing music on traditional porcelain instruments on the Ancient Stage:
Outside the garden was a large market that spanned several streets surrounding the garden. Small stores were nestled within traditional Chinese buildings. There were many stalls marketing traditional artwork, many times with the artist working on a new piece right behind the desk.
After some time exploring the market, most students returned to the hotel on the bus, but Haley and I returned to the Yu Garden to explore further. We had to pay again to get inside, but we were luckily able to get the student discount with our Pitt IDs that cut the ticket price in half. We spent nearly another hour inside the garden, exploring all the areas we had missed the first time and only getting a little bit lost.
The first time around the group missed the Nine Lions Pavilion (above) and the Huxinting Teahouse (below), both picturesque sights that the Yu Garden is famous for.
Inside the Teahouse was a gallery of traditional Chinese art presented by a local art school who was dedicated to preserving Chinese culture:
We spent nearly an hour and a half in the garden, and I was glad I got to explore nearly every inch before leaving Shanghai the next day.